July 4, 2010

They are called a variety of euphemisms, from “content mills” or “content farms” to “content creation houses” and the Fifth Estate, but make no mistake: sites that specialize in the production and distribution of user-generated content are influencing the news industry and journalism.

The evergreen content produced by Demand Media, Helium.com, and Associated Content finds its way from these platforms to a variety of media partners, including newspapers, magazines and online news providers seeking to add local or evergreen content to their sites.

These partnerships generate low-cost content for publications and revenue for the content provider. And for some writers, these opportunities provide them with credibility and a small amount of regular income.

In a recent webinar hosted by Poynter’s News University, Mitch Gelman, Vice President of Special Projects at Examiner.com — a relatively recent addition to the stable of content creation houses — discussed the differences between these sites.

Gelman introduced three basic models that describe the writers drawn to the sites and the content that they provide.

  • Open Mic sites have their roots in the “Speaker’s Corner.” People drive the content production on these sites. Both Associated Content and Helium.com have Open Mic components to their content production models. Demand Media may be adding this to their offerings in the near future as well.
  • Buzz Brokers analyze search trends and put out calls for stories. Associated Content has incorporated this model, and this is the primary content model at Demand Media.
  • Pro-Am sites reach out to people in neighborhoods who can contribute. Its roots are in the stringer model of local newspapers, and these models seek to develop their contributors’ skills. Helium and Examiner.com make use of aspects of this model.
The three pieces in this series touch on elements of each model. The partnership between Demand Media and USA Today for travel content reflects some buzz brokering. The purchase of Associated Content by Yahoo! may demonstrate the value of a local open mic. And Helium’s strategy of credentialing writers underlines a distinct pro-am influence.

Key to how each of these develops will be the evolution of their contributor communities. Their respective page views make it clear there is a huge demand for the content produced. And if contributor participation and collaboration continue, maybe these upstart disruptors will begin to replicate a virtual newsroom experience while expanding their business models.

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Tish Grier began her freelance writing career in 2005 with a huge leap of faith and a couple of blogs. Since then, she became the…
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