On the train I take each day, there is a group of people who congregate in the vestibule of the first car at exactly the same time, about 15 minutes before we reach the station.
It is a mixed, but stable group - a woman, an older man, and several 40-something guys. Occasionally, they're joined by an older gentleman who is, I gather from eavesdropping (though they are usually so loud, you don't have to strain to hear them), a journalist at a New York paper.
The conversation typically focuses on the hot news of the day. In January, the group took apart The Wall Street Journal redesign. A few months ago, Don Imus' on-air gaffe was the topic of the hour. Of course, recent economic roils are also discussed. Last Wednesday, the topic was the life and career of Phil Rizzuto, the late New York Yankee shortstop and broadcaster.
What I find most interesting about this group is how clearly and directly its members often regurgitate exactly what they've just read in their morning papers, when it is the right topic. Today I heard, about 20 minutes after I read it for myself in The New York Times, all about Rizzuto's early athletic credibility problem, and how one manager famously told him to get a shoeshine kit, feeling Rizzuto was too short, even for shortstop.
I've come to look forward to this daily bulletin because it tells me what's really penetrating through the early-morning fog of news. Not just the broad strokes, but also the detail. What facts do people carry with them from their morning digestion of information? Why do they feel inclined to share these with others? This is the function of the news cycle that has gained prominence in the "most e-mailed stories" era, but is still relatively overlooked as an extension of a media hit. Broadly defined as "buzz," that term nevertheless is misleading. There's no "buzz" in hashing over Rizzuto's life, per se, but that historical nugget has the impact of reflecting positively on the club he was associated with for more than a half-decade, the Yankees.
What makes this happen is the reporting or sharing of details either unknown, or forgotten, that give character to what might otherwise be a humdrum story. Companies looking to penetrate with a new story should remember that those digesting information, whether on their morning commute or throughout the day, via newspaper, cell phone, or desktop, are looking for the hooks that bring the story into some kind of context that is either new, provocative, or both. And for every newspaper story that generates that kind of "did you hear" factor, there are multiple new media outlets that are doing it more often, and faster.
That's what is driving more of the online content to stick, where traditional media stories don't always find the same level of traction. In a few year's time, I've no doubt that that same group of people on my train will be talking less about what they're reading in their newspapers and more about what is coming through in easily digested chunks on their phones and who-knows-what device du jour.