For those who are concerned about the future of news, the notion that a “content mill” could produce quality journalism seems to be anathema.
But Mark Ranalli, CEO of Helium.com, has been working towards building the kind of online community that could do that.
In a recent conversation with Ranalli, he explained that since its launch in 2006, Helium has been growing as both a content platform and community in many different ways. One of the significant changes is Helium’s Credentialed Professional Program.
As more professionals have come to Helium, some via its partnership with the Society of Professional Journalists, Helium needed a system that brought their offline credentials into the online community.
For example, a journalist or SPJ member can apply to Helium’s credentialing board with all the necessary information, and the board will check those credentials. If the writer is credentialed as a journalist, then he will receive the appropriate site badge, and a four-star ranking.
A paramedic who is writing on health issues might apply to be credentialed as a medical professional. Credentialing and badges let others know that the writers are people who have substantial experience in particular fields and that their work can be trusted.
Helium has also assembled a credentialed Editorial Team. Potential editors must apply for a position, and pass what Ranalli describes as a very stringent test of their editorial skills before being considered for the team. “I know that the people on are editorial team are top-notch,” Ranalli said, “because even I can’t pass our editor’s test.”
Since the implementation of credentialing and the introduction of the Editorial Team, Ranalli noted that more magazine and online publishers are turning to Helium’s content rather than to freelancers. The pay, however, is lower than what freelancers may once have made. Ranalli sees a downward trend for wages: “People might not get paid the same amounts as in the past, but they will be paid and published.”
Credentialing may also be important as Helium considers doing investigative journalism. In December of 2009, Helium News was introduced to encourage more news-style reporting, as well as collaboration between contributors. Ranalli believes these changes begin creating an online newsroom experience, where seasoned reporters mingle and exchange ideas with new writers.
This “virtual newsroom” community does not fast track publishing on Helium. All articles, whether or not they come from a credentialed writer, are submitted first to a blind peer-review process. This process has always been part of the Helium model of editorial oversight, partly because it can lessen the likelihood stories will be approved based on a writer’s popularity.
Ranalli also consider the blind review process an important way to bring forth new voices that might otherwise never be heard and have the potential to make a strong contribution to journalism.
Helium, over the years, has created partnerships with prestigious organizations in order to raise the profile of it writers. A partnership with the National Press Club has opened the doors of that 100-year-old organization to Helium contributors who have earned a five-star ranking.
And an ongoing relationship with The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting brings the Global Issues/Citizen Voices essay contest on under-reported topics to the Helium community. The current and ninth contest is focused on global maternal health.
Helium hopes these partnerships and its editorial processes elevate it above other content-creation companies. At least some believe it has. The Massachusetts firm was recently named one of the “Hottest Boston Companies.”