SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – During a time when most print news outlets are struggling, TAPinto South Plainfield has been thriving, providing thousands of online users with free access to the most up-to-date hyperlocal news on a daily basis.
“Our mission is to connect current residents, businesses and those looking to stay up-to-date with their former hometown,” said Darlene Cullen, who, along with her husband Glenn and friend Robert Jones, first franchised TAPinto South Plainfield in 2013. Jones left TAPinto South Plainfield after a year to pursue a position in the State Judiciary.
Back then, Cullen stumbled upon an online news article about her hometown of Scotch Plains and, wanting to find out about the paper that published it, reached out to TAPinto founder and CEO Mike Shapiro. Cullen met with Shapiro and learned the paper was a franchise and that South Plainfield was available.
“We were looking to give back and, throughout our years in town, have been involved with various activities and organizations as well as both sides of the political world. We wanted to do something that wouldn't be just for one group but for the entire town,” said Cullen.
TAPinto South Plainfield publishes seven days a week, including holidays, and online users can have the news delivered straight to their inbox each morning; sign up is easy, just visit www.TAPintoSouthPlainfield.net.
“One of the most important things about the TAP model is that, in addition to publishing daily, is it is free. We do not charge a subscription fee,” said Cullen. " TAP is grassroots journalism, and in my opinion the future of local journalism."
In addition to daily articles on community-specific events, meetings, and happenings, TAPinto also publishes stories on fundraising initiatives, local achievements, sports as well as business and candidate profiles, milestones, obituaries, and more. With an online news source, information can be accessed for free anytime and anywhere. TAPinto maintains a strong social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, TAPinto is also the only local newspaper that offers a free app, the ‘TAP App,’ which is available to both Android and Apple users.
“We find that many people, as they move out of the community, enjoy getting their hometown news electronically or through the app. With TAP, you do not have to leave home to get the news and can access your town wherever you are,” Cullen said. “We try to get information out that the residents want and need as well as keeping them informed on events, meetings, etc."
TAPinto also publishes a calendar of events and guest columns along with milestone, book review and letters to the editor sections, and, during the political season, runs bios on all candidates and provides each party with a column so that residents can make an informed decision on Election Day.
And, since the paper publishes daily and the site can be updated as events occur, readers can remain informed on everything from election and sports results and breaking news to the passing of a friend or loved one.
“As residents, we had always heard complaints from people that they were not getting access to reliable news in a timely manner,” Cullen said, adding that this is particularly important when it comes to obituaries, which TAPinto also publishes for free.
“Many people have thanked us for our obituary section. So many times we have heard that by the time an obit hits a print paper the person has already been buried. By publishing daily, we are able to provide friends and loved ones the opportunity to pay their respects and express their condolences," she said.
Additionally, unlike most print newspapers, TAPinto is not limited on space and, as a result, can publish an unlimited number of photos to accompany stories. “Whether it is graduation, the Labor Day Parade, a school function or borough event, or sports we can include hundreds of pictures and provide our readers the chance to see their loved one,” said Cullen,
In terms of sports, TAPinto also provides readers with up-to-date information on the latest regular season game and/or championship meet. “Another feature about providing daily news is that we cover the sports as they happen. We publish either the day of the sports game or the next morning…” she said.
When TAPinto South Plainfield first launched, it was one of only 10 other TAPinto sites covering towns within New Jersey; today, there are over 80 sites serving 110 communities throughout the Garden State as well as Florida, New York, and South Carolina. In June 2019, TAP collectively had 3.453 million page views and 1.27 million users for the month.
Back in 2013, Cullen assumed all the responsibilities in terms of the paper’s content, news and advertising as the site grew, professional reporters were hired.
“As paper grew, we needed more help and, in 2015, we met Victoria Caruso. She is really our main reporter and brings over 20 years of award winning community journalism experience,” said Cullen. “Today, we have three people writing daily news as well as guest columnists and three part-time writers covering sports.”
In order to deliver the news for free, TAPinto South Plainfield relies on revenue generated by advertisers, many who have been with the paper since day one.
“That should speak for itself as far as our marketing and branding goes. No matter the size of your business, our advertisers all get the same attention,” she said, adding that many advertisers who started on the South Plainfield site have since expanded their reach into other towns. “The beauty of TAP is that as an advertiser, big or small, you have the ability to go into any town that has a TAP…South Plainfield has a number of advertisers that advertise in multiple towns throughout New Jersey.”
With TAP, ads aren’t just placed on the site in the hopes it catches someone’s eye. Along with designing the ad for free, TAP will promote the business through feature articles, e-blasts, its calendar of events, and more.
“We offer many different packages depending upon the size of the business. I love that I am helping many businesses brand and market – no matter how big or small they are,” Cullen said, adding that her professional experience comes into play when it comes to helping businesses get noticed.
“In addition to TAP, I also own several small businesses and, throughout my professional career, have worked for mid and large companies, which has provided me with the business acumen to help new and established companies brand and rebrand themselves in the market."
Through TAP corporate, a robust for-credit college intern program is offered and, over the years, several South Plainfield interns have been retained as freelancers. TAPinto South Plainfield also awards annual scholarships, supports local organizations and fundraising efforts, and has the designation of being the ‘official online new source’ of both the South Plainfield Board of Education and Borough.
“We were given that designation because we provide all the news in an accurate, timely, and professional manner,” said Cullen. “That designation is not something we take lightly.”
According to Cullen, TAPinto recently received a 'green' rating from NewsGuard, which evaluates news sources and has established a credibility ratings system and 'nutrition labels' for online news. "NewsGuard is the independent expert," said Cullen. "To have them recognize the credibility and value of TAP is very rewarding."
NewsGuard's green rating is the highest rating provided to online news sites, and indicates that a news site satisfies all nine of NewsGuard’s criteria.
The criteria is as follows:
- Does not repeatedly publish false content.
- Gathers and presents information responsibly.
- Regularly corrects and clarifies errors.
- Handles the difference between news and opinion responsibly.
- Avoids deceptive headlines.
- Website discloses ownership and financing.
- Clearly labels advertising.
- Reveals who’s in charge, including any possible conflicts of interest.
- The site provides the names of content creators, along with either contact information or biographical information
For Cullen, TAPinto South Plainfield provides a way for the longtime resident to give back to the community. “We really do get gratification knowing people are reading TAP every single day and that we are providing them access to the most up-to-date information as well as being recognized by outside sources for reporting "real" news".... she said, adding, “One of the most rewarding things about owning a TAP is that we have been able to get the word out and help so many organizations. I would like to thank all those residents and businesses who have supported us over the last six years and looking forward to continuing to bring the news and helping businesses grow as we continue to grow."
TAPinto South Plainfield is South Plainfield’s only free daily paper. Sign up to get all the news as it happens at www.TAPinto.net/enews and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SouthPlainfieldTAP/and on Twitter at @SoplainfieldTAP.