Michael Shapiro is Founder and CEO of TAPinto, a network of more than 90 franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida. He is a "Voices" columnist for Editor & Publisher Magazine. Shapiro is a graduate of Rutgers College, Rutgers University and Stanford Law School.
TAPinto is a network of more than 90 franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida with more than 2 million readers per month.
In this episode
“Local news is not dying, it's evolving” states Michael Shapiro of TAPinto. There are thousands of towns that have no local newspaper or local news site. What's replacing them are Facebook groups and forums and the equivalent filled with misinformation, disinformation, and rumors. Michael believes that this is undermining our democracy and causing a lot of problems throughout the whole country. The solution is to create a sustainable, scalable model for local news to serve every single town in the country.
For Michael, the key is creating a network of individually owned and operated local news sites where they can share content with each other seamlessly. They can sell advertising for each other seamlessly. Advertisers, whether local, regional, or national, have one point of contact that they need to deal with who can help them market across the country.
“You can create a profitable local news site or even a mini network of local news sites and have high return on investment with little overhead”, observes Michael. You want people coming back to your site every single day. You do that by providing original local news content that they can't get anywhere else, and doing it every single day for the residents of your town or your area.
A glimpse of what you'll hear
02:15 Local news is a scalable business but it must be objective
02:56 What is local news?
04:34 Church vs. State in today's local news environment
06:15 What does the local news business model of the future look like?
07:54 The economics of the local news business
11:42 Learn about Michael Shapiro on his and TAPinto's story. Email Michael at email@example.com or call him at +1.908.370.1158.
Centricity Introduction 0:04
Welcome to the Best Kept Secret videocast and podcast from Centricity. If you're a B2B service professional, use our five step process to go from the grind of chasing every sale. to keeping your pipeline full with prospects knocking on your door to buy from you. We give you the freedom of time and a life outside of your business. Each episode features an executive from a B2B services company sharing their provocative perspective on an opportunity that many of their clients are missing out on. It's how we teach our clients to get executive decision makers to buy without being salesy or spammy. Here's our host, the co founder and CEO of Centricity, Jay Kingley.
Jay Kingley 0:43
I'm Jay Kingley, co founder and CEO Centricity. Welcome to another episode of the Best Kept Secret podcast, where I'm happy to welcome Michael Shapiro, founder and CEO of TAPinto a network of more than 90 franchise local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida, with more than 2 million readers per month. And Michael is based in Parkland, Florida. Now, Michael, when I was a young kid, I remember in the afternoon, we'd get the local newspaper delivered, I would devour it front to center, my parents would devour it, it formed the basis of conversation over the dinner table. And then as I became an adult, they started to disappear. And now they're almost all gone. Even some of the biggest names in the business who historically served large cities, in terms of local news are either shutting down, they're making massive cuts to their publication. You really have the sense this is a dying extinct, you want to know about local news, check back in the history museum. And hey, who cares? Because we got tick tock. So I have a sense that you might have a different perspective on that. So what is it that everybody is missing out on when it comes to local news?
Michael Shapiro 2:12
Yeah, thanks. Thanks so much for having me here today. Local news is not dying, it's evolving. And what everybody's missing out on is that local news is actually scalable. And that's really the solution for local news, what we see in communities throughout the country, there are 1000s of towns that have no local newspaper, no local news site, and what's replacing them are Facebook groups and forums and things like that, where there's a lot of misinformation, disinformation, rumors, etc. And that's really undermining our democracy and causing a lot of problems throughout the whole country. The solution is objective local news in every single town in the country. And in my view, the way to do that is to create a sustainable, scalable model for local news.
Jay Kingley 2:56
So Michael, just want to clarify the term news. Because you talk about Facebook, Facebook groups and other social media platforms, you know, from where I sit. That's not news, as people with an agenda, you have lots of rumors, you have lots of partisan, fact free, I wish the world work this way. So that's what I'm going to claim is going on, you even see some of the television networks out there that are moving into this fact free world of doing business. So when you talk about news, what are we talking about?
When I refer to news, I'm referring to original local news reporting, that's a journalist, a reporter on the ground covering everything from the town council meeting, to the Board of Education, to High School Sports, to events in town, a real life person who's actually reporting what's going on objectively, you know, and including both sides, if there are both sides to an issue, and doing so without sensationalizing. That's also really important. And to me that that's what needs to be happening in communities throughout the country. That people in every town know what's going on. And they're given objective, nonpartisan news and information so they can make up their own mind. They don't need a media outlet to tell them how to vote or what to think, if you do it, right. And you provide high quality objective news and information they can make up their own mind. They don't need us to tell them how to vote or what to think.
Right and just to jump ahead, Michael a little bit. When I've talked in the past with journalists from the old days, one of the things you would always hear is church and state. And the difference between the journalist side and the business side, obviously is we'll get into part of the business model here is advertisers coming in. So how, in your view, would you know local news need to deal with this issue of church and state?
Michael Shapiro 4:55
Sure. I mean, I think you have to rethink church and state while keeping the traditional boundaries. So for example, when it comes to content, there's something called sponsored content or content marketing. And a publication, a news publication can provide that to their readers for an advertiser, but it needs to be transparent, it needs to be marked as sponsored content. So that the reader knows, hey, this is being paid for this is being subsidized. As long as you're in my view, as long as you're transparent and honest with the readers, that's the key thing. But you know, by creating, you know, local, you know, local news and other publications, you're able to help those advertisers reach local readers, and do so in such a way that enables them to speak directly to the readers of a given town. And that's really important for these businesses to be able to reach those local readers. And as long as it's done in such a way that's transparent and open, then everybody's protected. And you really kind of keep the the the whole idea behind the Church and State separation. That's the idea behind it, the honesty and the transparency. And that's, that's, that's key, I think, to any viable local news model.
Jay Kingley 6:05
Now, I know I jumped the gun a little bit. But let's, let's go back just to half the stuff. So you've talked about the issues and what people are missing about local news. So what in your view? Does the local news model of the future and you know, stretching back to right here, and now that you see emerging? What does that model look like?
Michael Shapiro 6:27
Yeah, I mean, I think that the mistake a lot of people are making these, they're when they're creating a local news model, they're a silo, they're by themselves, they're on their own island, I think the key to creating a sustainable local news model is for news sites, to be able to seamlessly share content with each other, and to be able to sell advertising into each other, which enables them to scale both on the content side and the advertising side. It also enables them to attract not only mom and pops and local businesses, but regional businesses, and eventually even national businesses who want to who want to reach those eyeballs on a local level and want to speak directly to those readers in those towns. So to me, the key is creating a network of, of locally owned and operated local news sites where they can share content with each other seamlessly. They can sell advertising into each other seamlessly. And where the advertiser only has one point of contact that they need to deal with, who can help them market insights for across the country.
Jay Kingley 7:26
I mean, I've that strikes me as a very elegant solution to what I think is really stymied a lot of people, which is how do you scale, a business, which superficially looks like? It's not scalable, because it's at a local, small level? And I think you you have a very provocative way of thinking about it. Now, let's say you had someone out there who said, Yes, local news is important. This is something that needs to be done. What, you know, how does the economics How do the benefits look to someone who's prepared to go down this path?
Michael Shapiro 8:04
Yeah, I mean, it really depends on which route that they take. But you can create a profitable local news site or even a mini network of local news sites, and have high return on investment and little overhead. It's more of a matter of thinking about it creatively, and and thinking about how you can take advantage of scale to reduce your expenses, while also at the same time providing your high quality objective local news. That's the key because you want people coming back to your site every single day. And how do you do that, and you do that by providing original local news content that they can't get anywhere else, and providing it every single day for the residents of your town or your area.
Jay Kingley 8:44
And from what I'm hearing from you, it sounds like there's some increasing returns to scale. And by that, I mean that whoever can get out there and really create a pretty significant network that gives broad geographic coverage, while doing so at a very local level, is going to have an advantage to someone who has a much smaller network, you know, and I'm thinking about, you know, certainly from the advertiser side, from the reader side, and from whoever is on the business side, trying to pull all this together. So that brings Michael to, you know, it sounds pretty compelling. So what is it that you need to do in order to make this happen?
Michael Shapiro 9:31
Yeah, I mean, I think in order to make it happen, you need to, you need to create, you know, a network of local news sites that are all running on the same content management system that enables you to seamlessly share content with each other's sites, and also be able to have a similar sales network functioning through that content management system. I think that that's key and coming up with a structure both on the editorial side as well as on the sales side to be able to handle the reporting of for those sites, and also to be able to handle the sales to the local, regional and perhaps statewide businesses on the sales side, that those are the things you really need to have in place in order to be able to do something like this successfully.
Jay Kingley 10:17
Well, Michael, you've certainly opened up my eyes to the potential of a business that I have been mourning for a number of years, and I think, prematurely so. So we're gonna take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to learn Michael, a little bit more about you and your story.
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Jay Kingley 11:37
Welcome back. Now let's find out a little bit more about Michael. And Michael's business. So Michael, is I mentioned in the beginning, you're the founder of TAPinto, you have got a fairly well established network in some of the major economic areas of the country. But let's understand what is it and by the way, you have a what I consider a really interesting platform business, because you've got not one, not two, but three constituents that you have got to keep happy, because why not have a high degree of difficulty here? So tell me what are the critical pain points that you're dealing with, across his constituents,
Michael Shapiro 12:25
Who are our first constituencies our readers, and for them, they want to know what's going on in their town, and they want objective local news. So for our readers, that's what we provide to them. For advertisers, whether it's a small mom and pop regional or statewide business, they're looking to speak directly to our readers unfiltered. And we enable them to do that through everything from content marketing, to email marketing, to social media marketing, to traditional banner advertising. So we provide a lot of vehicles for businesses of any size that are affordable and effective for them to reach our audience. And then lastly, our third audience are our franchisees. For them, we create a turnkey business for them that has little overhead, high ROI and, and where they can really scale this business as much as they want to scale it. And it really fits in with basically anybody's lifestyle from somebody who wants to do this full time, to part time to somebody who would like to just invest in it, and then bring on a staff to do the the content and do the advertising sales. So we really make it doable for really anybody that is passionate about local news and helping their community who has a good business head on their shoulders to be successful doing this.
Jay Kingley 13:38
Yeah, I wanted to ask you, are there any particular requirements that would rule in or rule out somebody who was interested in becoming a
Michael Shapiro 13:48
Yes, so generally, we look for people who have business backgrounds, business development, background sales backgrounds. And, and usually they will partner with or hire a writer or journalist to do the content side. Sometimes it's the reverse. Sometimes it's a writer or journalist who wants to own the site, and then they partner with a salesperson to do the content side. But I think the key thing is one, that they need to commit to doing at least one original local news story a day, they have to agree to be objective, they have to agree to follow the Society of Professional drills, ethics. Those are really the cornerstones of our business. Because, you know, our reputation rests on that of our franchisees and the quality of the content they're doing and their ethics. So it's really important that everybody who comes into our family of sites, observes those those rules that we have.
Jay Kingley 14:36
Now right now you've got a concentration, New Jersey, New York, Florida. Are there any other Let me ask it this way? Are there any geography so would you say look, I appreciate your honor. Oh, Montana, but that's not yet on our horizon, or are you good for anywhere in the country? Yeah,
Michael Shapiro 14:56
So I'm since we're a franchise with there are rules regarding where we can and cannot franchise. In most states, we can franchise in states where we are not, you have to get approved in some states to be able to franchise. So if somebody approached us from, I don't know, like Illinois, and they wanted to franchise, that's something that we would seriously consider. But we need to get approved by the franchise board in Illinois. That said, you know, our goal is eventually to expand throughout the country and to scale it across the country, because, you know, we really firmly believe this, this is a model that can really save local news.
Jay Kingley 15:30
Now, one of the things that I always ask, folks, is, you know, while it's nice to talk about what you do, of course, you're never the only person who does what you do. And therefore, when that's what you talk about, you sound like everybody else, which means your average. And when you're average, I know two things. One, no one wants to buy you, because they all want to buy the best that they can given the budget. And secondly, if they don't have a choice, it's price, price price, lowest price wins, just typically as a business person, not what you want to focus on. So instead of talking about what you do, I want to understand, Michael, what makes you great at being able to build TAPinto into the vision that you have in mind?
Michael Shapiro 16:15
Yeah, I mean, well, one, I think is is the experience that I had starting TAPinto you, as you might know, I started tapping to, because when my son was one, we found out that he would need open heart surgery, he's now 14, and he's fine. But that was the family side was a driving force me starting this. Second was my passion for community. You know, throughout my whole life, I've always been very involved in the community. But when, when, when at that time, I was an attorney in New York, I was commuting back and forth from New Jersey. And I didn't, I wasn't able to do anything but work, I wasn't able to see my family, and I wasn't able to give back to my community. And so those two things kind of came together in me starting to TAPinto and, you know, initially, I started tapping to in my old hometown of New Providence, New Jersey. And then we started to get requests from people in neighboring towns, so we expand it to a couple of other towns. And then I left my job to do it full time, we started to get so many requests from people, but I couldn't do any more sites myself. So I started thinking, you know, how could we expand yet keep it really local, and took me a long time, it took me six years, but eventually I came up with this idea of franchising local news. And based on my experiences throughout the whole, you know, now 13 years that I've been doing this, I've learned so much. And we've created a family of franchisees here who have that same knowledge base that I've been able to, to relate to them. But also key, and I think it's really important is collaboration. Collaboration is really the key to success, that our franchisees collaborate with each other all the time on the content side and the advertising side. And we as the at corporate, you know, we're actively involved in collaborating with that, you know, we work hand in hand to make this successful, because truthfully, that's what it takes. I know, there's that old saying, you know, it takes a village. But in the case of local news, it truly takes a village to and to create local news in a village. And that's what we're doing town by town by town.
Jay Kingley 18:13
What a magnificent story. And it's a great business. I think it's it's one of these opportunities, where not only is there a good business opportunity, but I think a vibrant local news is an is a very important part of the Fourth Estate, upon which our country and democracy and freedom rests. So I think you encourage people go to LinkedIn, connect with Michael, you'll so you'll see Michael's history, and you now have a little bit of context as to how he got where he is. But Michael, if I've got people in our audience who want to learn more, whether they're interested in just your sense of local news, and that's important, so they're on the advertising side, the franchise side, what have you, how should people get in touch with you?
Michael Shapiro 19:08
Sure they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can visit our franchising site at starttap.net. And they can also even call me you know, give out my cell phone. It's 908-370-1158. And I'd love to hear from everybody.
Jay Kingley 19:26
Fabulous. And we'll put the contact information in our show notes. One last quick question for you, Michael. Before we wrap up, if someone hasn't been to one of your local news sites, how can they quickly find one of the sites that they get a flavor for how it really works?
Michael Shapiro 19:42
Sure. I mean, they can they can really choose any any town that we have. But for example, they can go to tapintowestfield.net or they can go to tapinto and select Westfield from the town drop down or any other town and go directly to tap into Westfield and see one of our sites in Westfield, New Jersey, or they can choose the town where they live because We have sites now in in over 100 communities in New York, New Jersey and Florida.
Jay Kingley 20:04
Michael, you've been terrific. I encourage all of our listeners, please reach out. Trust me, I have learned so much in my discussions with Michael. It is well worth your time. All right, everybody. Until next time, let's continue to crush it out there. Take care