The first was in my early days. I wrote about a Nevada legal battle to ban ferrets as pets because they had been attacking and in some cases killing infants. I still remember the headline, “Cute but ferocious.” I didn’t write that headline, but I can tell you this … the ferret lovers lobbying group that put me on there naughty list did not like it. Nope, not one bit. I got calls, letters and voice mails talking about my one-sided reporting and they bemoaned the bad rap ferrets were getting.
I wrote and reported that story in a day, maybe a day and a quarter. I did not think much about it until the deluge began. I don’t even think I ever wrote a follow-up. I’m not at all sure what the hell happened with that battle, but I do know that ferrets can be lovable and much beloved.
So that was a long time ago.
My current journalist fame has been overwhelmingly positive. Sure, some people think I’m an idiot but well it’s on the internet and that’s just life on the internet.
But this time, I did actually pitch the story over a month ago and worked on it in earnest for the better part of a week and a half. There were photos and someone did a video. I didn’t get the drawing of a recycling flow chart that I’d wanted but it was a great package for the cover of our Lifestyle section.
Then at the last moment, my editor told me that it would not run on the cover. She said it would run on the back page of the section. The very last page. A place that I typically associate with ads about incontinence. It isn’t even mentioned on the cover like, “Inside find our extensive, in-depth reporting on what you can do to aide the city’s underutilized recycling program.”
Why? There were better photos of a periodic statue cleaning in the park. Yes. “Statue of St. Louis, the 13th century French king, gets scrubbed” trumped regional recycling that affects a minimum of 400 tons of waste daily.
I was not pleased, but I was resigned. I’d done my work and I’d learned a lot in the writing of it. Onward, I thought.
Then the story dropped and literally went viral. It blew up and conversely blew up my phone and my email. I’ve even received written letters. I talked to a woman on the phone who treated me as if I had penned some acclaimed suspense thriller. She fan-girled all over me to such an extent that I wanted to hang up on her. It freaked me out.
She loooooooved the article, just loooove, loooooved it. She sent it to all her friends. Um, OK, thanks.
Flattered? Yes. Embarrassed? Yes. Confused? … a little.
I did write the article because I was so befuddled about what was and wasn’t recyclable. My neighbor tried to recycle a chair which upset me, so I pitched the story with the headline, “You are recycling wrong!” I did figure out that almost everyone … EVERYONE … is doing something wrong because the rules are confusing.
I had the whole pizza box thing all wrong.
My headline idea made t to the paper but they softened it online to St. Louis, you may be recycling wrong. Here’s what to do about it.
I wanted answers so I asked lots of dumb questions and then wrote out the details in my usual no nonsense (mildly snarky, mildly humorous) know-it-all way. When I was done, I figured I’d get a few likes on my Facebook post of it and some recycling nerds would be happy.
By Monday, my voicemail was nearly full and the electronic voice told me that I needed to start deleting or else. The responses were effusive. People liked the story, they really really liked the story. They liked me and then they started asking a ton of random questions.
Can I really recycle cash register receipts … I thought they were toxic? Nope, you can recycle them.
Shouldn’t we burn trash “cleanly” for better efficiency? Nope, that’s an awful idea.
I lost an engagement ring in a box of rigatoni, can you help? Umm, sorry, but probably not.
On and on and on it went.
What is clear is that a great many people care about recycling and they just want to hear about it in plain language. Tell us what to do and we’ll do it. If only every problem were greeted with such enthusiasm.