Blog Posts

Student Reporting Contest Banner
Student Reporting Contest: How are we poisoning our environment?

Friday Oct 09, 2015  |  0 comments

“A simple pecking order has always characterized mankind’s relationship to waste: The wealthy throw out what they do not want, the poor scavenge what they can, and whatever remains is left to rot.”  — Dan Fagin, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction, from the book Toms River.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Joining a wide array of politicians, scientists, activists, advocates, and religious leaders in recognizing the critical state of our environmental health, the Rutgers Department of Journalism and Media Studies and Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University are making an open call for student journalism stories focused on the topic of environmental health and justice in New Jersey. The best of these stories will be included as part of a statewide collaborative project, Dirty Little Secrets: New Jersey’s Toxic Legacy, which specifically focuses on the lesser-known stories of environmental contamination in the state. And the very best will be awarded cash prizes.

We are looking for New Jersey-based news stories in all mediums, which seek answers to the following question: How are particular environmental issues impacting the health of local communities in New Jersey? Consider the following topics:

  • Health impacts and remediation of toxic sites across the state
  • The state of our water, air, cities, and food — with particular concern to human and environmental health
  • Climate issues that have changed or impacted communities
  • Preparation for and effects of weather and earth events

In addition to original ideas, we will maintain a repository of specific ideas related to our project that students may draw from. Reporting well on one of these ideas, rather than generating an original idea, will not penalize a submission.

We are looking for stories that are specific, well-reported and which break new ground on telling the story of New Jersey’s toxic legacy.

Grand Prize:   $650
Second Prize: $300
Third Prize:     $150

Winners will be announced at a public event at Rutgers University on December 9, 2015.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Applicants must be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at a New Jersey university or college, including community colleges.
  • Written stories should be no longer than 2,500 words.
  • Video and audio submissions should be no longer than five minutes.

Please submit stories to and include the word “SUBMISSION” in the subject line. Submissions are due on November 23, 2015.

For more information contact Todd Wolfson at or Debbie Galant at

The judging panel will include Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, George Rodrigue, editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Victor Pickard, associate professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Andaiye Taylor ofBrick City Live, and Ju-Don Marshall Roberts of LifePosts, Inc.

Print RU-logo

Center Scratchings Banner
Who says venture capitalists run the world?

Friday Sep 18, 2015  |  0 comments


The debate about whether local news can scale has been going on for years. In many ways, it’s been the Holy Grail. Remember Backfence? Patch? (Yes, it’s still there, but more a network of Potemkin Villages operated by a skeleton crew). Now, Carll Tucker’s Daily Voice, which started as Main Street Connect, has risen from bankruptcy and begun an ambitious new network of 22 new digital news sites in North Jersey. That effort is being helmed by longterm Jersey newsman Jerry DeMarco, who is still running his own indie hyperlocal Cliffview Pilot, focused on breaking cop news. Since DeMarco is the Energizer Bunny of local journalism, we’ll hold back on our usual cynicism.

Proof That No News Is Not Good News

Friday Aug 21, 2015  |  0 comments

By Mike Rispoli – Free Press

One of the main goals of our News Voices: New Jersey project is to elevate the role of communities at their local media outlets.

To that end, we asked our Garden State members to tell us how they consume news, what issues they care about, and how well they feel local media reflect their communities. More than 300 people responded — and their answers were informative.

Over half of the respondents said their communities don’t get enough local coverage. This result reflects what previous research has revealed: In a state with 565 municipalities, there simply isn’t enough local, regional and statewide news coverage of New Jersey communities.

Newsrooms in the Garden State have seen dramatic staffing cuts in recent years, a fact our members noted. Meanwhile, half of all survey respondents said that the New York City–Philadelphia broadcast stations that dominate the airwaves in New Jersey also overlook their communities.

Runaway media consolidation has had a dramatic impact in New Jersey, said a survey respondent from Rumson. “The past two decades have seen local newspapers bought out and either eventually closed down, absorbed or just hanging on with little local coverage,” he said. “The loss of local news has a great effect on community well being.”

A quarter of respondents feel that local media outlets present an inaccurate view of their communities. “I’m a person of color,” said a respondent from Asbury Park, “and the media only talks about my community when some crime takes place, but [ignores] the day-to-day events and struggles of the people.”

A respondent from Jersey City echoed this sentiment. “The crime rate in my area is high, and that fact always overshadows all of the good parts about my community.”

Here’s a sampling of other survey responses:

“New York City and/or Philadelphia-based news [outlets] seem to mostly tell stories of everything that’s wrong with New Jersey and very little of what we’re doing right,” said a respondent from Mendham. “There are over 8.9 million people living in the Garden State and yet ‘the news’ is only focused on Chris Christie.”“It’s difficult to make decisions about the local government,” a respondent from Milltown said, “when there’s little to no information about the candidates.”“As with most states,” said a respondent from Westfield, “the New Jersey statehouse corps has been significantly reduced and all reporters are overworked, lacking resources for investigative journalism.”A respondent from Sparta captured what so many people across the state feel: “Our community is ignored.”

Indeed, the most dramatic survey result is this one: A resounding 84 percent of respondents said they want the media to cover local issues. This response is in sync with national data from the Pew Research Center, which recently found that nearly 9 out of 10 residents follow local news and say it plays an important role in their lives (admittedly, our survey was far less scientifically rigorous than Pew’s*).

The amazing responses from our members reinforce News Voices’ plans to bring communities into the debate on the future of journalism. It backs up what we’ve been hearing from both newsrooms and residents across the state: We need to collaborate to strengthen local journalism and bring more perspectives into the news.

We hope to create a network of newsrooms and residents in New Jersey to benefit both groups. We aim to build the capacity of journalists who are being asked to do more with less, and we hope to encourage those same journalists to better represent and respond to the needs of local audiences.

Scroll through the data below for our complete survey results. And to get involved in the News Voices: New Jersey project, email me at

On a scale from 1 (awful) to 5 (excellent), how would you rate your local news outlets?

1:  20%

2: 28%

3: 30%

4: 17%

5: 5%

Which subjects do you wish local news outlets would do a better job of covering? (Check all that apply.)

Local government (municipal, county, etc.): 84%

State government: 57%

Civic institutions (community nonprofits, arts organizations, social services, etc.): 49%

Economic development: 51%

Environment and planning: 63%

Transportation: 41%

Education and local schools: 51%

Health: 35%

Communities of color: 30%

The LGBTQ community: 25%

Emergencies and safety risks: 36%

Where can you find news and information about your community? (Check all that apply.)

Daily newspaper: 40%

Weekly newspaper: 42%

Radio station: 51%

TV station: 53%

Website run by a newspaper, radio station or TV station: 42%

Online-only news outlet: 35%

Campus newspaper: 4%

Black, Spanish-language or other ethnic media: 2%

Social media: 37%

I can’t find news and information about my community: 11%

How well does local media coverage reflect your community? (Check all that apply.)

My community gets enough local news coverage: 21%

My community doesn’t get enough local news coverage: 52%

Local media outlets provide an accurate view of my community: 20%

Local media outlets provide an inaccurate view of my community: 25%

New York City and/or Philadelphia-based news outlets cover my community: 19%

New York City and/or Philadelphia-based news outlets ignore my community: 50%

New York City and/or Philadelphia-based news outlets provide an accurate view of my community: 5%

New York City and/or Philadelphia-based news outlets provide an inaccurate view of my community: 21%

*Free Press invited our members and others who live in New Jersey to take this survey so we could get a better sense of their perspectives on local media. We promoted the survey through email outreach and social media, making the link available to anyone who wanted to take part. Our goal was member engagement rather than social science research, and the results should be viewed with that in mind.

Original photo by Flickr user Hermits Moores

This story was originally published on

New Forms of Revenue: What’s a publisher to do?

Thursday Jun 25, 2015  |  0 comments


Dylan Smith, publisher of the Tucson Sentinel, had an idea to photograph every mile of the Arizona-Mexico border, but it wasn’t going to be cheap. In order to raise money for the project, Smith launched a crowdfunding campaign and asked for $3,000 in donations. He raised $15,000.

The success of Smith’s campaign was due in part to its simplicity and specificity, but crowdfunding is not a well he’ll be going back to any time soon.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 12.46.31 PM
Sad News in Newsville: The South Brunswick Post Closes Its Doors

Tuesday May 05, 2015  |  0 comments


The South Brunswick Post – a longtime staple of the central Jersey news scene and a training ground for many journalists in the state – published its final edition last week, bringing the weekly paper’s 57-year legacy to a close. The Post was launched in 1958 by The Princeton Packet, which itself was started in 1955 by the legendary Barney Kilgore, credited with bringing the Wall Street Journal into the modern newspaper age.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 1.57.05 PM
#Bridgegate Returns: Wildstein’s Guilty Plea

Friday May 01, 2015  |  0 comments

Michael Shapiro’s NJ News Franchising Experiment

Friday Mar 06, 2015  |  0 comments

By Tara George

Michael Shapiro seems an unlikely architect of a sustainable model for hyperlocal journalism: he’s a lawyer with no background in business or in journalism.

But Shapiro claims to have found a way to make local journalism pay – and on a large scale. His franchise of TAPinto hyperlocal news websites has found a market among entrepreneurial people often with no journalism experience who are looking for a second income they can generate from home.

So far, Shapiro has 30 local news websites in the TAPinto franchise network, 28 in New Jersey and two relatively recent additions in Pennsylvania. He hopes to have ten more sold by May, and is clear about his aggressive ambitions for expansion.

“My goal is that in the next two years to have close to 100 sites,” he says during an interview in New Providence where he lives and where he and his wife started their first hyperlocal site in 2008, then called The Alternative Press. “If I can’t do it myself, I would like a strategic partner that can help us expand.”

Shapiro’s model appeals to news entrepreneurs looking for a turnkey operation that sets them up soup to nuts with a website, business model, content management system, inexpensive libel insurance, a back office billings service and tech and editorial support – all for an annual fee of $3,750 to $6,250 depending on the size of the town.

Most of his franchise-holders are not journalists, so Shapiro has hired a couple of professional reporters to train site owners in basic reporting and writing skills including how to master AP style.

Some 90 percent of his franchisees are women, many of them moms looking for flexible ways to work from home and be around for their kids. Indeed, he targets mothers groups while scoping out potential customers.

Shapiro has found that it often works best to have two owners for one town’s franchise and 70 percent of his sites operate this way. The pair often divvy up the workload, one doing the journalism and the other selling adds that cost between $200 to $750 a month depending on placement and size.

“This is not necessarily a business that requires a journalistic background,” said Jessica Marrone, who co-owns the Livingston TAP and had a previous career in business development. “Even if you have that journalistic background, you’re not going to succeed if you don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Shapiro says prospective buyers should budget between 15 and 20 hours per week on content and less time on sales, 5 to 10 hours. But franchise-holders like Marrone say the workload is more 50-50 with at least 20 hours a week on each. And time expenditure can vary greatly depending on the strengths and commitment of each individual franchise holder.

Dave Lackey said his background in local newspaper ad sales served him well when he bought into the Shapiro’s business in 2012, taking over sites for three towns: Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn. But the journalism part of the operation was much harder than he’d bargained for.

“I’d go to a meeting and that would take hours, then I’d go through my notes and pick out the quotes and the whole story would take me six or seven hours,” said Lackey, who gave up his franchise after two years, parting ways with Shapiro on good terms before moving to Brooklyn where he now runs an audio equipment business.

On the other hand, journalists who enter the fray with hyperlocal often wrestle with the sales aspect of the job. Shapiro has one such franchisee who struggles with the business end because he doesn’t “have a sales bone in his body.”

One obvious risk to having a network of news sites run by people with little to no journalism training is that the quality of journalism could suffer. The stories on the TAP sites deal with restaurant openings and closings, community and school events, or weather advisories. Stories about heavier-duty issues such as budgets are rare.

Michele McLellan, a hyperlocal analyst who publishes Michele’s List of promising local news websites, says she has not encountered another franchise model in the US and that most of the small community sites are started by journalists who were displaced by the recession. But, she says, even with experts at the helm the expectations for content are different.

“In general, looking at the sites through the prism of newspapers is an unfair comparison,” she said via email. “They are not trying to be newspapers, they are trying to be a community information service.”

Shapiro, though, is serious about TAP being about quality journalism. He says TAP has no agenda, no editorial page and no anonymous comments, a way of keeping the vile potential of the Internet chatter out of the community mouthpiece.

“Our goal is to put out high quality, objective, original local news,” says Shapiro.

TAP readership is growing. In 2014 the network had over 9 million page views and over 3 million unique visitors. The highest performing site was Westfield with 487,179 page views last year. The lowest was Milltown/Spotswood with 4,952.

Shapiro says he’s prevented by law from making profit predictions for his sites, and franchisees say profits can vary wildly depending on the work ethic of the franchise holder and the size of the town. But revenue goals that get bandied about are $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue the first year, $50,000 to 85,000 the second.

This month, Shapiro plans to unveil a long-promised redesign of his site, eliminating what he admits is an unappealing “diner menu” choppy layout. Instead, photos will be larger and franchisees will be able to move their ads inside their content.

“And,” he says, “we’ll be mobile friendly as 51 percent of traffic comes from mobile.”

It’s fair to point out, however, that Shapiro has been promising the vaunted redesign for almost a year. And some independent hyperlocal publishers in New Jersey, who have managed to create their own sites and sell their own advertising, find local TAP franchisees to be lightweight competitors–as most editors lack journalism experience.

“Content is still king,” says Virginia Citrano, publisher of My Verona NJ. “As someone who has spent 30 years writing and editing, I don’t find their writing as engaging as it could be. Unless you’re a stop sign, nobody has to read you.”

ICYMI: Video from Data Day 2015!

Monday Mar 02, 2015  |  0 comments

On February 26, the Center for Cooperative Media teamed up with representatives from, NJ Databook, The Record, EthnicNJ, NJ Advance Media,, and several other local data journalists from around NJ to bring you Data Day 2015.
A Look Back at Your 2014 Brags

Wednesday Jan 07, 2015  |  1 comment

Well folks, it’s officially 2015. Here at the Center for Cooperative Media, that means it’s time for us to reflect on the previous year in the hopes that the next one will be even better. So, in the spirit of nostalgia and self-aggrandizement, here are some of the best brags of 2014 from across the NJ news ecosystem. (If you didn’t send a brag in after we asked, you just failed Marketing 101.)

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Judge: Parsippany Focus Protected by New Jersey Shield Law

Friday Sep 26, 2014  |  0 comments


Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 3.50.04 PM

Frank Cahill, main writer and chief editor of Parsippany Focus, an online newspaper serving the Parsippany-Troy Hills community.

In a victory for press freedom and online journalism in New Jersey, a Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of Frank Cahill, the chief writer and editor of his local online newspaper, Parsippany Focus. The ruling affirms that Cahill and the Focus are protected under New Jersey’s Shield Law.

Shield laws are meant to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources, and New Jersey’s Shield Law is often heralded as one of the strongest in the country. With the advent of the Internet, however, some people claimed that the lines between journalism and personal blogging had become blurred; that there was an inherent different between print and online journalism – and that’s where Frank Cahill and Parsippany Focus come in.

Bringing Data Into the Sunshine

Thursday Mar 20, 2014  |  0 comments


Imagine, says Waldo Jaquith, director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, that weather data was treated like much other government data. Say you had to file a Freedom of Information Request to get it, and when you did get it — weeks later — not only was the storm you were interested in long gone, but you got it as a PDF?

Luckily, in 1870, Congress established The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce, which would ultimately become the National Weather Service. As a result, weather data is free and plentiful.

Older Posts »