To quote noted television anchor, Ron Burgundy: "Well, that escalated quickly."
Seems like only a week ago I was writing a hopeful column that suggested maybe we in Memphis wouldn't suffer the fate of Seattle, which was then taking drastic measures to limit most public human interaction, and has now, seven days later, basically shut down everything in the city but essential services.
Since I wrote that now-seemingly naïve column, several states and cities have banned gatherings of 50 or more people and ordered the closure of restaurants and bars and clubs, or restricted their hours and seating capacity. Memphis isn't there yet, but it would be foolish to think the COVID-19 virus won't impact us in similarly significant ways.
I'm writing this while sprawled on the bed in our guest bedroom. Downstairs, my wife is running her law office from the dining room. The art, production, and editorial staffers of the Flyer are all working from home, communicating via Slack. We're all reading copy and seeing the pages on a server, which allows only one of us to engage with it at any given time. So we click in, read the copy, click out, then let everyone know. Every two minutes or so, when Slack communication happens, my computer makes a little ticking sound, as, for example, the copy editor posts to the art director: "Cover story is ready to be PDFed."
Or some such.
I'm old enough to remember when the managing editor would walk into my office with a printout of, say, the music column. I would then read it and make corrections on it with something we liked to call a "pen." Then I would take that marked-up printout to the copy editor, who would then make corrections on his computer. It was a simpler time. It was a week ago.
I don't know when we'll all see each other in one place again. Weeks from now, I suppose.
The snowball effect is in place. The Flyer calendar of events is the core of the paper — in print and online. It's the most comprehensive such listing in the city. We pull from the calendar to decide what to write about each week. The Steppin' Out spread highlights 10 or 12 things going on in town — fundraisers, food festivals, plays, book-signings, casino events, you name it. The calendar and our After Dark listings for bands and musical happenings usually fill half the editorial space in the paper.
Not now. During this work-from-home production cycle, the recurring theme has been a message from a staffer on Slack saying, "Oops, Event X just canceled. We'll have to pull that photo." The calendar has basically gone away as we've been producing this issue. Temporarily (we hope), we're renaming our entertainment spread "Steppin' Out (and Stayin' In)," on the theory that humor, even weak humor, is essential in times of stress.
Similarly, many Flyer advertisers are pulling ads, understandably spooked by what will no doubt be a tough time in the weeks ahead. That's the snowball effect I referenced above. When advertisers pull from the paper and events stop happening, the Flyer struggles. Just like most other commercial enterprises, our business model depends on a vibrant, thriving city.
But we're determined to get through this, one way or another. The paper may be smaller in the weeks ahead, but our online presence will be stronger than ever. We post several stories a day at memphisflyer.com, including lots of material that doesn't make it into the print edition. For the past couple of weeks, we've posted daily (or more often) about the effects of COVID-19. The Flyer website is an essential read for any Memphian trying to keep up with the latest developments.
There is lots of essential information in this issue — on the virus itself, and on how to deal with the effects of social distancing. We've got to support each other, any way we can. Order takeout from your favorite restaurants and leave a big tip. Everyone in the service industry is going to need it. And be nice to the checkout folks at your pharmacy and grocery store and other retail outlets. They're on the front lines of this fight, being exposed to a potentially lethal disease all day long.
And if you are thinking about ways you might help your favorite weekly paper get through this time, I suggest going to our website and becoming a Frequent Flyer. We're going to have a hell of a party when this is all over.