The featured TAPinto franchisee for January 2020 is veteran journalist and journalism professor Rod Hirsch of TAPinto Somerville and TAPinto Hillsborough.  Rod recently received the New Jersey Municipal Management Association Press Award, which recognizes a member of the press corps for their objectivity, consistency, and commitment to factual reporting of local government.  He was nominated for the award by Anthony Ferrara, Hillsborough Township Manager.  Rod also recently received the Salute to Scouting award for his work on behalf of his nonprofit, Operation Shoebox New Jersey, which provides care packages to U.S. troops overseas.  

Q. Why did you want to franchise your a TAPinto site? What caused you to choose Somerville and Hillsborough as your TAPinto locations?

I was hired by the initial franchisee of both sites to provide editorial content.  When he decided to no longer be involved shortly into his tenure, I decided to purchase both franchises.  Since then I have made significant progress on the editorial/content side, and in 2019 really started to get the hang of the sales side. I expect 2020 to be a breakthrough year.

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Q. You have an interesting background.  Can you tell us about it a little bit?

Journalism is in my blood; I knew by the time I was 15 that I wanted to be a reporter, and was in college watching as Woodward/Bernstein changed the course of history with their investigative reporting. I was fortunate to be hired full time by The Home News daily newspaper in New Brunswick two months before my graduation, and haven't looked back. In 1975, I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize as a result of a six-month investigative series I wrote that uncovered misappropriation of funds by a local school board. I was 23, and short of my first year anniversary at The Home News. Other awards followed over the years as I settled into my chosen profession from the New Jersey Press Association, the Pennsylvania Press Association, the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, and others. I spent 30 years at the Home News, working my way up the ladder, handling a variety of responsibilities - beat reporter, features writer, assistant Sunday editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, copy desk chief, arts/entertainment editor, Lifestyle editor and finally, assistant managing editor. I was given the responsibility in 2002 of planning and executing a 48-page one-year commemorative special section on the 911 terrorist attacks, one of my proudest accomplishments as a journalist. I left in 2003 after 29 years/8 months to build a start-up weekly newspaper in Somerville, The Reporter, an NJN product. It was an opportunity I could not turn down. As executive editor, I rebuilt the staff, earning several NJPA awards along the way. Unfortunately, the circulation and advertising departments did not match up with the success in our newsroom, and the paper went defunct. By that time, I had left NJN and focused my attention on a non-profit organization I founded in 2005, Operation Shoebox New Jersey. It is a volunteer organization that collects donations and sends personal care packages to US troops deployed around the world. OPSHBX NJ will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2020, having shipped 168,000 personal care packages overseas.

Q. What do you enjoy covering the most in Somerville and Hillsborough?

"Feel good" stories about people and their accomplishments; government; schools; Somerset Patriots baseball; the ongoing redevelopment of downtown Somerville and its impact on the community; the Downtown Somerville Alliance.

Q. Is TAPinto full time for you? If not, what do you also do?

In addition to my two TAPinto websites and the aforementioned Operation Shoebox New Jersey, I have been teaching journalism courses at my alma mater, Rider University, since 1992.  Love working with the kids and seeing their progress over the course of 12-13 weeks. Next semester I will be teaching my first online course, which will be a challenge.  

Q. How do you think businesses and readers can best utilize TAPinto Somerville and TAPinto Hillsborough? What advantages does TAPinto have that other marketing platforms lack?

Our biggest advantage is our commitment to original local coverage. Such coverage draws engaged and active citizens who are the lifeblood of local business owners.  By building trust and credibility with local residents who live and shop locally, we provide a tremendous asset to local businesses, enabling them to effectively and affordably market to our readers.  Because Somerville is the county seat, I also need to pay attention to Somerset County government. Paying attention to what matters to our readers - taxes, schools, local businesses, traffic safety, crime on a consistent basis places TAPinto above other publications and news websites.Somerset County, Somerville and Hillsborough are very competitive, with the Courier News, Patch and others still out there. Our significant email list and social media following also provides enormous benefits to local businesses who market with us.  

Q. What are some of your business strengths? What’s something you would like to work on?

My biggest weakness is getting my arms around technology.  As an old school journalist, the online world is new to me.  However, TAPinto's system is user-friendly and the staff has been so helpful to me in teaching me the technology and always being there to lend a hand.  Selling advertising is another challenge, but I have been getting better at that. I intend to work even harder at both.

Q. Describe the TAPinto culture.

I've been a shirtsleeve reporter and editor for almost 50 years. My first byline appeared in a weekly paper in my hometown of Merrick, NY in 1970. I'm as old school as they come. I am a product of a daily newsroom culture that no longer exists. Adapting to the online model is a challenge. Fortunately, TAPinto's staff is there to help and educate. My fellow franchisees have also been supportive and helpful.

Q. What are your goals at TAPinto? Any future plans for TAPinto Somerville and/or TAPinto Hillsborough?

I'm comfortable with the breadth of coverage afforded TAPinto readers in Somerville and Hillsborough, but look forward to hiring more freelancers as my revenues increase.  I am excited that I also recently hired an experienced, resourceful salesperson - that should increase revenue, and allow me to hire freelancers going forward in 2020.

Q.  Is there anything else you'd like to say?

TAPinto has been a blessing, providing the opportunity to get back in to a profession that I love and respect.  Journalists - good journalists - are so necessary in this crazy world we live in.  It's a job and responsibility I do not take likely.