End of Summer Report: Local News Media Can Survive

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.

 

Blog #2: Interviews Continue to Create Connections

Throughout this Summer, Dr. Kate Fink and I have been able to progress substantially towards discovering if the organization TAPInto is a viable solution to the lack of funding and popularity of local news. Dr. Fink and I continue to reach out to many different sources to maintain an educated understanding of the organization and its purpose, and also to ensure an unbiased voice throughout our research.

We have reached out to 15 different interviewees, all of whom are TAPInto franchise owners. So far, Dr. Fink has conducted seven of the 15 interviews, each being approximately 1 hour in length. I have transcribed the interviews with assistance from third-party software. Dr. Fink discussed numerous topics with the interviewees. These topics include the purpose of creating a franchise, the owners’ professional background, the nature of working with TAPInto, how employment works, what kind of content gets posted, and how they use revenue sources.

For most of our interviewees, they started working with TAPInto on the side and didn’t focus too much energy on it. Eventually, their platform began to grow, so they became committed. They were independently bringing local news, which interested many townsfolk, and finally gave TAPInto more popularity.

We also referenced written works, including articles written by students at the Columbia School of Journalism, a reference piece from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and Irving Seidman’s Guide for Reporters in Education and the Social Sciences.

These publications showed how communities are now developing and growing around how they access their news. As long as TAPInto remains convenient to readers, it has a chance to become even more popularized.
Connections between the interviews and the reference articles are seemingly obvious. However, Dr. Fink and I are continuously redefining these connections. So far, our research could conclude that TAPInto is indeed a successful business model.

At this point in our research, I still do have some questions that I would like to focus on that I feel we have not quite touched upon yet. I would like to know about the audience of these publications. How popular are they? Do they have a stable/loyal audience, or is it always changing? Are there signs of long term growth in viewership? Is there a way to popularize this platform even more?

Challenges lie simply in our time frame. We are still waiting on responses from interviewees, which is necessary to help connect the dots in our research. In some cases, it is difficult to transcribe the interviews simply because of distracting background noise. Dr. Fink and I are actively avoiding this issue from here on out.

However, the interviews that we have conducted thus far have given us great success. The amount of information that many of these owners have provided us with is immense, so we do have plenty of information to guide us further.

Overall, I would say that this project has helped me to understand that adaptation of news is constant. Whether that adaptation is TAPInto remains uncertain. However, there always will be at least a temporary solution that can encourage growth and deny the failure of local news and other smaller platforms. As someone who strives to be successful in the news and media industry, I could see this majorly impacting my career path. The possibility of change does not frighten me, but only excites me for the many opportunities. I know not to stray from these new and innovative styles of reporting and must remain open to what is at hand.

Blog 1: Seeking Sustainable Funding Models for News: The Case of TAPInto

This summer I am working with Professor Kate Fink to study and research the changing and developing state of the news industry during the modern age through our project titled “Seeking Sustainable Funding Models for News: The Case of TAPInto.” As readers are straying away from newspapers and turning towards social media for their updates on current local and international affairs, news media outlets must find an affordable way to stay in touch with their audience. A way that many outlets have chosen to overcome this challenge is through the use of “teaching hospital” -style journalism for young writers and through franchise models for funding. We will focus on the organization TAPInto, which is a network of local news sites based in New Jersey and New York.

Our purpose is to identify new and innovative methods of providing stability for news media outlets that may be struggling financially. As traditional advertising-dominated revenues are collapsing, many local, as well as college campus-based news outlets (St. Bonaventure University, specifically) are fighting for survival. Organizations, such as TAPInto, are available to adequately assist with changes in news funding, distribution and consumption. Through our research, our goal is to examine a new way of providing news and to consider and discover its’ outcomes and viability to replace other failing styles of reporting. We hope to provide research that can assist in driving news outlets further in their successes, and show that the growth and sustainability of news media is still possible.

We also hope to achieve recognition for our research at the next National College Media Association conference in March 2020, or the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in August 2020. We also plan to submit a paper for publication to a peer-reviewed journal such as Journalism Studies or Journalism.