Is this what comes next? Intrigue, horror, and relief in the world of Content


Content is King.  And he's mad.Interested to see that Massachusetts-based Helium pulled in a round of financing this month, as announced by Mass High Tech.  This story was the second time in recent months that I’ve run across the company, and I’m appalled, intrigued, and relieved to see its value proposition gaining traction.

Helium is building a content library filled with the work of freelance writers, with the idea that publishers of newsletters, websites, and even internal communications vehicles can pull relevant pieces from the cache.  As the website notes, “we believe publishers need an easier, more efficient way to get the content they need.”

In the spirit of the playoffs, here’s a slow motion breakdown of my three reactions to this content model:

I’m appalled, because…

Is this what comes next?  The Helium website asserts that “if you have what it takes to research topics and issues, lend an objective voice and write compelling articles, then you are a citizen journalist.”

This follows the spirit of CNN’s iReporter – or, less succinctly named, “anyone with a camera and computer.”  [Note to self: trademark AWACAC]  And guess what?  The concept is being continuously widened, yet is held to no good standard, brings us to no good end, and paves the way for irresponsible reporting, slander, misinformation, and total corruption of the fourth estate.

Journalism actually has a real definition (I KNOW – crazy!): “the profession or practice of reporting about, photographing, or editing news stories for one of the mass media.”  The key words in there are “mass media.”  Journalism is not a hobby, it is an obligation to report facts to the masses and thereby provide society with a reliable source of introspection and analysis.

So let’s slow down on the “citizen journalism,” if you don’t mind.

On the other hand, I’m intrigued, because…

Is this what comes next?  It isn’t exactly a new model, but it does try to take the library concept to a new level.  Content is King and Access is Queen, and here the two meet in the online courtyard and give each other a big smooch.

We’ve seen a consistent increase in the call for well crafted, thoughtful content – and at the same time, a dramatic plunge in staffing within the publishing world.  This could indeed be the perfect time and the perfect solution for publications that want to be more than aggregators but lack the resources or commitment to generate their own material.

All that said, I’m also relieved, because…

Is this what comes next?  There were a few years there when the value of content was diminished.  The world took the scope and possibility of the Internet and assumed that a vast quantity of material – however poorly written — made us smarter.

Common sense told us that this would shake out and that as we adjusted to the infinite jest of cyberspace, quality would fight its way through the noise.  That does seem to be happening, and it goes well beyond Helium.  The credibility of The Huffington Post and the release of the iPad-only “The Daily” are high profile indications that intelligent, artful content is winning the war.

I can blame my sleepness nights on the Celtics, the Bruins, the Red Sox, and Disney World, but the state of content and journalism also has its place in this insomniac’s 2 a.m. highlight reel.  Perhaps this post will help put that to bed…


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