Interview with Helium’s Mark Ranalli, on citizen journalism and more

Filed as Interviews on September 26, 2008 10:00 am

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Helium is one of those citizen journalism sites, where people can submit stories on various topics, and hopefully be read. At first glance, it reminds me of Instablogs, one of the stronger voices for citizen journalism.

What really got me interested in Helium, however, is the Marketplace. Basically, it’s a way for writers to earn a little money on the stories they publish on Helium, because other media outlets can buy publication rights through the Marketplace. That’s a pretty cool concept, and a way for citizen journalists to, possibly, reach the more traditional journalistic publications. That is, if the content is good enough, and if Helium can push the Marketplace as a solid place for getting in on a story for other publications.

Mark Ranalli, CEO of Helium, was gracious enough to do a short interview on Helium, the Marketplace, and citizen journalism in general.

We’ve seen some citizen journalism sites launch and evolve the last year or so. How does Helium differ from the rest of them?

Helium is the only true meritocracy online. Our open publishing platform invites everyone to participate, yet only the best articles (as rated by our other members) are actively promoted to our readers. Our uniqueness is based on our concept of competition for quality. Many members will write ‘competitive’ articles on the same subject – then these competitive articles are rated by other Helium members through our peer review system. The articles best rise to the top.

You’re offering a marketplace for content submitted by Helium writers, aimed at publishers of course. How is this working out, and who is buying?

We’ve been very pleased with the success of our freelance Marketplace. Since its launch in March 2008, Helium Marketplace has attracted hundreds of publishers, ranging from magazine publishers to newspapers to websites.

What’s the next logical step for Helium in general, and citizen journalism overall?

Helium is based on a philosophy of constant improvement. Our content continues to improve through open competition; our writers continue to improve though feedback from peers; our site continues to improve through ongoing innovation; and our payments to our writers continue to increase as we a greater readership. We are focused on becoming the leading community of writers, which in turn, we believe creates a richer resource for our publishing partners and our readers.

As for citizen journalism overall, we’re still in the early stages of understanding how it fits in the overall publishing system. The Internet has created a platform for people to share their ideas – like nothing we’ve ever seen before – but as we all see, it’s not obvious that we’re using this tool for the betterment of mankind yet. Look at some of the trash that is being produced through the political blogosphere in reaction to this election. Although the press has not historically acted as saints, they have for the most part followed a set of ethical principals in reporting. This is not true of the vast majority of bloggers, who I feel have set us off in a bad direction. If you define the blogoshphere as citizen journalism, then I believe the outlook for the industry is ugly. Yet, I believe we are in the early stages and innovations such as Helium and our vision of creating a fair and trusted ranking system to help sort the good from the bad will ultimately help us identify and promote quality insights from previously non-established voices.

Thanks for doing the interview, Mark Ranalli! Readers interested in Helium should check it out, of course. If you’re interested in citizen journalism overall, the my interview with Instablogs’ Ankit Maheshwari might be worth a look as well.

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