I probably spend more time looking for interesting plastics stories than just about anyone in the world. So I know more about microbeads and bag bans than a typical person.
Most newspapers and TV stations don't report on “good” plastics stories most of the time. Topics like lightweight car parts that help automakers achieve 54.5 mpg fuel economy are exciting, but not sexy. Reports on doctors using 3-D printing to make one-of-a-kind plastic parts to repair damaged limbs and organs are interesting, but they rarely go viral.
Which brings up the explosion of stories about “shade balls” in Southern California this month.
Honestly, my first reaction was that this was old news.
After all, I had blogged about shade balls in 2008. Then, in January 2014, our staff reporter Catherine Kavanaugh wrote what I consider the definitive story on the balls, which float on reservoirs to help to minimize the risk of bromate-forming chemical reactions.
So I figured that Plastics News readers know everything they need to know about shade balls.
But after a day of seeing shade ball headlines blanket the Internet (OK, that's a slight exaggeration) — plus several readers who apparently forgot our previous coverage sent me copies of stories about shade balls — I relented.
Yes, I said, it's a story. A story about how these 4-inch black polyethylene balls had become big news, thanks to a historic drought and a viral video.
So Catherine wrote again about shade balls, this time in her blog, “From Pillar to Post.” She embedded the now-viral video of 20,000 shade balls being released into a Los Angeles reservoir, and she linked to her 2014 story. We figured that still was the best source of information for readers interested in more information about shade balls (For example, who makes them? How much do they cost? How exactly do they protect drinking water?)
(If you want to know the answers to those questions, you can find Catherine's latest post on our website here.)
Which brings me to last Sunday morning.
Every week I get a report on how many readers click each story on our website. I'm a news junkie, so I actually enjoy looking at the report on the weekend, and I typically can't wait to forward it to all our reporters with my comments.
Last week, I was especially eager to see how the shade ball blog post had performed.
The numbers were eye popping. But with a twist.
Yes, the blog post got good traffic. But the story, the 19-month-old story, the one I thought was the definitive report? Apparently readers around the world agree. That story got more page views than anything else on our website last week, last month … heck, it was our biggest story in years. Nearly four times as many page views as what had been our top-read story this year.
I think that says good things about our reporting, and also to the reach of our website — many thousands of Google-users around the world who wanted more information about shade balls turned to our story.
It's pretty cool to have a good plastics story go viral — and to play a part in the action.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.