Education

Hyperlocal Website to Benefit Students and Community

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St. Bonaventure has become the first university to buy a TAPinto franchise and has launched TAPinto Greater Olean so that its journalism students can provide hyperlocalized online news to communities surrounding the university.

TAPinto has 46 franchises in New Jersey and five franchises in New York State, according to Michael Shapiro, co-founder and chief executive officer of TAPinto. Shapiro, an attorney, started the company with his wife, Lauryn Shapiro, in 2008 to provide their hometown of New Providence, New Jersey, with objective, daily news from its own residents, he said.

Partnering with TAPinto was proposed by Dr. Richard Lee, associate professor of journalism, and Anne Lee, an adjunct instructor of journalism, to replace The Convergence, an online local news site with content provided by students in the required six-credit JMC 410-Journalists’ Workshop course that was begun in 2014.

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Shapiro attributed TAPinto’s success to its localized model. All TAPinto sites are independently owned and operated by those living in the area, and coverage typically includes municipal meetings and high school sports.

TAPinto Greater Olean features reporting by St. Bonaventure students on news that happens in Olean, Allegany, Hinsdale, Franklinville, Cuba and other nearby municipalities, unlike campus media entities such as The Bona Venture and The Intrepid that concentrate on campus events and issues.

“I think that is good for the students because your first job if you’re going into journalism will likely be at the local level or it might be something entrepreneurial that you are creating yourself,” Pauline Hoffmann, dean of the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said. “And I think that this project and this class will train you to be able to do any of those things.”

Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism, said TAPinto Greater Olean provides a more realistic reporting experience than The Bona Venture or The Intrepid.

“Our JMC students have weak conversational and social skills,” he said. “They don’t like going out and meeting people and asking them for information when they don’t know them. So when they do stories, the always come to us, the professors that they know.”

Wilkins said the stories the Lees have been putting online require students to leave their “Bona Bubble” comfort zone.

Hoffmann also noted the potential for newspapers, such as the Olean Times Herald, to publish stories from TAPinto Greater Olean in their print editions as another opportunity for students. “From a community perspective, it is really going to help with some of the stories that are fun and need to be told in the area that the Olean Times Herald and others just can’t do,” she said. “They don’t have the staff to do that.”

Wilkins, a resident of Hinsdale, said he noticed a lack of coverage of his town in the Olean Times Herald, which covers news in three counties but has a very small staff.

“There is room for TAPinto Greater Olean to do things that the Olean Times Herald isn’t doing,” he said.

The combined population of the area covered by TAPinto Greater Olean is about 50,000 people, many of whom can become potential readers, Shapiro said.

The cost of the franchise for the first year is $5,250. Hoffmann said she hopes the investment will pay for itself and potentially a part-time faculty editor without using budget money. “In addition to telling stories and covering the community, you are learning the business side of journalism which is good too,” Hoffmann said.

Shapiro said franchise models vary widely, from families who own newspapers and writers with journalism degrees to those writers like himself, who did not have any journalism background when starting the organization. “I was similar to the students in your class and learned from doing it,” he said.

The St. Bonaventure model, which differs from the typical TAPinto franchise in its goal of being an educational experience rather than earning significant profits, could fit the needs of other universities as well, Shapiro added. “To be working with students creates a whole new model for us in terms of franchising TAPinto going forward,” he said.

According to Shapiro, TAPinto has had over 3.9 unique users in the past year and 1.2 million page views in the last month.

While profit is not the primary goal, Hoffmann said the potential for selling advertisements on the site is a possibility. All TAPinto sites are set up to include advertisements; TAPinto Greater Olean is currently filled with advertisements for St. Bonaventure University at no cost. However, Anne and Rich Lee said the opportunity to sell advertisements may arise in the future.

Hoffmann, who serves on a committee comprised of personnel from St. Bonaventure, Jamestown Community College and area high schools looking to keep more area students local, foresees an opportunity for students working on TAPinto Greater Olean, as well as the Jandoli School’s Synapse Matters strategic communications experiential learning course, to do some of their work in downtown Olean. The committee, she explained, is working with the Olean Business Development Corp., a not-for-profit group that bought the former Olean Business Institute building on North Union Street.

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