It's not news that the newspaper industry is in trouble. Hardly a week seems to pass without word of layoffs, shrinkages, mergers, or closures. It's a scary time for print journalism.
Now newspaper giant Hearst has hit on an interesting way to save money. According to this article in the Boston Business Journal, Hearst will partner with content site Helium, using Helium's "citizen journalists" to contribute local and lifestyle stories to the Hearst Newspapers chain. "Hearst executives say the deal will enable its newspapers to provide local content at a lower cost than using staff resources...Hearst is proud to be a pioneer in leveraging new models that will transform the newspaper industry."
How it will work, apparently, is that Hearst will put stories on specific topics out to bid. Writers can then submit stories through Helium, and Hearst will choose those its likes best and compensate the writers. No word on what the compensation will be, but given the typical article fees paid by publishers soliciting articles through Helium, I think it's safe to assume that "lower cost" in the quote above means "way less than we'd pay a professional journalist."
This is a win-win for Helium, which gets, at the very least, publicity and credibility, and possibly also a bump in membership, drawn by the lure of writing for Hearst. It's a win for Hearst too, which gets to acquire content at bargain prices. For readers of Hearst newspapers...if the arrangement generates high-quality content, it's a win, but a lot of the content on Helium and similar sites is very poor, and I suspect the Hearst people will have to sift through a lot of dross to find the pearls.
And for writers...well, those few who are chosen may regard it as a win, although being grossly underpaid by old media as it attempts to transition to a new business model doesn't strike me as a dream gig. Most, though, will be stuck with a spec story and no compensation. And that's not a win in anyone's book.