The story begins with a short sentence: “Routine left us suddenly” — a succinct summarization of what Floridians were feeling after those first two weeks of March. It ran on March 13, 2o20, under a bold headline, “The day everything in Florida changed” and was the first time a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times had tried to rise above the daily bulletins of closures and postponements and new world orders that the coronavirus was causing and give readers a broader picture of what we all were feeling.
Zachary T. Sampson continues: “It disappeared with a buzz in our pocket, and then another, and then another because in the 24 hours when coronavirus erased America’s plans, everything was BREAKING.”
He touches on travel, sports, school closings and social distancing. He quotes the governor, updates numbers of people who are infected, and those who died. He mentions Google searches, international response, grocery stores and Disney World.
Then he runs through a list of cancelled concerts — and writes a sentence with a perfect pun: “Kenny Chesney and Cher pushed back concerts in Tampa. So did the band America, because on Thursday, of course, America was postponed.”
America was postponed!
When I asked Sampson about the story, he said that he didn’t actually write that sentence. The Times’ music critic, Jay Cridlin, had suggested it as a headline about concert cancellations. But the headline never ran in print. Sampson reached out through the newsroom Slack channel, where we share headline ideas, and asked if he could use it in his piece. “If I had a takeaway,” he told me later, “it’s the example of how newsroom brainstorms make us so much better. … We’re all better for the collaboration. In this case, a half dozen or so people were part of that headline — first and foremost Jay — and they all had an equal hand in that little line.”
Those last three words took me back to 1970s, and the rock band America. I found myself humming: “A horse with no name.” (Give it a listen. It’s a ballad about man’s destruction of the environment, but has echoes about much more.)
In their partnered piece, Sampson and Cridlin manage to name threats to all of the life rituals we have lost for now. The story made us feel a little more connected, a little less sorry for ourselves.
Best of all, in what was a scary, depressing litany about loss in these uncertain times, that sentence made me smile.