Yesterday I attended the PRSA Chicago luncheon discussion of social media. It was loaded with interesting and thoughtful insights: Erick Benderoff skillfully conveyed the new challenges and opportunities journalists are facing as they juggle traditional stories and blogs, Stephanie Moritz shared some courageous forays of ConAgra brands into the social media space, and Dick Costolo of Google offered an exciting view of things to come. But in the midst of these thought provoking ideas one simple comment stuck with me. Honestly, I cannot recall which panelist stated parenthetically that “time is moving faster” but it is the topic of time that has been on my mind since yesterday’s event.

Our concept of time is borrowed from the ancient Mesopotamians who, over 4000 years ago, created the sexigesmal sytem (of 60 seconds/minutes, 12 months, 24 hours, etc) and the Egyptians and who gave the world the 365 day calendar, adapted and improved by Caesar in 45 BCE. Even through the Middle Ages, sundials, tides and the sky were used to tell time until, in the early 15th century CE, mechanical clocks emerged in the towers of major Italian cities. Suddenly, people enjoyed the ability to regulate time by the second, minute and hour. So instead of meeting your friend at sundown you might hook up at 7pm. This Newtonian notion of time as part of the fundamental structure of the world that moves in sequence is now familiar to those of us in the modern world addicted to clocks and solid schedules. But another notion of time, more Kantian, is also operative. This time is an intellectual structure that ebbs and flows, giving rise to ideas like “time flies” or, to the panelist’s comment, “time is moving faster.”

In our day to day lives many of us feel this shift in the way we experience time. The 40 hour work week, for example, is a thing of the past; now, most of us send emails from our Blackberries as we watch our kids play soccer or return calls from colleagues as we negotiate the lanes of the grocery store on a Saturday morning.

But this changing notion of time has also had a major impact on how news is created and consumed. The beast we call the 24 hour news cycle requires constant feeding and its tendency to devote hours to non-stories has been widely chronicled by the traditional media itself (with results ranging from profound to naval gazing).  But the increased opportunities to make news has also led to valuable coverage that would previously have gone unnoticed.  And, the desire of the public for the very latest news drives a transition to on-line news consumption; thus, for example, this political season has seen sites like Huffington Post and the political blogs of major papers (Chicago Tribune’s Swamp, WaPo’s Fix and others) skyrocket as consumers want to find out what happened after the morning papers were published.

I often talk to clients about how technology has changed the press release business. The additional requirements facing journalists as they struggle, usually with smaller staffs, to create traditional and on-line content creates new opportunities for savvy PR people. But the role and import of immediacy, this sped up time, seems to have become more prevalent also. It seems to me like bloggers (including journalists who write blogs) are driven by this new notion of time with an increased need to publish quickly, a drive to break the story first.

So this raises a few questions in my mind. What is the role of embargoed releases in this new climate? Does this increase their value or annoy journalists with news they can’t yet share?  What do PR professionals need to be giving journalists and bloggers to make the process of creating news easier and faster?  How can social media contribute to an immediate and interactive relationship between PR people and journalists?  Would incorporating a blog component into press releases be advantageous?

I don’t have answers to these question but am interested in how a changing notion of time, the increased role of immediacy, changes how we do our job and shape our product.  Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Eric Benderoff posted on his site, Eric 2.0, about the event and gave a more informative overview  Check it out.  And Annie Waite of Melcrum does a terrific overview here.

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