by Jamie Rich | July 2, 2020

Editor’s Note: My Coronavirus Story

Flamingo Editor in Chief Jamie Rich shares the challenges and silver linings she's faced during pandemic

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It was still pitch black outside on the morning of March 12 when I pulled out of my garage in Ponte Vedra with a box full of Flamingo’s brand new spring Icons issue and my favorite red linen dress hanging in the back. I was driving to Tampa for an appearance on a morning news show to talk about spring break travel ideas and to promote Flamingo. Coronavirus was a developing story, very much in the background of my way too busy life. But the NBA’s announcement that it would suspend its season caught my attention the night before. Throughout the four-and-a-half hour journey, I worried that all the events I planned to talk about on the show might also get canceled. 

“What if I get there, and I get canceled?” I said through the phone to Robyn Elise, the public relations guru who had set the whole thing up. This was my first time on a Tampa news show, and I was excited. I didn’t know it at the time, but the prospect of a canceled TV appearance would be the least of my problems in the weeks to come. 

Rich just after her appearance on Daytime, WFLA Tampa, in March. Photo by Ungala Grace

To my delight, the taping was a success. I raved about avant-garde art fairs, culinary weekends and Major League Baseball’s Grapefruit League. Giddy from the experience, I changed out of my dress, grabbed a sandwich and hit the road back to Jacksonville. I wasn’t five miles outside of Tampa, when the announcement came that MLB’s Spring Training would not go on. Despite the news, my segment aired on Monday March 16, but what followed for Flamingo, and of course the rest of the nation, was a tsunami of cancellations.

Later that week, the first advertising client called to pull their ads—not just for the next summer travel issue but for the rest of the year. More urgent client calls came in with the same request, week after week. Our advertisers weren’t the only ones reeling. Our distribution took a major hit too. With stores closing nationwide, Barnes & Noble emailed to ask us to stop sending any more magazines. All the hotels that offered Flamingo in their guest rooms closed for months. Airports, where we sell thousands of copies on newsstands, were empty. Events where we distribute and promote Flamingo were canceled. Like many businesses, and especially those in publishing, our revenue evaporated almost overnight.  

Toward the end of the month, our team packed up our office computers and set up shop in our respective homes. We worked. We Zoomed. We home-schooled. We brainstormed ideas. How can we make the most of this time? All we needed to do was wait out coronavirus, and the economy would come roaring back, along with tourism, retail and all of our advertising. 

But by mid-April nothing was clear except that we needed a new plan. I made the decision to reduce our staff by 80 percent—just until things come back—I told my team. We need to give our advertisers and the economy more time. Our deadline for printing the summer travel issue was looming. But how could I go to print with only a tiny fraction of our advertising still intact and half of our distribution disrupted? The answer was, we couldn’t. 

2020 was set to be Flamingo’s best year yet financially and editorially. Ad pages were full. Subscriptions were growing. Journalism accolades were rolling in. We were finally spreading our proverbial wings and taking off. But week after week, the economic foundation of the business I started in the summer of 2015 fell apart. 

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. Like a lot of people, I’ve enjoyed the forced downtime with my husband and kids and finally finishing home projects that sat neglected for years because we were always too busy to tackle them. Our yard has never looked better. But coming to grips with the upheaval of Flamingo has been hard. Some days it almost feels like starting over, and that’s daunting. I’ve questioned whether I have the fortitude to push through it all.

But what has kept me going over the past few months, is what inspired me to start Flamingo in the first place: stories. With print off the table for the foreseeable future, we turned our focus to telling stories digitally on our website, in our newsletter and on social media. Flamingomag.com exploded with traffic and our virtual Flocktail series fired up our social media followers like never before. This was good—a silver lining for sure. 

The response we saw online allowed me to embrace digital and let go of the notion that Flamingo had to be a printed magazine. Our mission after all is to unify the state, to be the destination for all great Florida stories and to inspire people to go out and experience real Florida, through real journalism. And we don’t need paper and a newsstand to do that. To be sure, I love the print editions of Flamingo. To me they are pieces of art, beautiful and imperfect, just like our state. 

Five years ago this month, I began the journey to create a statewide magazine—for Floridians, by Floridians. What was alive then and is alive even more now is Floridians’ appetite for stories that showcase the authentic, intelligent, adventurous, thoughtful, quirky and sometimes complicated sides of who we are. So it’s fitting that we mark this business anniversary with the launch of our first-ever digital edition, No. 18, “Sunshine State of Mind: Stories of Inspiration, Hope and Change.” 

The Flamingo team, while still very much hobbled and humbled by the pandemic, are proud to present a new collection of content that shines as bright as anything we’ve produced as a print publication. In this issue, author Craig Pittman takes us on a python hunt in the Everglades with the women leading the charge to rid the state of this invasive species, writer Moni Basu goes on an offshore fishing expedition with a boat captain helping to heal military veterans on the open sea, Bucky McMahon dives into the murky business of bottling Florida spring water, and Flamingo assistant editor Jessica Giles kicks off a series of fireside chats with some of Florida’s most notable residents to chronicle their personal tales through these unprecedented times. Throughout the summer, these pieces and more will go live on Flamingomag.com. Make sure you are following us on social media and receiving our Fresh Squeezed weekly newsletter, so you don’t miss a story.

Now that we’ve embraced our new normal, we need you to do the same. Along with our digital summer issue, we’ve launched our inaugural membership drive. If you love what we do, you can support it by becoming a Flamingo Friend or just by continuing the subscription many of you already have. If you do already subscribe to Flamingo, please share our new issue’s content with everyone you know and link to our Flamingo Friend membership drive.

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our state over the past three months, some good, some bad. But the fact remains that we still have pythons to hunt, springs to float down, chefs to cook with, musicians to jam to, cocktails to toast and conversations to unpack. And we need you right there with us.

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