In this episode, Michael Shapiro, founder and CEO of TAPinto, delves into his innovative franchise model for local news. He shares insights on how TAPinto helps local news publishers focus on local content and advertising by handling backend services like billing, technology and graphic design. Shapiro highlights success stories from various franchisees, discusses their new licensing option for non-franchisees, and explores the challenges and opportunities in local journalism. As newsrooms are spread thin and the industry increasingly looks to shared services models, TAPinto’s approach to providing services offers lessons well beyond their franchisees.

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Michael ShapiroMichael Shapiro is Founder and CEO of TAPinto, a network of more than 95 franchised online local news and digital marketing platforms in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida. He is also the Founder and CEO of the Hyperlocal News Network, a licensed content management system (CMS) and back office support system for publishers. Shapiro is a graduate of Rutgers College, Rutgers University and Stanford Law School. 



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Michael Shapiro [00:00:00]: The way I kinda looked at everything with this, and still even today, is with, like, a fresh set of eyes. So how can we do news better? You know, how can we do advertising better? You know, how can we create systems and processes that are modernized, that make it easier for people to do this kind of a business? All these kinds of things that today we do for our franchisees. Because when I developed the franchise model, I said, hey. You know, what can we do on our part to take as much work off the shoulders of our franchisees so that they can focus on the news for their town and the advertising for the local businesses in town? And we take care of everything else, and that's how we've kind of developed this model. 

Tim Regan-Porter [00:00:44]: Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association.  

This episode I talk to Michael Shaprio, founder and CEO of TAPinto, a network of more than 90 franchised online local news and digital marketing platforms in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida with plans to expand across the country. This franchise model for local news is innovative and has proven valuable in sustainably filling news holes. TAPinto has also just added a licensing option for non-franchisees to take advantage of components of their technology and services. 

In my world of local news ecosystem builders, those trying to help local news organizations thrive, shared services have  become a major focus of conversation and effort. Thousands of small operations across the country work valiantly every day to put out news that matters while also juggling technology, sales, social media, invoicing, collections and many other things that ideally would be handled by specialists. Specialists they often can’t afford. But in an environment changing as rapidly as ours, trying to be a jack-of-trades can be even more costly and risks either distracting you from providing the local news and services you do best or leaving you managing decline as technology and markets leave you behind. TAPinto’s comprehensive approach to providing services that allow franchisees or licensees to focus on their local market is fascinating and offers lessons well beyond the newsrooms they serve. 

If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, please follow in your favorite podcast app, leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, and tell your friends about us. This is a side project and a labor of love, and your support means a lot. You can find past episodes, full transcripts, and relevant links, and sign up for our newsletter at, or for lazy typists like me at You also follow us on most social media channels @lnmpod. 

And now I bring you Michael Shapiro. 

Regan-Porter [00:02:54]: Alright. Well, welcome, Michael. Glad to have you on the podcast. 

Shapiro [00:02:56]: Well, thanks, Tim. Thanks so much for having me. 

Regan-Porter [00:02:58]: So I wanna talk, dig into a lot of specifics around what you've been doing with TAPinto. And you've just launched a newsletter for the industry, TAPinto This Month: Insights and Innovation in Local Journalism. So you're already thinking about how to share what you've learned with others. So I'm eager to dig into all of that. 

Shapiro [00:03:20]: That sounds great. Thank you. 

Regan-Porter [00:03:22]: So let's start with just how you got started in local news because your background is in law and done a number of things in law and business. And what, how did you get into it? 

Shapiro [00:03:34]: Sure. Sure. Well, about 15 years ago, I started an all-online objective local news site in New Providence, New Jersey. And, how it came about was that, when my son was one, he's now 17 and he's fine. But when he was one, we found out he needed open heart surgery. And, at the time I was an attorney in New York and I was commuting back and forth from New Providence. It really kind of changed my whole outlook on things. Cause during his whole first year of life, I was like never home. 

Shapiro [00:04:02]: So I wanted to do something where I could do something that would help the community, do something where I could see my wife and son, and do something that I was really passionate about. And so I started this local news site in New Providence. And within a few weeks, people in our two neighboring towns, Berkeley Heights and Summit, reached out to me and said, hey. We heard about this. Can you start it in our town? And I did. And I soon found myself running three local news sites myself, and I left my job in New York to do it full time. And my original vision was to grow the traffic, the content, and the advertising on those three sites. And I began working on that, and over a period of time, I built them profitability. 

Shapiro [00:04:38]: We were able to bring on a full time editor, but I kept getting more and more requests from people to expand to their town. And I had to say no because I couldn't do any more local news sites myself. So it got me thinking, you know, how could we expand yet keep it really local? And it took me a couple years, but eventually, I came up with this idea of franchising local news. Looking for people that would wanna start it in their community as their business, where we provide the backend, the training, the support, etcetera. And fast forward to today, and we now have 99 TAPinto sites, covering more than 125 municipalities. 

Regan-Porter [00:05:12]: Great. That's quite a growth trajectory there. So you just saw a need and jumped in and started filling it, and then people started contacting you. I'm curious. What were you doing right that attracted people to reach out to you? You know, while 15 years ago was relatively early in the online news startup phase, I think had already been around and, you know, there were others. What do you think you were doing right that caught people's attention? 

Shapiro [00:05:40]: Yeah. Well, actually, we launched, six months before Patch did. Okay. Wow. Yeah. But, but in terms of it, I think it was providing objective local news coverage every day. And the fact that a lot of print newspapers were already starting to cut down on their coverage, slash their newsrooms, going out of business, etcetera. And people really saw a need for this in their communities. 

Shapiro [00:06:05]: And we were a good fit to help fill that, those news deserts that were being created by these print newspapers making these cutbacks. 

Regan-Porter [00:06:15]: What was the transition like for you? And what were some of the early steps you took to build that infrastructure that then you could start franchising? 

Shapiro [00:06:24]: Yeah. Well, you know, when I went into this, I really had no sales background, and I had virtually no journalism background. I mean, I was a photographer for the Daily Targum at Rutgers when I went to Rutgers. But that was kind of my background in doing this. So the way I kinda looked at everything with this and still even today is with, like, a fresh set of eyes. So how can we do news better? You know, how can we do advertising better? You know, how can we create systems and processes that are modernized, that make it easier for people to do this kind of a business? And then, you know, during the first couple of years that I was that I was, that I after I had started TAPinto, you know, I was dealing with all of the kind of back office services that we now provide to our franchisees. And I was spending, like, 60% of my time dealing with things like graphic design for the advertiser, how to build the advertiser, how to collect on the advertising, how to upload ads, you know, all these kinds of things that today we do for our franchisees. Because when I developed the franchise model, I said, hey, you know, what can we do on our part to take as much work off the shoulders of our franchisees so that they can focus on the news for their town and the advertising for the local businesses in town. And we take care of everything else. And that's how we've kind of developed this model. 

Regan-Porter [00:07:44]: And so, obviously, you've been successful as the franchiser. What about the franchisees? Can you tell me a little, some success stories from there? 

Shapiro [00:07:53]: Oh, sure. I mean, well, last year, 97% of our franchisees were profitable. The only two that weren't profitable were in their first year. And in terms of, you know, our sites, I mean, some of our most successful sites in the network last year, you know, made 6 figures. The top one in the network made over $200,000 with one site in one small town. And, you know, we have successful profitable TAPinto sites everywhere from tony suburbs to some of the most distressed, economically distressed areas in New Jersey at this point. Our second highest revenue generating site last year was Patterson, New Jersey, which if you know anything about New Jersey is a distressed inner city, with a lot of economic problems, and yet they've been able to make it a sizable and successful, profitable TAPinto site there. 

Regan-Porter [00:08:45]: So talk a little bit about some of the services you do provide. I mean, you alluded to some high levels, but what's it look like for a franchisee to start up and what are you providing? 

Shapiro [00:08:54]: Sure. So we provide initial training in all aspects of the business. So that's content sales, social media, the billing system. We also do all their billing, all their credit card processing of their advertisers. We provide graphic design for all of their advertisers. We also have a full-time director of content for any content questions if they want them to look at a story before it goes live. I'm actually available on the sales side to look at sales proposals, to brainstorm with them before they go in to see a client, after they've met with a client, etcetera. We have three full time customer service specialists who are there for anything else that they might need, like, hey. 

Shapiro [00:09:31]: How do I do this? Or I can't find this in the content management system, etcetera. We provide, a custom content management system with all kinds of bells and whistles. And, we have a DIY marketing platform that enables businesses, nonprofits, etcetera, to be able to submit their content through the site itself. It goes to the publishers for publication, and it, they, the nonprofits and the businesses, they pay for publication of press releases, event listings, etcetera. We actually just won first place from the Local Media Association for our DIY marketing platform. We also, in addition to the services that, you know, I just outlined, we also provide media liability insurance for our franchisees. We do continuing education every month, sales and content, where we bring in outside experts. And all of those webinars are recorded. 

Shapiro [00:10:21]: So if they can't be on them live, they can watch them later. And we, you know, we provide an app. We provide HubSpot as a customer relation management system for all the franchisees. We provide DocuSign for contracts. And all of these services I'm talking about are all included in terms of the franchise fee that they pay us. 

Regan-Porter [00:10:39]: And so for these sites, for these franchisees, what does their staffing typically look like? And you know, part of your goal is to free them up to do the local focus on their local market and their local readers. But what does that look like, you know, across your franchisees? 

Shapiro [00:10:55]: Yes. So, you know, they can structure their business any way that they want. Yeah, we require that they do at least one original local news story a day, that they'd be objective and they follow the Society of Professional Journalists' ethics. So some of the sites, it's two people who do it together part-time. One does the content; one does the sales. Some of the sites, it's one person and they do it full time. They do both the content and the sales. Some of the sites, it's people who buy the franchise. 

Shapiro [00:11:20]: They'll bring on a full time reporter to do the content, and they'll handle the sales or they'll bring on a commission salesperson to handle the sales. A nonprofit can do this in their community as well. For example, Saint Bonaventure University franchise as a journalism practicum for their students, where the professors are the editors and the students are the reporters. So there's really not not a one-size-fits-all for a given community, and I think that's one of the reasons why we've been so successful is because the model is so flexible that it can work in basically any community in the country. 

Regan-Porter [00:11:51]: And so it sounds like you've got a range of owners and models. In terms of scale, you know, what's the range there? 

Shapiro [00:12:01]: Yeah. So I mean, so some sites do, you know, their one original local news story a day. Some do two, three. There are a few that do four, five stories a day. And, you know, so it's up to each individual publisher, you know, because the way that we look at it is we, in effect, have a network of 99 independent publishers that have this infrastructure in place to support them. So as, you know, the key obviously is that they have to make sure that they abide by those rules that I outlined to you. That they’re objective, follow the Society Professional Journalists' ethics. But at the end of the day, it's their business. 

Shapiro [00:12:33]: And they have the freedom to cover the news the way that they see fit. Because in one community, what's going on at the zoning board might be a big thing that everybody in town is paying attention to. Whereas in another town, high school sports may be the big thing. And so that franchisee is gonna focus more of their energies on high school sports. And that to me is what's really important about the model is the flexibility that we provide to publishers to be able to truly represent their communities and cover their communities the way that they believe, you know, those communities should be covered. And same thing with their news operation. They can structure it any way that they want, and that gives them, you know, business flexibility to do it the way that makes sense for their community as well. 

Regan-Porter [00:13:14]: Do you have a sense of the 99, how many of them are basically the only outlet in their town? They would be news deserts without 

Shapiro [00:13:23]: Yeah. So, out of the 99, more than 50 of them are, would be—their towns would be news deserts without them. 

Regan-Porter [00:13:31]: And so you've got this network of sites. Are you able to sell national advertising or regional advertising into your franchisees? 

Shapiro [00:13:39]: Yeah. So key to our model is that the sites can seamlessly share content with each other through our custom content management system, and they can sell advertising into each other, which makes it scalable both on the content side and the advertising side of the business. And that's really, you know, kind of the secret sauce to how we've been so successful. For regional businesses, regional businesses can similarly advertise on multiple TAPinto sites and how it works on the, in terms of regional businesses is that if a franchisee, regardless of where the business is located, has a relationship at that business and has the sales skills to be able to bring them on board, they can request to work on that account. And, I work on regional accounts as well to bring them into the network to advertise on as many sites as makes sense for that business, which also provides additional revenue to the franchisees. And, you know, my kind of eventual vision is to scale this, across the country so then we could be eligible for national advertisers who might wanna advertise on sites throughout the country and help to fill the news desert, you know, throughout all of these different states where I mean, New Jersey has more local media outlets than most states. Yet in New Jersey, we cover 125 municipalities. That leaves over 400 municipalities that don't have a TAPinto site. 

Shapiro [00:14:56]: And out of that 400, about half of them have no local news site, no local newspaper, And that's just in New Jersey. And then you think about the country, most states in the country have far fewer local media outlets than New Jersey have. 

Regan-Porter [00:15:11]: And so right now you're in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Is that right? 

Shapiro [00:15:15]: Correct. And one of the things that we recently did was we created a licensed platform to help print newspapers, radio stations, one-off hyperlocal news sites, where if they don't have the tech infrastructure or they don't have a good online site, or they don't have an online site, they can now have our technology yet keep a 100% of their branding, which I think is, is pretty innovative because they're part of our platform, they can seamlessly share content with all the other publishers, and they can sell advertising back and forth. So the way that I look at it is that the franchise model helps us fill the news desert in communities throughout the country, whereas the licensed model helps us help print newspapers, radio stations, one-off hyperlocal news sites to survive in the digital world that we're in and to thrive. And you add both of those together, and we create this network of local news sites, that's really the most collaborative network of local news sites anywhere in the country, which is pretty exciting. 

Regan-Porter [00:16:15]: How long have you been doing the licensing? 

Shapiro [00:16:17]: At this point about 2 months. 

Regan-Porter [00:16:18]: Okay. And how many licensees do you have signed up? 

Shapiro [00:16:22]: We have one licensee that's already launched and then I'm speaking with quite a few others that are interested in it, you know? 

Regan-Porter [00:16:27]: Yeah. What's your custom CMS on top of? What's it built with? 

Shapiro [00:16:32]: It's built on Ruby on Rails. So it's not on WordPress or anything like that. And then, we use ActiveCampaign for sending out newsletters. So newsletters are included both in terms of the franchise and as well as with the license. We also provide an app to all the franchisees. That's a la carte for the licensees. How we develop on the license side is there's a basic base license, which includes the CMS. It includes the initial training, the customer service support, and then the back office services are a la carte because in speaking with a lot of print newspapers, they said, hey. 

Shapiro [00:17:06]: It's great that you offer all these back office services for the franchisees. But, yo, for many of us, we don't need those services and we don't wanna pay for them. So I said, okay. So we'll make them a la carte. And we were able to price them at, like, far below what market rate is for any of them. And so if a licensee would like those services, they're able to have them, but they are not required to have them. 

Regan-Porter [00:17:27]: And are you using a third party ad manager or did you build your own there, too? 

Shapiro [00:17:31]: For the ad manager well, for ads on the site, we use GAM. But for all the other advertising, like, including sponsorships and things like that, we built our own system internally. 

Regan-Porter [00:17:42]: I wanna sort of broaden out into lessons, you know, beyond just your business. But I think the way you've approached it is something—I've had a lot of conversations with people. You know, I'm at the Colorado Press Association, so we're obviously a trade group. And one of the early conversations I had when I came on board was, you know, there there's a reason that that large chains have acquired a lot of papers around the country, and that's because there are economic advantages to, you know, consolidating back office and providing shared technical support and doing all of these things, which is what you're doing through the franchise and through now licensees. And I think press associations, other collaborations of newsrooms, I think, would do well to look at how you're really helping small outlets focus on the things that they do best in their local market and bringing that support to them. How many of the—I wanna get into sort of lessons and what you've learned. And I'm curious, as a segue into that, are any of the franchisees you're working with, did they run a publication before, or are all of them new? What's the background there? 

Shapiro [00:18:57]: Yes. Some of them, some of them have. So for example—well, first of all, a number of them are veteran journalists who used to be editors and reporters at newspapers and then, you know, got laid off when the print newspapers went away. But like Audrey, in Bridgewater, she owns the hard copy newspaper for Bridgewater. It's called The Breeze. And she's the franchisee for Bridgewater-Raritan. We also have the Halston Media Group, which is a family-owned network of print newspapers in New York. And they have the TAPinto site for their area. 

Shapiro [00:19:30]: We actually were able to, at their request, to brand it for them. So it's called, like, it's like But if you go to it, it employs a lot of the technology we develop for the licensees for their site so that it's totally branded for them. There's no TAPinto anywhere on their site. And so that's another newspaper group that has done this with us. 

Regan-Porter [00:19:51]: And so in, particularly in talking, you know, with them and others with experience, what have you found to be the most helpful in terms of taking some of that back end and technical and other components off their plate? What do you think? Where're the biggest value-adds? Where have they been? 

Shapiro [00:20:10]: Well, it saves them so much time. I mean, that's the number one thing because, you know, time is money and the fact that, like, we are able to take, you know, basically, you know, reduce their, the amount of time they need to spend on this by about 60% is huge. And then second is the cost savings. And third, not having to deal with a million different vendors for all these different services. Like, that's our problem to deal with, and one of the things that we've done is, you know, tried to build as much of the technology ourselves. So we ourselves don't need to deal with a lot of vendors. We build it internally, which gives us control over it, which is good because that also enables us if there's a problem to fix it, and also to advance new features a lot more quickly than if you have to deal through a vendor. One of the things I forgot to mention is both for the franchisees and the licenses, we have a team of five full-time developers on staff who are there to fix any kinds of bugs, to put out new features, and all of that's included as we put out new features with both the franchisees and the licensees. 

Shapiro [00:21:05]: We never come back to them and say, oh, we just developed a new platform, or we just put out a new feature and now you owe us more money. Everything's included in the fees that they pay us. 

Regan-Porter [00:21:15]: I wanna dig into the advertising side and of course, you know, the big challenge for journalism for the past 20 plus years has been largely on the business side. And because we, you know, we, as an industry, we've been largely advertising driven, and then, of course, a lot of that's gone to Facebook and Google and Craigslist and now Amazon. And a lot of these small outlets are run by, you know, mom and pop. They're, it's run by a journalist who has a passion and doesn't have a background in advertising. And so you taught yourself, jumped in there and started selling. So what is, what is your approach to advertising, and how have the franchisees that have worked with you, how they've been able to pick that up, particularly for those who were brand new to advertising? 

Shapiro [00:22:04]: Sure. So, for our sites, as you probably know, there's no paywall, and no membership. So it's free for our readers to read the site. It's free to get the newsletter. It's free to download the app. So we're 100% advertising-based. For our licensees, they can choose if they would like to have a paywall or a membership wall if they want to, but our TAPinto sites don't have that. So on the advertising side, how we look at it is, is about providing as much value possible for our advertisers. 

Shapiro [00:22:33]: And towards that end, since the beginning of time, we've paired content marketing with the advertising options when we provide them to an advertiser. So they have an ad, for example, on the site or a sponsorship on the site or an ad in the newsletter and it comes with content marketing. Whether that be a featured column that they can write on an ongoing basis, whether it is using the DIY platform to publish their press releases, their events on the calendar, real estate listings, etcetera. Or whether it's the publisher do you know, the local publisher doing a featured advertorial news story about them. That's another content marketing option. All the content marketing is labeled as sponsored content, so it's transparent for the reader. But that has served us really well since the beginning of time, because part of it is educating the advertiser about what we do for them and what the expectations are. And, as long as we meet or exceed those expectations, they're happy. 

Shapiro [00:23:26]: The second thing is providing really good customer service to our advertisers. You know, our renewal rate across the network is about 85%, which in media, at least from what I've been told, is kind of unheard of. Typical media, you know, renewal rate's about 50, 55%. If that. And ours is at 85%. And it's been 85% for 10 years now. And that I think that goes to show that, you know, the sales approach that we take, we don't hard sell people. We educate them, and we provide value to them and provide really good customer service to them. And we're truly local. 

Shapiro [00:23:57]: And that to me is really important. You know, they're not taking advertising from some, like, multinational conglomerate or some publicly traded company or anything like that. They're investing their dollars locally with people who are local, who are covering local news in the community. One of the interesting statistics and that we do a reader survey every year. And year after year, the percentage basically, you know, doesn't differentiate year after year. But last year, you know, 43% of our readers, said that they purchased a product or service because they saw it advertised on TAPinto. We asked that same question about advertising that they saw on Facebook. And there, it was less than 30% saw, said that they bought a product or service because they saw it marketed on Facebook. 

Shapiro [00:24:39]: And, I think in this day and age, you know, if you can say you're basically, like, almost 40% more effective than Facebook in terms of advertising, that's a pretty good chip on our shoulder, you know. 

Regan-Porter [00:24:51]: Yeah. Absolutely. And so what do you think is key to getting in the door of these local businesses? And, you know, are you selling on a CPM basis? How do you compete with Facebook and Google so that people will have a certain comfort level with….? 

Shapiro [00:25:05]: We've never sold on a CPM or CPC basis. So it's flat rate. It's based on the size of the ad that they're taking, or their ad package, how many sites they're advertising on, etcetera. I think the key in terms of selling locally is, I guess, a couple different things. Just like with anything else is being persistent without being annoying. And part of that is that, you know, it typically takes, you know, eight or more reach outs before you get an appointment with an advertiser. It was all a lesson that I learned early on, which was, you know, just because they're not very responding doesn't mean that they're not interested. It could be that it's not the right budget time of the year. 

Shapiro [00:25:41]: It could be that they're in the process of redoing their website, so they're not ready to advertise. It could be that there's other things going on in their lives. It might be a busy time of the year for their business. So for being persistent without being annoying is really critical. So reaching out on a number of occasions. Second is varying your reach outs. Email is fine the first couple times, but then you wanna pick up the phone and you wanna try calling them. You wanna leave them a message. You wanna call them again. 

Shapiro [00:26:09]: You wanna go and try on LinkedIn, connect with them on LinkedIn, trying there. You wanna go to chamber of commerce meetings in your town and other business networking events, try to meet businesses there. Because at the end of the day, it's about relationships, you know, where you have a relationship making it stronger, where you don't have a relationship developing one. And, you know, at the end of the day, just like with news itself, it's about, like, creating trust and credibility with your advertiser. And for a lot of advertisers, that takes time. You know, a lot of them have been burned with other advertising vehicles, people promising the world and delivering nothing. And so, you know, advertisers by their nature are very cautious. I liken it to when we start a TAPinto site in a community, you know, if they may have been burned in the past, like, the police chief may have been burned by a previous media outlet that existed in the town or by a blog in town. 

Shapiro [00:26:59]: And so they're very hesitant to be, to communicate with you, and you have to develop trust and credibility over a period of time. And for some, that happens quickly. For others, it could take years to develop that trust and credibility where they're like, yeah. You know what? Now I'm ready to have a conversation with you. But, like, all of our sites, you know, we're there for the long haul. So like I say when I speak with an advertiser, hey. Look. You know, I'm not expecting you to buy from me today, and that's fine. 

Shapiro [00:27:25]: I'm looking to develop a relationship with you and to stay in touch with you. And if we can ever be of help to you, we wanna be. And I've, I had an advertiser, just a couple months ago who became an advertiser. I started talking with them five years ago. It took that long and literally talking with the founder of TAPinto for five years to get them to the point of being comfortable enough that, yeah, I'm gonna allocate resources to advertising on a local news site. 

Regan-Porter [00:27:51]: And do you provide media kits and the packaging, is that all pretty standardized across the network? 

Shapiro [00:27:57]: Yeah. So, yeah. So that, those are some of the services I didn't mention before. We provide a media kit. We provide marketing materials. We provide everything that they could possibly need. We have an intranet with all of the training materials, all the previous webinars. We have freelance contracts, you know, marketing consultant contracts if they wanna hire a salesperson. 

Shapiro [00:28:19]: In terms of the media kit, they're able to customize it for their own community. And so we have standardization across all of the sites, but we provide flexibility for each of our franchisees because each community is different. And so there might be, for example, in most of our communities, our advertising rates are comparable with everything else that's out there or below everything else that's out there. But in some communities, particularly in economically distressed areas, the franchisee might need to discount or they might provide, need to provide additional value to be able to close the sale, and we give them the flexibility to be able to do that. 

Regan-Porter [00:28:54]: In terms of the journalism, you know, you have some certain requirements. They need to follow SPJ Code of Ethics, that sort of thing. Do you provide training? And, you know, you mentioned freelancers. I know just finding freelancers and people to cover meetings and that sort of thing can be a challenge for small outlets. 

Shapiro [00:29:10]: Yeah. So we have, we actually have a database of freelance part-time and full-time reporters looking for work where we've interviewed them. We've screened them, we have writing samples from them, and all the franchisees have access to that database. So if they're looking for a freelancer or a part-time or a full-time reporter, they can access that. We also do job searches for the franchisees at no cost to them. We will post a job listing for them. We'll—our director of content will interview the candidates, if, you know, the franchisee wants us to, and then screen them and then provide to the franchisee. Hey. 

Shapiro [00:29:43]: Here are the five applicants, you know, we thought were the best. You can hire, not hire anyone that you want, but really save them all that time and that leg work from having to do that kind of thing. And then we're also available, like, for example, if a franchisee goes on vacation, or God forbid they get sick, or anything like that. They can reach out to us, and we will man their dashboard for them. We will get content up on the site for them during that period of time, so they don't have to worry about it. Because that's one of the big issues I think with particularly, hyperlocal news sites in the country outside of TAPinto, where they're one man shops. And if they go down, there's no local news for their town. There's no one to man what's going on. So we're able to do that for our franchisees, which I think is a really, which is a real comfort to them that they can actually take a day off and not have to worry about it, you know. 

Regan-Porter [00:30:29]: Yeah. Absolutely. And so you've got this newsletter now where you're gonna share insights and innovations in local journalism. What are some of the highlights you would start with? 

Shapiro [00:30:40]: Good question. Well, I would say that there was a point that Tracie Powell makes over and over again about how, and the foundation world has been moving in this direction now. But, you know, for years, you know, foundations have not been open to providing funding for any for profit media outlets. And that's starting to change, which is good because at the end of the day, journalism is a public service. And, for a lot of media companies, particularly ones that are not publicly traded on the stock exchange, having support from foundations would be able to do a lot. You know, we're able to obviously do all the things that we're able to do for our franchisees, but there's like, there's so many things out there that we'd love to be able to do, 

Shapiro [00:31:21]: but we don't have the funding to be able to do it. Like for example, I'd love to create a high school journalism program in particularly in economically distressed areas of New Jersey. Right? That would be a wonderful thing to do, but we don't have the financial resources to allocate, to create a high school journalism program in all these high schools. You know, and so that's the kind of thing that a foundation can come in and can fund. So, you know, I think that the fact that foundations are now starting to get open to that is a really good thing. I think also the second thing that I've kind of learned in the process is that, you know, you wanna always be evolving, and you always wanna be bettering yourself. At the same time, you don't like, my view is you don't jump on bandwagons. 

Shapiro [00:32:06]: You wanna see how the bandwagon plays out at least for a period of time before you jump on board. There was, you know, a huge movement towards, like, paywalls for local news sites that went on, and we resisted that. And we were even criticized for not erecting paywalls and things. You're giving it away for free, etcetera. But at the end of the day, I think we've proven you know, it's been proven that, yes, paywalls can work for certain communities, but for the majority of them, paywalls in local news doesn't work. And, like, I made the point in my newsletter is that paywalls hurt democracy. You know, people—in our view, people shouldn't have to decide between, you know, putting food on the table and knowing what their town council is doing. It's essential for democracy that people in a town know what's going on, and the local news site is where they can get that information. 

Shapiro [00:32:53]: So I think that, you know, media organizations in general should be thinking about, okay, what can we do so we do not have to have any kind of wall that prevents people in the community from knowing what's going on? And, you know, we work tirelessly to be able to bring in enough revenue for, you know, the franchisees so that there is no paywall. Because we believe so strongly that people, regardless of their socioeconomic background, should be able to know what's going on in their town. 

Regan-Porter [00:33:22]: And what lessons have you learned in terms of growing readerships? You know, a lot of these are brand new in their communities, and you've gotta get the word out, and you've gotta deliver something that people want to read. You know, what—yeah, what have you learned along those lines? 

Shapiro [00:33:37]: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think number one is doing at least one original local news story a day is really key because then people come back to the site every day. Obviously, the newsletter goes out every day. That's really important. The second is, you know, not just, you know, your news shouldn't be parry parroting and parroting press releases. I mean, it should be actual news, and that's important. And so I'm providing value to the reader. Third is to break down as many barriers as possible to enable people to sign up for the newsletter and to get on your various channels that you have. 

Shapiro [00:34:12]: You know, our franchisees, they all have Facebook, all the sites have Facebook. For X, that's optional. Instagram is optional, etcetera. But we support them. So we have someone on staff who can set it up for them, train them on it, etcetera. But, like, to me, like, the more you diversify in terms of where people can find you, the better, particularly because and it goes back to, like, you don't wanna put all your eggs in one basket. Right? And so since the beginning of time here at TAPinto since franchising, I've always emphasized to our franchisees, you wanna build up an audience that just comes to your site. You wanna build up an audience on Facebook. 

Shapiro [00:34:46]: You wanna build up an audience in your newsletters, etcetera. And I'm sorry to say that I was right back 10 years ago, because I said, you know, you don't know what'll happen in the future. Facebook could change their algorithm. Google could change their algorithm. And if you don't have, if you have your eggs distributed into multiple baskets, if one or even two of them change their algorithm, you're still okay. And that's kind of proven true. You know, obviously, Google search is another place to, like we do a lot in terms of SEO and keyword, you know, keywords and meta descriptions and all that kind of stuff too. But by having, you know, all these different ways, and now the app, all these different ways to get TAPinto and to get access to the news, if one or two of these avenues constrict themselves, it doesn't put you out of business. 

Shapiro [00:35:32]: Does it reduce your traffic a little bit? Yes. But it doesn't take the toll that it's taken on a lot of media companies with what Facebook did to deprioritize local news, for example. 

Regan-Porter [00:35:43]: And talk to me a little bit about the specifics of the marketing platform you referenced earlier. And how does that work? What are you providing? 

Shapiro [00:35:49]: Yeah. Sure. So we have this DIY marketing platform where if you're, a business, a nonprofit, a political candidate, advocacy group, etcetera, you can go on to this DIY platform and you can submit press releases, events on the calendar, real estate listings, business listings, classifieds. If you're a funeral home, obituaries. Readers can also use it to submit our letters to the editor and milestones for free, like if there's a wedding or something like that. And, so you can go on. So you submit the content. You choose the sites you want it to go to. You pay per site, and then those payments split out to the publishers of those publications. 

Shapiro [00:36:29]: That same platform works for our licensees as well, which is pretty cool and it can be customized. So if the licensee, for example, oh, our first licensee is a business magazine in New Jersey and they didn't want obituaries, obviously, because it's a business magazine. So, you know, with a click of a button, they don't have obituaries in terms of their DIY portal. But, if you're an advertiser, you get, we can give you, the franchisee can give you advertising credentials, which enables you to use that DIY platform. And for any towns in which you're advertising, you can submit your content at no charge. If you choose a town where you're not advertising, then it's gonna have you, you know, charge you for that town. So we use the same platform whether you're coming in fresh and you're not an advertiser or you are an advertiser. The same platform works for columnists. 

Shapiro [00:37:16]: So if you're a columnist, you can use that platform to submit your column. So this really streamlines everything so our franchisees don't have to deal with a million emails of, here's my press release to upload and here's a photo. So one, you direct them to the DIYs, which saves them a ton of time. And two, it brings in revenue because if they're just gonna post it for the business, they're not making anything from that press release that they're posting. So it's a win-win for everybody. And, you know, when the content is published, the user gets an email back with a link to the content so they know it's been published. They can put it on social media. The content automatically goes out in the next day's morning newsletter. 

Shapiro [00:37:53]: So the business that's doing this not only gets the content on the site itself, it goes out in the morning newsletter. It also ranks highly on search, so they get SEO benefits. They can include backlinks to their website in it. So frankly, it's a steal for businesses or even nonprofits to go out, and we have different rates for a for profit, a nonprofit, etcetera. So, like, for a nonprofit, they can put their event on the calendar for, like, $10. You know, we made it really affordable. So, basically, every nonprofit can afford to do something like this. And so that's the way we kinda developed it. 

Shapiro [00:38:24]: And, you know, in terms of the site itself, there's a lot of flexibility too. Like, because it goes back to that whole conversation we had about the business model and the flexibility that's inherited in it. But, like, our franchisees can fully customize their nav bar. They can fully customize their footer on their site. They can drag and drop all the blocks on their site. They can, including the ad blocks wherever they want. They can have whatever sections they want, whatever columnist they want, etcetera. And all of this is done, like, literally by dragging and dropping and clicking. 

Shapiro [00:38:51]: It takes no time at all, and that to me is really important as well because there's no no one size fits all for a given community. You know, each TAPinto site can customize itself for its own community as well. What's important to the community and what the franchisee prioritizes for their site. 

Regan-Porter [00:39:07]: And so the advertising business you built, you have—unlike a lot of the legacy publications have, you know, really tried to expand what they're doing in advertising to be, you know, a full service ad agency. So if you wanna go to them to build you a website, manage your SEO, buy your Facebook and Google, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But you've really focused on we have an audience and we can help you reach them and not gone into all the other things. 

Shapiro [00:39:37]: Exactly. So what we focus on is creating multiple marketing options for businesses on the site. Right? So there's advertising, you know, traditional advertising, video advertising, sponsorship. And then in newsletters, there's advertising and the sponsorship. And then there's also the dedicated email blast that can be sent, you know, to the subscribers of particular TAPinto sites. And that's what we focus on. And the reason why we do that is that—you know, what I found is that franchisees and if they have salespeople, it doesn't really matter. You can only focus on selling so many different things and rather than kind of, oh yeah, I can sell you a website and I could do this and I could do that. 

Shapiro [00:40:16]: No, we're focused on how can we help this business market on TAPinto using our various platforms that we have. And that's how we focus our time. And, you know, on my side, like, we're gonna be doing a new DIY, aspect of the DIY system, later this year, which will be real estate open houses. So there's another avenue where we have real estate listings, but we don't have open houses. So that would create another avenue for our franchisees to go to realtors. One, attract them to advertise. But two, if they don't advertise, hey, use the DIY platform to post your open houses and create some more incremental revenue for all the franchisees. 

Shapiro [00:40:54]: But to me, the focus is always, you know, how can we help these businesses on TAPinto, and rather than selling them outside services that would kind of divert us from what we're trying to accomplish. 

Regan-Porter [00:41:07]: Now I'd like to go into our rapid-fire question segment. And the questions are quick, but your answers don't have to be. So first, I'm particularly interested in your perspective as someone who came from outside of journalism. I typically phrase this as compared to a year ago, but I just, I'm just more interested in the trajectory. Are you more or less optimistic about the state of local news in general, not just TAPinto? 

Shapiro [00:41:31]: I'm more optimistic. You know, I think that there's so many exciting things going on in local news. I'm very very optimistic. It used to be that kind of the optimism that I saw was basically just here, but now I'm looking out at the landscape, and there's so many cool things going on that to me, it's really exciting. 

Regan-Porter [00:41:50]: Does AI fill you with more hope or dread when it comes to journalism? 

Shapiro [00:41:55]: It doesn't fill me with dread. You know, we currently, like, our kind of view on AI is kind of wait and see. We are working on a project that will enable AI to help suggest headlines and meta descriptions for our franchisees, and so that's gonna be our, like, first toe in the water of AI. But I'm not scared about AI. I mean, I don't think AI will ever be able to replace original local news reporting, so I'm not fearful of that. I think that, you know, media that relies on, you know, rewritten press releases as their news stories, those are outlets that should have some concern because AI, if it doesn't already, has the ability to do that. But in terms of original local news reporting, I really don't see AI overtaking that. 

Regan-Porter [00:42:41]: Messy desk or clean desk? Messy desk. I think we get more of that than the other. Best, what's your, do you have a favorite piece of advice? 

Shapiro [00:42:52]: You are the best salesperson for your organization. So the publisher, the owner of the local news site is the best salesperson. That was something that was told to me when I was doing TAPinto by my, you know, on my own. We had commissioned sales people, and in the very beginning, the first year or two, I was doing the content. Like that's what I was focused on. And one day, I spoke with one of our advertisers who's still an advertiser today. And, I said to him, you know,, I don't know how much longer I can keep this going because, you know, my money's running out, and I really don't know what I'm gonna do. And he said, well, why aren't you selling the advertising? And I said, well, I haven't sold anything ever in my life. 

Shapiro [00:43:34]: He's like, you're the best salesperson that your organization has. You're the most passionate person. It's your business. Go out and sell the advertising. And I did, and that turned the whole business around. And today, I'm the number one salesperson at the whole company in terms of advertising. But, like, that's one of the things I always tell people, even people that approach me about franchising is, you know, a lot of times, I'll get people who say, oh, you know, sales isn't my game or whatever. And it's like, it's not a game. Like, sales is about helping businesses. 

Shapiro [00:44:02]: If you wanna help people, then you can be good at sales. Now there's some people who don't have the personality. Like, if you're not a good networker, you know, if you don't have an outgoing personality, then sales really probably is not your thing. But a lot of people who don't think they'd be good at sales can be incredibly great at sales because they're passionate about it, and that's important. And they're a good networker, and they're a people person. So that to me was the number one lesson I ever learned in this. 

Regan-Porter [00:44:30]: Is there a piece of advice or conventional wisdom that drives you crazy in its oversimplification or just wrongness? 

Shapiro [00:44:37]: I think it's that news that is not done by professional journalists doesn't count. That like, even today, there are media organizations, and media intelligentsia or whatever that look down at organizations like us. Because while we have—a lot of our franchisees are professional journalists, there are a number that aren't. And, you know, at the end of the day, just like we were talking about before, you know, there's not a one size fits all for a given community. There may not be a professional journalist that also has the bandwidth or the financial wherewithal to be able to to live on while they're creating their own business, etcetera. That's not realistic. So what is realistic is you find people who can write well and train them well, make sure they're ethical, make sure that they're objective, etcetera, And, that's a really good solution for the news crisis that we all face. That to me is, like, part of the conventional wisdom. 

Shapiro [00:45:31]: It's interesting because, you know, some of our franchisees who have no journalism backgrounds have broken some of the biggest stories over the last year. You know, one of our franchisees in Plainfield, he broke this story about a planning board member who made racist comments. And, she actually was forced to—she resigned, and he made that huge difference. There's a franchisee up in Sparta. She has no previous journalism background, and, she broke this story about a mega warehouse that was coming into Sparta. She was actually the only person in the room at the initial planning board meeting. Not only the only journalist, the only person in the room. Had she not covered that story, this mega warehouse would have happened because nobody would have known about it. 

Shapiro [00:46:13]: But she's covered it since the beginning, and it's now caught up in litigation, etcetera, because of her. So when I talk to people who are like, oh, well, some TAPinto people are not professional journalists—like I always say to people, you know, judge us by the content, judge us by the stories that we're breaking, by the stories that we're telling that nobody else is telling. That's how you judge us. You don't judge us by the fact that some of our franchisees are not professional journalists. 

Regan-Porter [00:46:39]: Absolutely. And I think, you know, to solve, you know, some of the news desert problems with rural communities and people of color who are underrepresented, you're gonna have to TAPinto the community. There aren't enough professional journalists evenly distributed across, you know, all these different sectors to be able to serve everybody. That's right. Do you have a favorite failure of yours? I mean, you went to Stanford for law school. So even back then, I'm sure fail fast wasn't the buzzword it is now, but that was probably still on the water in Silicon, in Palo Alto. But we don't talk about our failures as much, especially in journalism where it's so important to get the journalism right. 

Shapiro [00:47:18]: Yeah. I mean, I think that, I think there's two kind of failures that I think come to mind. One, as you probably saw my background when I was 21, I ran as an independent for mayor of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I lost. But that was like a really formative thing for me, because I had always envisioned that I was gonna go to law school, I was gonna become a partner at a law firm, and then I was gonna run for office. And then when I ran for mayor of New Brunswick, what it taught me was you can do so much good without running for office. And that kind of really had a pretty big impact in me creating TAPinto because, like, rather than, you know, doing that route, given what happened with my son, I was like, here's a great way for me to give back to the community where I don't run for office, and I can really make a huge difference. And so that was very formative for me. I think the other thing, which, you know, has been an ongoing process for us is the—be it, like, the failure initially to have what we have, you know, today and we've had for years now, which is a prospective franchisee committee. 

Shapiro [00:48:27]: So when we started franchising 10 years ago, we didn't have a prospective franchisee committee. And I, because in the beginning, I modeled our franchise model in terms of this on other franchise systems, where basically someone applies to franchise and there's an executive at the company who interviews them or panel of people that interview them, and then they get approved to franchise, etcetera. And so in the initial year or two, that's how I did it. I was the person that interviewed someone, and if I felt that they could do a good job, I franchise to them. The prospective franchisee committee is actually composed of some of our most successful franchisees, and they recommend to me whether someone should get approved to franchise. And, that's been really, really great, because they've been able to—through, you know, their interview process that they take, that takes place. You know, they turn down more than 50% of the people that apply to franchise. And that's been really helpful because we want people doing this for the right reasons, obviously. 

Shapiro [00:49:26]: We want people who obviously wanna help their community, wanna help to fill the local news void, and wanna make a profitable business. And, while I was looking for that in the first two years that we were doing this, I didn't really know what to look for. And, you know, and so having and so, you know, in those first two years, we brought on some people that in hindsight, I wouldn't bring on today. But thanks to this committee, you know, we are carefully screening everyone who becomes a franchisee. And we have so many processes in place. I mean, in terms of ensuring quality and objectiveness. You know, one, we have the screening process. Two, we have the franchise agreement, which requires them to be objective, follow the Society Professional Journalists. 

Shapiro [00:50:07]: If they're not, we can default them. We can terminate them. We've terminated several franchisees, in terms of that. And then we have an ethics and transparency policy that everybody has to follow. We can default and terminate people based on that. We have a full time director of content. Their main job is to actually ensure and the standards are being followed across all of the sites in the network. And so we have a lot of checks and balances in place to make sure it's being done the right way. 

Shapiro [00:50:34]: And, you know, versus kind of what I call, like, the wild west of journalism where someone can press a button and start a local news site, and there's no accountability, there's no transparency, etcetera, which I think is pretty dangerous. And you see that happening with, like, you know, power companies that start local news sites and, you know, political action committees starting local news sites and things like that. And, so I think, you know, we're the antidote to that. 

Regan-Porter [00:51:01]: Do you have a favorite place or activity, you know, just when you wanna think big? 

Shapiro [00:51:07]: When I wanna think big, a place or activity, I would say, I love to snorkel, which is great because then you don't hear anything and you're just looking at fish and things like that. So that kind of gives me like a real good peace of mind. So that's probably the, my number one, my number one activity, both because it's enjoyable and two, it really clears my head. 

Regan-Porter [00:51:28]: A related question. Do you have a, what's one thing you do to restore yourself or maintain your sanity? 

Shapiro [00:51:36]: It's a good question. I love to swim, so that I love to do that and spend time with my family. So I like to just break away and spend time with the family. That's another, that's another important thing. And then, like, we talked about the snorkeling. So it's a lot of, like, outdoorsy stuff kind of helps me kind of rejuvenate. One of the things I recently started doing is about once a month, I take, like, half a day, and my wife and I go to the beach. And we do that during like a Friday. 

Shapiro [00:52:07]: And that's really kind of rejuvenating, and I think a really positive thing, which I started I guess it was about 6 months ago now. 

Regan-Porter [00:52:16]: What's your smartest time saving hack? 

Shapiro [00:52:18]: Calendly. And I I encourage all of our publishers to use Calendly. I encourage everybody who's listening. I mean, I don't make any money from or whatever. But Calendly has been fantastic because instead of, like, email back and forth, when are you available? When are you available? You're like, hey, you know, if it's easier, here's my calendar. You can pick a date and time that works well for you. And that has so speeded up, like, appointments, and then, you know, I link it up to my Google Workspace and my Google Calendar. And so as a result of that, you know, I get reminders, the person gets reminders, and don't miss meeting. 

Shapiro [00:52:51]: Well, I never miss meetings, but the person doesn't miss the meeting. And, it's been, like, a game changer for me in terms of my appointments and things like that. I would say the second thing is, you know, whatever virtual system you use I use Zoom and I use Google Meet. But those have been really important. And I've been using them for years before COVID, but that has been a game changer too because it used to be, like, you know, you had to meet with somebody in person. But, like, with after COVID and things like that, you know, during COVID, etcetera, now, you know, you can have a face to face like we're having right now and see each other and be able to have a really in-depth conversation and a really good meeting without having to physically, you know, be in your office there in Colorado. 

Regan-Porter [00:53:33]: Absolutely. Five years out, what does wild success for TAPinto look like? 

Shapiro [00:53:39]: I think five years out, we have probably 250 franchisees across the country, and we probably have another 100 to 200 licensees. And we're the largest network of collaborative publishers in the country. 

Regan-Porter [00:53:55]: And then the penultimate question before I get to media recommendations. If people are interested in franchising or licensing, where would they go? 

Shapiro [00:54:05]: Yeah. So for, franchising, they can go to, which spells out everything involved, the cost involved, etcetera. Licensing, we're still working on our licensing website, but people can reach out to me directly, at They can find me on LinkedIn, and I welcome hearing from anyone that might be interested. 

Regan-Porter [00:54:29]: And then the final question, can you give me three to five pieces of media that you recommend? So books, podcasts, movies, entertainment or news, whatever. 

Shapiro [00:54:40]: Well, so I can tell you what, like, what I do each day, which I think is what I would recommend people do, which is I go to the Washington Post. I go to CNN. I go to Fox. I go to the New York Times, and that's for all my national kinds of stuff. I read my local TAPinto site, and then I read two sites in New Jersey that cover, like the state house and politics and stuff like that in New Jersey. That's my morning reading, and why I do that is because, like, I want to see, like, how news is being portrayed by different outlets, and I wanna know what's going on. I think regardless of the fact that, you know, we do local news and that's what we specialize in, it's important for anyone, including me, to know what's going on on the national level and the state level in New Jersey since that's where I live, and to stay in touch with what's going on. So that's kind of my reading list, so to speak. 

Shapiro [00:55:33]: In terms of TV shows, I think you'd probably be surprised, but I love the competitive cooking shows like Master Chef and Top Chef and those kinds of things. In fact, you were asking me how you clear your head. That's another way I clear my head because it has nothing to do with news. So I love those, and then I'm a huge Dateline person. So I love watching Dateline. So those are the other kinds of things that I would recommend to, to people to, because everybody needs to escape from news every now and then and so those are two good ways to do it. 

Regan-Porter [00:56:12]: Alright. Well, thank you so much. 

Shapiro [00:56:13]: Thank you so much for having me, Tim. I really appreciate it. 

Regan-Porter [00:56:19]: Thank you for listening to the Local News Matters podcast. Never miss an episode by subscribing in your favorite podcast player and sign up for our newsletter at

And thanks to our production partners at Pirate Audio. Pirate Audio believes every community deserves great things to listen to, and they're on a mission to help local newsrooms reach their communities via audio. If you're interested in starting a podcast or need production support for an existing one, let me know, and I'll be happy to connect you.  

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Past guests on the Local News Matters podcast include: Kenny Katzgrau (redbankgreen and Broadstreet), John Garrett (Community Impact), Shannon Kinney (Dream Local Digital), Larry Ryckman (The Colorado Sun),  Frank Mungeam (Local Media Association), Kelly Ann Scott (Alabama Media Group), Sara Lomax and S. Mitra Kalita (URL Media), Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro (National Trust for Local News), Mike Rispoli and Richard Young (via When the People Decide), Sarabeth Berman (American Journalism Project), Rabbi Hillel Goldberg and Shana Goldberg (Intermountain Jewish News),  Lyndsay C. Green (via The Journalism Salute), Rashad Mahmood and Mark Glaser (New Mexico Local News Fund), Christian Vanek and Barbara Hardt (The Mountain-Ear), Dan Grech (BizHack), Zack Richner (Easy Tax Credits), Tracie Powell (Pivot Fund), Dan Oshinsky (Inbox Collective), Linda Shapley (via What Works), Yehong Zhu and Jake Seaton (Zette, Column), Charity Huff (January Spring), Joaquin Alvarado and Dave Perry (Aurora Sentinel), Steve Waldman (Rebuild Local News), Maritza Félix (Conecta Arizona), Michael Bolden (American Press Institute), Jeff Roberts and Corey Hutchins (CFOIC, Colorado College), Eve Pearlman and Erica Anderson (Spaceship Media), Jennifer Brandel (Hearken, Democracy SOS), Corey Hutchins with Bay Edwards, Todd Chamberlain and Raleigh Burleigh (Sopris Sun).