Just three years ago, Mike Shapiro was an attorney in the city doing white collar work and decided to quit his job and start an online newspaper with his wife Lauryn in October 2008.
Now, almost three years later, TheAlternativePress.com has more than 400,000 unique users per year, has nearly 200 paid freelance reporters on staff, 50 columnists and a five-member sales team, all residents of New Jersey and most living in TAP’s coverage towns.
Shapiro was at Kean University speaking with a class that will be writing articles for him this semester to discuss his journey from small market paper to the most successful hyper-local paper in New Jersey.
At first, the site covered just two towns: Summit and New Providence. A few months later, another was added, and just three years later, The Alternative Press covers 14 towns in New Jersey and is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association.
Now the website is growing even more, as they have just begun licensing the site to people who want to start their own newspaper in their own town as their own business, using the Alternative Press model and knowledge. TAP’s first licensee, PatersonPress.com, was recognized as best online news site by the New Jersey Press Association.
Some may ask, well why would a lawyer who is certainly doing well for himself in New York decide to quit his full time job and start a newspaper that has no guarantee of success? Well, the answer is simple to Shapiro and his wife, family! “Lauryn and I learned that our one-year-old son would need open-heart surgery and I decided it was time to work close to home, spend more time with the family, and help the community at the same time.”
It wasn’t like he went into this with no knowledge of the journalism industry.
“To be a good lawyer, I think you need to be a good writer.” Shapiro said.
Shapiro actually had some prior experience in the newspaper industry as he was a reporter at his alma mater, Rutgers.
The Alternative Press currently covers everything from town council to high school sports. But it is ever growing. Just last week, it launched a new website that is, “more user friendly and makes it easier for people to post their own content,” according to Shapiro. The Alternative Press is also developing a website that will have video playing capability, which they hope will be up and running this winter.
People always ask Shapiro how he makes his money if people don’t have to pay to read the paper and they are strictly online? His answer is short and sweet, “Ads.” “If you fill up your page with ads, then you can make around $60,000 a year. Advertising is where we make our money. We currently have ads from over 100 businesses and receive over 200 press releases a day.” Shapiro recently said.
The world better get used to this type of journalism, says Shapiro. “This is the future of this business and we are currently the most successful hyperlocal in NJ.” Who knew that Shapiro would be evolutionary in the journalism world considering just 3 years ago he was out of it completely. This just goes to show you that if you have an idea and it seems possible, don’t just throw it away. Take some time and who knows, maybe you will be the next Mike Shapiro.