As the Summer winds down to a close, our research on TAPInto does as well. Professor Kate Fink and I spent these last few weeks attempting to uncover the realities of this new type of franchise-style news media. Does it work?
Our first step to answering this question was by interviewing franchise holders. Fink traveled to meet with as many as fifteen TAPInto franchisees. She also spoke with Mike Shapiro, the founder of TAPInto, for more insight. For more background knowledge, we also read scholarly articles on the decline of local news, franchise-style businesses, and TAPInto itself.
Franchise holders usually began as active members in their community who hoped for better coverage of their town’s local news. When presented with the opportunity to have a more prominent role in their community as a journalist, some jump on it, while others have a bit of skepticism. Even so, whether the franchisee is a retired businessman or a young stay-at-home mom, once they become involved, they find the experience to be fulfilling.
The franchisee usually has a small team of people who work with them. This team may consist of one or two dependable writers, two or three freelancers, and maybe an extra hand to help with content or finances. Sure, there are larger, more popular TAPInto sites that have a more significant staff, but this is the general business model for most of the sites.
As far as credibility goes, many of the franchise owners do not have journalism experience. Some may have done a bit of studying in communications, some have experience in public relations, and some have backgrounds in business or marketing. However, many only hoped to carry out local news, simply because no one else was. This type of franchisee is dependant on having credible staff members. They need journalists and businessmen and women on their team for their franchise to work.
As of now, TAPInto is popular in New Jersey and some New York towns. The hope for the future of the brand is to expand nationwide. This expansion is in no way out of reach. The money that franchisees can make is enough to make a living. However, some do treat TAPInto as a part-time job. Either way, if they know how to run a business, how to promote themselves on social media, how to create ad revenue (which is basically all revenue) and how to create content that catches the eye of their reader, then they have a model that has power.
Overall I would consider this experience to be an interesting one. I did not have many expectations, considering I barely knew what TAPInto was when I started. Honestly, at first, I thought it was a low-budget low-viewership way for locals to pretend they know everything. However, after listening to 15 accounts of how TAPInto has benefited so many people and the news industry, I believe in it.
Yes, there are some quirks to the system, including but not limited to the lack of journalistic background in the people in charge. However, this is still not detrimental, and there still is a bit of training from TAPInto that they receive. I’m from a city upstate that has at least five different local news outlets. TAPInto would not thrive with that kind of competition.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that these small towns do not get media recognition, so I think it is appropriate for the locals to take on the role of local news themselves. I think that more training is necessary, especially in social media, as most of the franchise owners are older and only know Facebook. I think a bigger team makes the job more comfortable, but understandably financial developments must take place beforehand.
TAPInto is a way for local news to stay and can provide paying jobs for journalists who want to settle down. It is a productive way for ordinary people to have a leadership role in the community. TAPInto works because the people do, so the minute that slows down they might be in trouble. However, every person we interviewed have very high expectations of their franchise and are proud to be a piece of TAPInto.