In essence, Helium is a market maker for content. The company licenses a software widget for its Web page to allow newspapers to solicit stories from their readers for a fee. Submissions are ranked by some 150,000 Helium users who evaluate them inside a private Web site run by Helium as a way to ensure the newspaper only pays for the story it likes best for its site or print publication. Already, GateHouse Media’s State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., has signed onto the program.
Mmmm. Fill pages (Web or print)? Sure. Help failing newspapers? I don’t think so. Not if local news organizations are planning on being a source of news and useful information. That requires locally-oriented Web shells of news, databases, backgrounders, resources, etc., organized around a community-fed engine of blogs, forums, and news/info aggregation. A news organization would do better by using Daylife, which does topic pages, and other types of aggregation. Don’t local news organizations know their communities and their local freelancers better than anyone else?
If news organizations switch to Web-first thinking, and spin off to print (and mobile), they’ve got a good shot at surviving. But chasing pieces of the Web, i.e. plugging the (newsPAPER) dam’s leaks with podcasts one year, blogs the next, and now all video all the time just won’t work in the long run. For a news organization, Helium’s just another stopgap.
Ahhh. Just thought of one way that it might work: if a news organization lays off its experienced jurnos, then the young jurnos wouldn’t have enough institutional memory to be able to separate the useful articles that Helium offers up from those that are repetitious or cover a topic so shallowly that it’s not really useful. The catch is that the news organization’s community would.