Boyzell Hosey watched the video over and over again.
“We love you, we miss you. You gotta fight this thing like the Hulk.”
As he lay in a hospital bed fighting the coronavirus and pneumonia, learning of the deaths of his brother-in-law and brother from the disease, reeling from the death of his father, Hosey watched the video his current and former photo colleagues at the Tampa Bay Times sent him.
“Listen you get out of that hospital. Take care of yourself.”
“The outpouring of support was just incredible and it was one of the major things, in addition to my faith, that really helped me get through,” Hosey said.
As we near the one-year anniversary of the first known COVID-19 case in the U.S., I’ve been thinking about all the news we’ve lived through and covered. Sometimes it’s felt like 10 years in one. I reached out to Hosey, deputy editor for photo/multimedia at the Times, which Poynter owns, because Tampa Bay’s also had one heck of a year. (Disclosure: I also work with the Times through a fellowship.) Journalists here covered the same stories as journalists around the country, including the pandemic, deaths and summer protests after George Floyd’s killing. And we’ve had a sports streak we’ll all remember with three of the region’s sports teams making it to championships and two of them winning.
What’s all that been like? I asked Hosey.
“It really has felt like a constant whirlwind,” he said. “I mean just constant.”
He realized how fast that whirlwind was moving and how fast he’d need to catch up in a call early last year with a group of photo editors and the National Press Photographers Association. Hosey had been thinking about how to keep his photo staff, who can’t work from home, safe, and was planning to get everyone masks.
But his peers were talking about full personal protective equipment. Hosey felt like he’d been hit in the face and realized he had to change his whole mindset. His job was to keep his staff safe.
What was this year been like personally? I asked.
That’s a heavy one, he said.
In May, George Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Hosey couldn’t sleep that night. He stayed up thinking about what he wanted to say in the next morning’s news meeting.
“As a Black man, what was I going to say in that news meeting and how am I still going to be objective as a journalist?”
He waited for someone to talk about the news. As the meeting almost ended, Hosey spoke up.
“I’m just full of emotion right now, but we need to keep our eye on the impact of the killing of George Floyd locally.”
People were angry, Hosey told his colleagues.
The next day, he captured a picture of a local church that put these words on its signboard: “George Floyd was lynched today by the police. We can’t breathe!”
Sometimes it feels like a heavy load to be the voice in a mostly white newsroom that speaks up for a community Hosey’s deeply connected with. It’s also a responsibility, he said.
“If I want to make an impact for our newsroom, then I need to bring to the table what I can.”
The summer wore on with protests amid the pandemic.
Then the fall, when Hosey and his family got the coronavirus. It was the thing he’d tried the hardest to avoid. Hosey was away from work for six weeks. While recovering, his journalist brain switched on, allowing him to deal with the funerals and arrangements from a place of calm. He had to move from leading his team to leading his family.
Hosey is now starting to feel some of the things he shouldered through. He thinks all of it has helped him be a better leader.
“I’m really conscious of the fact that folks need time,” he said. “They need time for themselves. I don’t care how important the news is. Nothing’s more important than our mental health.”
The last year has been a whirlwind, one full of sharp objects and unknown hazards. It’s also shown Hosey who his newsroom and community really are.
“We always have been resourceful and resilient,” he said of the Times. “I think now that that’s magnified even more because of what’s happened in the past year.”
I asked Hosey to send me a few photos that he made, and he told me about a morning in March when everyone was working and learning from home. He and his wife went to bathe in the ocean at sunrise, and Hosey thought to himself, “I’m going to take a bird photo today.”
He captured an image of a pelican, wings open, lit by rays of sun that poured out of the clouds. It felt like hope in a time everyone needed it. It still does.
This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists.