March 2020: In like a lion and out like a pandemic

 A lot has been written about the month of March. 

 William Shakespeare penned the play “Julius Caesar” in 1599 and used the phrase “beware the Ides of March” to warn the play’s namesake of impending doom. It turned out to be a foretold prophecy which came to pass on March 15th, 44BC when the Roman Senate assassinated Caesar both fictionally in the play and historically at the Curia of Pompey in Rome.

 Talk about a bad month.

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 “In like a lion and out like a lamb” is also a phrase used to describe the transitional nature of March going from winter to spring. That transition rarely applies in Florida, and…wow did it miss wildly this year.

 A more appropriate description might be in like a lion and out like a pandemic.

 Oh, March 2020… you had such promise… such potential. A Presidential Preference Primary in Florida. A municipal election in Gainesville. The NCAA Basketball Tournament. Spring Training. A month of mild temperatures heading into the furnace that is the Gainesville summer.

 It’s also the month we launched Mainstreet Daily News (MSDN).

 For about two weeks, we told the story of Alachua County. We informed, engaged, and inspired our readers. In that time we published 76 articles – and only three were coronavirus-related. We introduced ourselves to the community and then pivoted to a far more urgent need.

 Our first COVID-19 article was actually on our launch date (March 2nd), but not another appeared on our news site until March 9th. On March 11th, Alachua County had its first diagnosed case of coronavirus, and COVID-19 quickly dominated the news cycle thereafter.

 Before that, however, we were able to cover Hawthorne High’s run to a state championship – both boys and girls. We gave our readers their first look at breaking results in the Gainesville elections, and we were also there to keep residents informed up-to-the-minute when multiple law enforcement agencies pursued armed and fleeing robbery suspects in High Springs – leaving that town in a near-lockdown status the better part of a day.

 Now the term lockdown seems to have an entirely different meaning.

 One of the advantages of an online news site is speed. MSDN can publish articles both breaking and important to the community within minutes of receiving them. We also have the flexibility to change course and become what our community needs most. We did not launch MSDN to cover a pandemic exclusively, but that’s what is called for. That’s what the community needs most, and that’s the pivot we made.

 Since March 15th, MSDN published 110 stories related to the coronavirus, added a COVID-19 bulletin on the front page to update local news about the pandemic, and seven additional portals of information about businesses, restaurants, health/medical, employment, schools, local government alerts, and non-profit/volunteer opportunities.  

 This is week three of a partnership between MSDN, MARC Radio, and SunState Federal Credit Union. And in so many ways it has proven to be fruitful. 

 MARC Radio is comprised of 100.5 The Buzz, Magic 101.3, Classic Hits 100.9, I Am Country 106.9, R&B 94.1, and The Shepherd Radio Network. They have been nothing less than warriors in the local fight against COVID-19 both on the air and on the phones.

 These diverse radio stations and its talented staff have not only delivered vital alerts and updates to its listeners, but also provides the needed gift of music and entertainment of every variety during a time its listeners are yearning for an escape from the stress of a pandemic that affects every aspect of their lives. 

 Off the air, its sales team has taken to the phones not to attract new clients or to renew existing business, but instead to collect valuable information about changes to businesses, restaurants, even churches that is then forwarded to the radio stations and news site. 

 And if that wasn’t enough, Tim Price, a sales associate for MARC Radio, has stepped-in for double duty and written two very compelling articles for MSDN about the FishHawk Distillery in Ocala producing hand sanitizer and donating it to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, and a Florida family struggling to return home from Peru.

 The partnership between private business and an online news site is a novel approach outside of a standard advertising relationship, but most certainly we are living in novel times. When Robert Hart, Vice President of marketing at SunState, contacted Dave Cobb, General Manager of MARC Media, and suggested a partnership between the three entities, it was an out of the box moment that has paid dividends in ways no one ever imagined.

 About a week after MARC, MSDN, and SunState joined forces, staff writer Suzette Cook wrote an article about a University of Florida doctor who had an idea for a new type of face mask. Sun State shared that article on its Facebook page, which has over 30,000 followers. Those followers shared the article over 2,400 times, which, as of 8pm on March 31st, has been read by well over 700,000 people worldwide. And among those readers was a representative for a well known business that contacted the doctor about possibly mass-producing his innovative face mask. 

 Not bad for a news site that launched less than a month ago, and a partnership that began a little over two weeks ago.

 In an article he wrote for MSDN last week, Hart describes SunState’s participation like this:

 “In our mind, SunState Federal Credit Union has no competitors right now, we are all in this together, and the quicker we all get on the same page and do what we can to help, the better off we are all going to be and the faster this will end and the faster we will recover.”

 We are all in this together. 

 It was true when it was written, and remains true a couple of weeks into what could be the new normal for a while. No one has enough knowledge, data, or analytics to reliably predict when this pandemic might end, therefore there can be no quit in us as a community. 

 The pushback against COVID-19 must continue. 

 Unlike March, April doesn’t have as much written about it. T.S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month”, April Fool’s Day seems almost inappropriate to reference, and “April showers bring May flowers” does not carry the gravitas of the Ides of March prophecy. Still, it’s safe to say, this month will probably be no better than the last… very possibly worse. 

 But no matter the day, the week, the month, the Stay in Home Orders, the social distancing… no matter the restrictions imposed upon us, we as a community will persevere. You are better than COVID-19 Alachua County.

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