I call it spidey-sense. It's the feeling that people might want to read about something, even though I have no evidence that I'm right. The New York Times' media reporter, David Carr, thinks picking up on these faint scents is a key to using Twitter effectively. Here's what he told Terry Gross on Fresh Air:
Sometimes you want to grab what is in the air, so to speak, and just put it out there... One time after [the Winter Olympics ended], I just said, 'I miss the Olympics.' That got re-tweeted almost more than anything I've ever written about ... it's just something that's in the air.
In the olden days, this might have been "news sense" or something, but that implies a consciousness of the importance of an item, idea, or story. I think what Carr is talking about is a little different. Spidey-sense isn't having well-regulated civic priorities. Rather, it's possessing a compass that points toward "interesting" for any possible reason. The feeling Carr's describing is almost a presentiment of a story, a magnetization.
To overthink it a little: there's a network of people who are interested in almost any topic. That network is dynamic. It spikes around obvious events (football, Super Bowl) but sometimes, for almost no good reason, it balloons without anybody noticing it (football, some random day in July). And it's at those moments when just putting it out there activates that whole network, and suddenly your media allows them to talk about something that had hovered just outside their consciousness.
For mediamakers, this must have always been the case, but what's interesting is that the signals we're reading today aren't exclusively those of our neighbors or coworkers, but come from our online social worlds. The air is bigger now.
Image: Library of Congress. That's the Monroe magnet.