In nearly one hundred towns in New Jersey and in thousands of towns across the country, there is no local newspaper. Nothing in print. Nothing online. This is a crisis for democracy itself.
In these communities, “news” is exchanged either by word of mouth, through a Facebook forum, or through a blog. At election time, residents can find out where the candidates stand on issues by receiving a partisan mailer typically filled with personal attacks and unfounded accusations. These alternative sources of “news” often are inaccurate enabling truly “fake news” to become gospel and misinforming residents both about issues as well as the candidates running for office.
A vibrant and free local press is essential to democracy. Such a local press enables people to be informed and become involved in the political process. It enables residents to make educated decisions. In its truest form, a local newspaper provides objective non-partisan news and information and enables readers to make up their own minds about what to think and for whom to vote.
With many local newspapers going out of business or regionalizing or being sold to multinational conglomerates, a void or news desert is being created in hundreds of towns throughout the country. Because there is a real need and desire for local news, Facebook groups and blogs rush to fill the void, doing more harm than good by propagating inaccurate information and “fake news.”
Meanwhile, in towns that have a local newspaper, in a misguided attempt to survive, the local paper is typically becoming more and more sensationalized to draw eyeballs and become louder and louder in its editorial page to attract readers. Unfortunately, by doing so, the local newspaper is digging its own grave. Sensationalizing the news, particularly on the local level, may attract pageviews in the short term, but long-term it turns people off and causes many people to look for other sources of news. While a strident editorial page may appeal to some, it typically appeals to the most partisan among us, who are a small fraction of the residents of a town. This also results in the majority of people looking for another vehicle for their local news.
People want truly local news, not regionalized news. They want objective news. They’d prefer not to have to rely on a multinational conglomerate for their local news. They don’t want to have the newspaper editor’s opinion jammed down their throat. They don’t want sensationalized news.
From the newspaper’s perspective, they generally all want to do a good job and do right by the community, but they need to make money to survive and they need to be able to compete with the larger regional/state papers for advertising and eyeballs. And they are being pushed to the side by Facebook and other behemoths who are soliciting the same businesses for advertising who have a limited marketing budget. So what’s the solution?
The solution is a scalable sustainable local journalism model that enables the creation of a network of independent owner/publishers who can share content with a click of a button and can also sell advertising throughout the network. As the network grows, it attracts more and more eyeballs and includes more and more zipcodes that are attractive to regional and then statewide and eventually national businesses. There is no editorial page so the local news site doesn’t tell you how to vote or what to think and has no agenda except to serve the reader. And because it is locally owned and operated, it is in it for the long haul so has no interest in sensationalizing the news for a few pageviews.
It’s at work here in New Jersey and New York in a company I founded called TAPinto.net Each site is franchised to local owner/publishers who objectively cover the local daily news in their communities and sell advertising to the local businesses. With 61 TAPinto sites in New Jersey and New York and more than 5.5M readers during the last year, TAPinto is now able to attract regional advertisers interested in marketing on many TAPinto sites, delivering even more revenue for our franchisees while providing a local platform for larger companies looking to get local.
Franchising is effective and affordable, with the typical TAPinto franchisee paying around $5,000 per year to own their own online newspaper in their own community. The annual franchise fee includes the site, hosting, email accounts, training, tech support, billing/credit card processing, and much more. Franchisees currently include businesspeople, journalists, public relations professionals, nonprofits, and even St. Bonaventure University. More information can be found at www.starttap.net
Local news is critical to the preservation of our democracy. Whether it is the TAPinto model or some other model, a sustainable local journalism model is more important than ever, regardless of your political persuasion. In fact, whether you are a Republican, Democrat or independent; conservative, liberal or uncommitted; by and large I think we can all agree that objective news is key to an educated and informed populace. Perhaps the cause of local news can be something we can all rally around and bring our country together?