The March 19 print issue of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay was originally built around two things: editorial about Ybor City’s Tampa Pride celebration and a 10-day Pizza Week promotion that CL’s marketing and advertising staff planned with some of the best ‘za spots in Tampa Bay.
Editor’s note on the Editor’s note: I wrote this 12 hours before finding out that our paper laid off seven staff members.
Editorial and advertising are two worlds apart and completely independent of each other in any good newsroom. At CL’s new Tampa Heights office, the departments are separated by two ballrooms (we shared space at the Ybor office.) The relationship is like oil and water on most days, with salespeople and the small and tenacious staff of writers sliding around each others’ existences, only brushing shoulders because we happen to occupy the same vessel.
On more exciting afternoons, the sides resemble fire and the ocean floor colliding over some disparaging story edit wrote about this client or the other. Very rarely our existences serendipitously coincide (an older online piece about the best pizza shops in town made it to print today.)
Mostly, the exchange—where edit exerts its independence while a sales rep wonders why the fuck we have to be so salty sometimes—epitomizes how much our writers are committed to looking for, and writing about, the truth. And deep down, I’m grateful for CL’s sales and marketing side. Reps believe so much in the thing edit does, that they hit the streets telling clients why it’d be beneficial to advertise on our website and in the pages of a left-of-the-mainstream, often irreverent, fish wrapper that’s been faithfully hitting newsstands and standing up for local folk for three decades.
In short, edit and sales undoubtedly exist on different continents—but we still live on the same planet. That imperfect, celestial body moves in a never-ending orbit where it stares adoringly at its star: Tampa Bay, home to a tireless collective of bar and restaurant owners, music venues, musicians, museums, artists, actors, authors, athletes, students, educators, and—most importantly—readers, who collectively turn what could be the doldrums of the 24-hour day into a dynamic diorama whose stories deserve to be told a billion times over.
Last Wednesday, the world that everyone at CL loves so much turned itself upside down as the novel coronavirus finally made like a snowbird and parked its careless, can’t-drive-worth-a-damn ass in Florida. We all kind of saw it coming, but stayed calm.
As February ended, CL’s news vertical was calling out the hypocrisy of a pastor saying he’d cure Florida of coronavirus just like he did with Zika, and wondering why Gov. Ron DeSantis wouldn’t say if any Floridians had been tested for the virus. But the vertical also had stories about that asshole CSX train in South Tampa and how three local beaches ranked among TripAdvisor’s best in America. The next week we reported on Tampa’s then two cases of the virus; our columnist suggested that the biggest threat from coronavirus might be Trump's insistence that there’s no threat at all. But still, there were posts about the St. Pete Pier opening and medical marijuana. By March 10, headlines found DeSantis declaring a state of emergency in response to coronavirus. The next two days brought a glut of cancellations and suspended events including March Madness, the Lightning’s season, the St. Pete Grand Prix, Cigar City Hunahpu’s Day and Jane Castor’s River O’Green.
On Friday night, after Tampa Pride rescheduled for May 30 over the coronavirus concerns, edit changed the theme of the issue.
By Monday and Tuesday—following the canceling of school, weddings and bars altogether—edit and sales were left looking at each other sort of slack-jawed at the surfeit of bad news our community was being forced to digest. We, like many of you, were then asked to work from home.
Just like that, the novel coronavirus cast a shadow over our star—the vibrant community of Tampa Bay—which found itself fattening up before its long bout of social distancing. We understand that staying home to flatten the curve will literally save the lives of Tampa Bay’s most vulnerable individuals (look it up, believe it, too); the action will also destroy livelihoods for so many of the folks who make us want to reside here forever and then again in the next incarnation.
By the time you read this, the stock market will have probably suffered even more loss, rendering someone’s retirement null for the time being. This weekend, as some of us lament the slow internet connection keeping us from completing our latest social distancing Netflix-binge, a freshly-laid off worker who’s never sniffed the idea of retiring will be knocking on doors and asking strangers for an odd job.
In even more devastating news on Wednesday afternoon, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay laid off seven staff members in response to coronavirus pandemic. As our Creative Director Joey Neill said to me in a phone call following his release, “I miss everybody already.”
The reality is heartbreaking beyond words, and it probably pales in comparison to the struggles of those that’ll be most deeply affected by the economic fallout about to unfold. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these times, and that can lead to fear. I wish there was a sunny set of words I could string together to make myself, and maybe you, feel better about this latest definition of “viral.”
But for now, I’ll just offer the virtue of patience—which we’ll all need to deal with each other in our cooped up states—and ask you to take your preparation for the coronavirus seriously. The following pages can hopefully help with both of those items. Throw patience and preparation in with some empathy for your neighbor—no matter how different they are, and whether they believe that the novel coronavirus is worth worrying about or not—and we probably have a good chance of persevering in the face of what’s about to happen. CL has no doubt that so many of Tampa Bay’s brightest stars will still have a fire burning inside of them when the dust settles, and the weary among them will be searching for a spark. We’re always amazed by that light, too, and we’re so grateful that you’re there to guide the way.
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