As was the case last summer, Taproot Edmonton is taking a publishing break. This time, we’ll be off for two weeks, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 5.
We’ll resume publication on Tuesday, Sept. 6, after the Labour Day long weekend, feeling refreshed and energized for the rest of the year. The Pulse will return to inboxes on that day, and our weekly roundups will resume their usual schedule that week.
We have put together a few things to keep you informed in the meantime:
Mack Male and Troy Pavlek have been paying close attention to city council on Edmontonians’ behalf since August 2018. It’s wonderful to see all of their hours of watching meetings and combing through agendas rewarded with this recognition, as it was when the show was nominated last year.
The Canadian Podcast Awards are voted on by other Canadian podcasters. If you happen to be one of those, you could cast your vote for Speaking Municipally in this category: “Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series.” Voting closes on Aug. 10, 2022.
Without amendments, Bill C-18 risks disproportionately benefitting large news organizations and shutting out digital startups and independent media.
When the Liberal government announced its intention to support Canada’s news industry, the reasons given were to sustain local journalism, support innovation in news, and ensure diversity in the news industry. Bill C-18, the Online News Act currently before Parliament, guarantees none of these things.
Four key changes are needed if Canada is to have the vibrant journalism citizens need for a healthy democracy.
We are a coalition of independent Canadian news publishers, pushing for amendments to C-18 to ensure the bill lives up to its promise to strengthen Canadian journalism. We represent over 100 outlets serving communities coast to coast to coast and employing over one thousand journalists. Taken together, our readers and listeners number in the many millions. Many of us have risked personal capital, fundraised from our communities, and built newsrooms from scratch to reach underserved audiences, many at the local level.
Collectively, we represent Canada’s most innovative digital news media, local news outlets, both French and English language media, and BIPOC-led news media — we are the innovative news organizations that are rebuilding the local news ecosystem. The Online News Act represents an opportunity to accelerate this innovation and progress.
We have come together to ask for basic fairness in Bill C-18.
The centrepiece of Bill C-18 is a funding model aimed at mandating large web platforms like Facebook and Google to compensate Canadian news organizations for posting content on their platforms. Unfortunately, as it is currently structured, Bill C-18 does not specifically direct funding towards supporting the critical work of journalists. The bill also lacks robust transparency mechanisms and, most importantly, it risks leaving out small, medium size and independent publishers.
Even before it was tabled, Bill C-18 has resulted in winners and losers in the news industry. There have been a series of secret, backroom deals between Big Tech and the largest newspapers in Canada, along with a handful of small- to medium-sized publishers. An unintended but likely consequence of Bill C-18 as currently structured may be to cement these inequities and this secrecy, which threatens the public’s already-frayed trust in journalism.
To be clear, we support the goal of creating a sustainable news industry. It is not too late for the current legislation to address the needs of the Canadian news media ecosystem. We want it to be amended to ensure the following:
A transparent, fair funding formula
A universal funding formula should be applied consistently to all qualifying news organizations. This funding formula should be disclosed, and the public must know which news organizations are receiving money from tech companies.
Support for journalists
Compensation from tech platforms should be based on a percentage of editorial expenditures or the number of journalists that work for an organization, inclusive of freelancers.
Bill C-18 may exclude dozens of important news innovators by demanding employee thresholds that news startups often don’t reach until their 3rd or 4th year of operation.
Bill C-18 currently includes vague and poorly-defined criteria allowing for “Exemption Orders” that could let Big Tech off the hook, benefitting a few large news organizations and shutting out hundreds of legitimate small to medium size newsrooms.
While we recognize the reality of the wider news crisis, our organizations represent rays of hope, and are proving that there is a future for a dynamic, inclusive news ecosystem in Canada.
Bill C-18 is modeled after Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code. It must not repeat the mistakes of that legislation. In Australia, an estimated 90 per cent of negotiated revenues flowed to the three largest media companies.
We encourage the government to revisit and improve Bill C-18.
As small, medium size, and independent news publishers, this new legislation is too big, and too important, to fumble. Bill C-18 will have a massive impact on the future of journalism and news in Canada.
This is an annual award that recognizes news organizations that "power journalism’s future through digital journalism." It was our coverage of the 2021 municipal election that caught the eye of the jury.
We are shortlisted with the CBC for its Black On the Prairies interactive series, and New Canadian Media for its collective membership model, a capacity-building project with the Canadian Association of Journalists and National NewsMedia Council.
I had the pleasure of leading the tremendous team that pulled this project off, with development by Mack Male and Meenakshi Chaudhary; data analysis by Madeleine Stout; editorial work by Emily Rendell-Watson, Jackson Spring, and Troy Pavlek; session facilitation by Chris Chang-Yen Phillips; and advice from Elise Stolte and Rob Houle.
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this project. The real reward was, of course, the knowledge that we sent thousands of Edmontonians into this election with a better understanding of what the issues were and which candidates aligned best with their values. But it’s nice to get some external validation.
We’ve been pretty heads-down in 2022, doing the work that you’ve come to expect from us, but it’s time to look up and celebrate a couple of honours for that work.
At Digital Alberta’s 2021 Ember Awards, Taproot Edmonton was named Best Digital Publication.
Last year saw huge changes at Taproot, with the launch of The Pulse, powered by a revamped website that reflects our efforts to help our community understand itself better. We were also recognized for our People’s Agenda project, in which we asked Edmontonians what issues were important to them, put those questions to the candidates, and crafted a matching engine to help voters discover who aligned with their values best.
"It was truly gratifying to be able to have such a positive impact in such an important part of our community," co-founder Mack Male said in his acceptance speech.
It was Mack’s developer chops that made all of this possible on the technical side, assisted by intern Meenakshi Chaudhary. We also pulled on his deep knowledge of city hall on the content side, alongside tremendous efforts from editorial lead Emily Rendell-Watson, data analyst Madeleine Stout, reporter Jackson Spring, listening-sessions facilitator Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, and everyone else who helped the project succeed.
Many thanks to Digital Alberta and award sponsor Communo, and congratulations to all of the amazing people and organizations recognized for their excellence.
The work Emily did on that show laid the foundation for Taproot’s new weekly podcast, Bloom, in which Emily discusses innovation in Edmonton with co-host Faaiza Ramji. We’ll share more about this project in the coming days, but in the meantime, check out the episodes so far, and subscribe so you don’t miss the next one.
It takes resources to make award-winning journalism, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to keep making more. If you’d like to help, become a member or a sponsor, or pass this on to a friend. Such contributions make a big difference.
As we look back at 2021, we are filled with gratitude for the support that has enabled us to accomplish so much this year. Just look at what our members, sponsors, and clients have made possible:
A well-informed community
We launched The Pulse in January, fulfilling a goal to create something that would equip Edmontonians to start their day knowing what was going on. This helped us speed up our metabolism, so to speak, from the weekly cadence of each of our roundups to a daily rhythm throughout the work week. We are much more of a news organization now than we were before — we published more than 1,000 stories this year, more than the combined output of the previous four years of Taproot’s existence.
We pulled off an ambitious plan to cover the 2021 municipal election in a useful and impactful way. As we said in our recap of the People’s Agenda project, 600+ hours led to a community-informed questionnaire that revealed the values and interests of the candidates and allowed thousands of voters to learn who they aligned with best. We continue to pull on that data for our journalism, both in our city council stories and the Speaking Municipally podcast, which surpassed 100,000 downloads this year.
In 2022, we will continue to pay attention to what’s going on in our city, both generally and through the lens of the beats that form the basis of our weekly roundups: tech, food, the region, health innovation, arts, and business. We will also strengthen our ability to pay attention to what our community wants to know more about, building on the lessons of the People’s Agenda and drawing on our roots as a place that satisfies the curiosity of the people we serve.
A robust business
Ambitious plans require resources. As a bootstrapped company, the bulk of our resources come from what we can sell, whether it’s services, sponsorships, or memberships. Our efforts have been rewarded (and reinvested in the company) this year, with a boost in revenues over 2020, despite the ongoing global pandemic.
Roundup title sponsors like Uproot Food Collective, Health Cities, and Alberta Innovates make a big difference in our ability to sustainably pay attention to what’s happening in our city. So do the other sponsors and advertisers who want this kind of work to exist while also seeking to reach the smartest, most engaged people in our community (that’s you).
We have been able to access some additional funding to grow. A $23,500 grant from the Investment Readiness Program helped us develop a plan to scale our briefings service, which uses the same technology and methodology we use to pay attention on the journalism side of the operation but is attuned to the particular information needs of a client organization. We’ll be executing that plan in 2022.
A strong team
Ambitious plans require people to make them happen, and that’s what we spend the vast majority of our resources on. This year, we’ve been able to pay three full-time staff, along with a number of part-timers and freelancers.
A contribution from a limited partner at Active Impact Investments was also helpful in enabling us to work with a number of students this year.
We’ve spent a lot of time this year figuring out how to best deploy our team and equip them with what they need to accomplish the mission of informing communities about themselves. That work never ends, and you’ll see continued evolution throughout next year.
We also know we won’t achieve what we’re here to do if we burn ourselves out. That’s why we took a break from our publishing schedule for a week in August, and it’s why The Pulse and our roundups will be on pause for the last two weeks of December. We’ll be back in your inbox and on the web starting Jan. 3.
Here’s how to help us do more
Become a member: For just $10 a month or $100 a year, you can help us continue to make our journalism free for everyone to read or listen to.
Become a sponsor: We do not plaster our website with pop-ups, but we do create opportunities for businesses and organizations to reach the best people through us.
Learn more about our briefings service: If you or someone you know has an organization that needs help to stay informed and connected, let’s talk.
Spread the word: If you’re a member, you have a referral link at the bottom of every newsletter we send. If you’re not a paying member but you love what Taproot does, you can still help by letting others know.
Many thanks to everyone who has helped us get here and will continue to lift us through 2022 and beyond!
The votes are counted, the new city council is about to get to work, and we’re putting a bow on our People’s Agenda project.
We set out to cover Edmonton’s 2021 municipal election in a way that was better than and different from traditional election coverage. We wanted to ground our stories in the issues that mattered to people, rather than the horse race or the sniping between candidates. We could see the value of approaching our election through the lens of The Citizens Agenda, which we explored in the summer of 2020 at a series of Election SOS training sessions.
We came out of that training with this vision:
Taproot Edmonton will build a robust, accurate, point-in-time summary of the key points on people’s minds heading into the 2021 municipal election in Edmonton, tapping into the full diversity of our community. The People’s Agenda will be shared publicly as widely as possible during and after the listening campaign and will shape Taproot Edmonton’s coverage, grounding it in what people actually care about. The People’s Agenda will help fulfill Taproot’s mission to help our community understand itself better, in a way that is driven by curiosity and a desire to explain rather than to convince.
And we defined success like this:
The People’s Agenda will reflect what Edmontonians want candidates to address, and Taproot Edmonton will be better connected to a broader, more diverse, and engaged community.
Our efforts would lead to 21,000+ responses from voters seeking to know which candidates best aligned with their values, and many comments like this:
"I love the contexts provided, it taught me a lot on current city initiatives that I never looked into. It’s awesome that there’s something like this, and I appreciate the candidates who took the time to respond." (danger-boi on Reddit)
"The survey was very well done. The context was short, but well referenced and made for solid opportunities to explore topics in greater detail. And then at the end, you can see how each candidate responded? ::chef’s kiss::" (@ganpachi on Reddit)
"It’s actually pretty cool: it seems that the prospective councillors and mayoral candidates answered the same questionnaire. You’re comparing the answer you gave to the answer they gave—not somebody’s interpretation of their platform. thanks @taprootyeg" (@kongaloosh on Twitter)
"Very useful and thought provoking. I recommend for all YEGers who find municipal elections a bit confusing." (@Bjwrz on Twitter)
That’s just a tiny sample of the positive feedback we received. We did not imagine that this is where the People’s Agenda would take us when we launched it. But we ended up in a very good place, with lessons we can apply to future efforts to listen and be useful to our community.
The winding path to better and different election coverage
So how did we get here anyway? Here are some of the high points of the timeline:
September 2020: We started with a question: "What key issue do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your votes in the 2021 municipal election, and why?"
December 2020: We synthesized those responses into eight big questions that encapsulated the worries that seemed to be on participants’ minds.
March and April 2021: We held eight online listening sessions dedicated to further understanding why these issues were important to people.
August 2021: The responses also formed the basis of a 30-question survey that we put to the candidates. We encouraged them to fill out the survey over the next several weeks, ending up with answers from 67 of the 85 people running for mayor and council.
Sept. 23-24: We opened the same survey to the public, soft-launching first to People’s Agenda participants, then Taproot members, and finally to the wider public.
This project took at least 500 hours of staff time and another 100+ hours from paid contributors, in addition to the time spent by steering committee members Elise Stolte and Rob Houle, as well as volunteer facilitators at our listening sessions.
It was at times overwhelming, but part of what made it so was not quite knowing where we were headed. There was a bit of wheel-spinning after our listening sessions, for example, when it wasn’t at all clear what our tiny team was going to be able to do with all of this input. The breakthrough was coming across The City’s Meet Your Mayor app, which inspired our own version.
It’s also worth noting that our startup changed significantly during the course of this project. In the summer of 2020, when we started the Election SOS training, our journalistic output consisted of several weekly newsletters on specific topics, a weekly podcast, and semi-regular stories that we shared on social media but didn’t have a very accessible home on our website.
In January 2021, we launched The Pulse, a weekday newsletter focused more generally on what goes on in our city. We had also revamped our home page to better display our journalism. That was vital to ensuring the project had impact. But The Pulse and the People’s Agenda weren’t as integrated as they could have been. Future engagement efforts will have to be fully part of what we do instead of happening in parallel as this project sometimes did.
While all of this was happening, we were also developing and delivering on the business-to-business product that helps to fund all of this work. That was vital, too, for while the project did sell some more memberships and increased our readership, which helps sell sponsorships and advertising, it did not pay for itself. Our model is such that the journalism is subsidized by the B2B side of our operation, and the growth we achieved earlier this year certainly made such an ambitious project possible. It would be fair to say, however, that the effort to bring the project to a strong conclusion ate into the time that we intended to put into business development in the last quarter.
We are coming out of this project with a reusable matching engine that we intend to employ not only for the next municipal election in 2025 but also in the interim, perhaps for elections at other levels or as a regular check-in on the current council. It may even be a product we could sell to others.
We have also developed a bit of a listening methodology that we’ll be able to streamline for future elections as well as ongoing check-ins on what matters to our community and what people want to better understand. We’re working on what that looks like. What we know for sure is that democracy is not just for election time, and neither is engaged, community-focused journalism. The People’s Agenda has taught us a lot about that. We’re eager to continue to apply those lessons as we go on.
We encourage you to subscribe to The Pulse. You’ll receive our ongoing coverage of Edmonton and you’ll be among the first to participate in any new engagement opportunities. If you’d like to help ensure this work remains free for everyone, become a member.
If you’d like to know more about how we inform and connect communities, get in touch. We’d love to serve your community through our B2B offerings.
Finally, if you run a digital news site, work in journalism, or simply have ideas for how to make use of our matching engine, we’d love to hear from you.
We are buoyed and blown away by the response to the Taproot Survey, our matching engine to help Edmonton voters discover how well they align with the candidates running for mayor and city council.
As I write this, we’ve received more than 6,800 responses, with more coming in every minute. That’s an order of magnitude greater than the goal we set when we conceived of the idea. A tremendous amount of work has gone into this project over the past year, and it’s gratifying to see it pay off to such a high degree.
How did we get here?
The survey is the culmination of the People’s Agenda project that we started more than a year ago. We asked Edmontonians what key issue they wanted the candidates to talk about as they competed for their votes in the 2021 municipal election. Those responses roughly coalesced into eight questions, which then formed the basis of a series of listening sessions to help us further understand people’s concerns.
The next step was to figure out how to determine where the candidates stood on these issues. Taproot co-founder Mack Male came across the Meet Your Mayor app from The City in New York. Because he is a developer himself, Mack said with his customary confidence that we could build something like that for our election. So we set about making it so.
How did we make it so?
Based on the input from our initial question and the subsequent listening sessions, as well as our own knowledge of civic affairs, we came up with a list of questions aimed at sussing out where the candidates stood and how they might be different from each other.
For the matching engine to work, we needed the questions to be multiple-choice. (Maybe machine learning will allow us to analyze unique sentences and match them with voters’ responses by 2025, but that wasn’t an option this year, much to some candidates’ chagrin.) We wanted those choices to stay away from motherhood statements — everyone wants a better city, no? — and we tried to make sure the answers were mutually exclusive and grounded in reality. We wanted the survey to be substantial and wide-ranging but not prohibitively long, so we landed on 10 topics with three questions each. Finally, we wanted to provide a short paragraph of context with links to further information to ensure that both candidates and voters understood the question we were asking.
This took a lot of time. Probably more than our small team could afford. But the prospect of having an easy but meaningful way for voters to find out who agreed with them on the issues spurred us on (along with a little bit of sunk-cost fallacy, if we’re being honest). We also benefited from excellent data-crunching from Madeleine Stout, and sage advice from Prof. Jack Lucas at the University of Calgary; our People’s Agenda steering committee members, Rob Houle and Elise Stolte; and Speaking Municipally co-host Troy Pavlek.
Then what happened?
Once the survey was finalized, we had to get the candidates to answer it. To me, this was perhaps the scariest part of this endeavour. Without a significant response rate from them, all of that work would have been for naught.
Step 1 was to make a well-considered, professional product. Step 2 was to make the case for the candidates to make time for our survey amid the plethora they had already received from others, not to mention the many other duties associated with campaigning. Some took more convincing than others, but by the time we were ready to open the survey to voters, we had half of the candidates, and we’re up to three-quarters now, including all but one incumbent.
Meanwhile, Mack and our technical intern, Meenakshi Chaudhary, were building the rest of the engine and website. That was a lot of work, too, but it will pay dividends, not only now but for future elections. We try to build replicable systems at Taproot, and this was no exception.
We soft-launched on Sept. 23, and opened it up to the wider public on Sept. 24, hoping but not knowing it would be well-received. It was. Deepest thanks to everyone who has shared the survey on social media, in newsletters, or by email. The magnitude of the response so far is because of you.
We’re going to keep collecting responses, from both voters and candidates, until election day on Oct. 18. Along the way, we’ll be writing stories arising from the data. Be sure to subscribe to The Pulse so you don’t miss a thing. (P.S. You can have more fun with the data yourself if you want — here’s how.)
Speaking Municipally, our municipal affairs podcast, will also be diving into the survey every Friday until the election.
Mack is planning to feed some of the data into our election night dashboard, which means Taproot will have not only the city’s best visualization of the data from Edmonton Elections (if past years are any indication), but also unique insights that you won’t find anywhere else.
Once the mayor and council are elected, you’ll be able to see at a glance where most or all of the winning candidates stand on these issues, which are likely to come up again over the next four years.
Finally, we’ve learned so much during this election campaign that we can apply to future ones. So watch for us to continue to build on this foundation in the years to come.
We’ve been doing a lot of work on the People’s Agenda project, but we haven’t been doing much of it out loud lately, so it’s time for an update.
We’re grateful to the hundreds of people who answered our question about the issues that matter to them and participated in the eight listening sessions we organized around those responses. They conveyed so much passion, intelligence, and curiosity to us, all of which is fuelling the next phase of this project.
As we noted in our previous progress report, the next steps are to generate a voter’s guide indicating where the candidates stand on the issues people told us they cared about, and to publish stories further examining some of the issues we heard about.
Foundation laid for voter’s guide
We have developed a questionnaire that we will be asking candidates to fill out indicating where they stand on various issues, derived from what we heard from participants in the People’s Agenda and bolstered by the close attention we pay to city council. The questionnaire consists of 30 multiple-choice questions organized in groups of three under 10 headings: economy; environment; finances; housing and homelessness; planning; police; politics and governance; quality of life; roads; and transit.
The questionnaire doesn’t cover every issue that was raised in our gathering phase, but we’ve done our best to create a representative sample with a range of answers that will allow candidates to demonstrate their values and the approaches they would take to matters that the next city council will face. We will also invite them to share a pitch to voters, which we will publish along with their answers to the survey.
Our desire is to create an interactive guide similar to what a site called The City created for New York’s recent mayoral election. The City compiled candidates’ answers, and then made the same questionnaire available to New Yorkers so they could learn which candidates were most aligned with them. We are working to generate a similar experience so Edmontonians can find out which candidates for their ward and the mayoralty are the best fit for them.
The questionnaire will be sent to candidates soon. If you are running, please fill it out — we will be sharing the results far and wide, and this will help you find your voters. If you are working for a campaign, please make sure your candidate fills it out. And if you are a voter, kindly nudge them to fill it out.
Stories are in the works
We’ve published the first feature story inspired by People’s Agenda participants: This social-services experiment is working — could there be more?. The idea to take a closer look at the C5 North East Hub came out of a discussion during our listening session on housing and homelessness. As reporter Jackson Spring discovered, the hub seems to be working for people in a part of the city that needs support and doesn’t have easy access to it, but its future depends on whether the next city council decides to fund it.
We’ve got some other features in the works on such issues as 15-minute districts, public toilets, and carbon accounting. The answers to our questionnaire will also yield stories about each ward and act as a jumping-off point for deeper examinations of the questions at play.
You’ll also hear an increasing amount of campaign coverage on Speaking Municipally, our award-winning weekly look at municipal issues in Edmonton, hosted by Troy Pavlek and Mack Male. That comes out every Friday at noon.
Edmonton’s city council passed a motion on June 7 that we didn’t cover over at Taproot Edmonton, but we certainly took note of as a local media company.
The motion, made by Coun. Ben Henderson and seconded by Coun. Scott McKeen, carried 13-0. Here’s what it says:
The City of Edmonton council recognizes that a healthy, professional news media is essential to the proper functioning of democracy in our city; urges nearby municipal councils and across Canada to recognize that a robust news media is essential to the proper functioning of democracy in their jurisdictions; endorses legislation and regulations to support and rejuvenate news outlets across Canada; and urges the federal government to move quickly to pass legislation to ensure an ecosystem for a healthy news media to serve all Canadians.
Edmonton City Council meeting, June 7, 2021
Henderson said similar motions have been passed by municipalities across the country. This campaign coincides with an effort by News Media Canada to step up pressure on the federal government to pass legislation to "rein in" Google and Facebook before Parliament rises for the summer amid anticipation of a fall election. The newspaper lobby would like something similar to what Australia passed earlier this year requiring Google and Facebook to negotiate compensation agreements with publishers.
Henderson said he didn’t know the specifics of the federal legislation. Nonetheless, the motion passed unanimously. That struck me as odd, but judging from the discussion, councillors were motivated by a desire to get on the record their recognition of the importance of local news coverage and the role that it plays in helping them do their job.
Fair enough. We agree that a healthy news media is essential to the proper functioning of democracy, and it means something for politicians to say that out loud, because they are often criticized by said media.
We should consider, however, whether the proposed cure is worse than the disease. As Joshua Benton pointed out in Nieman Lab, what happened in Australia is not all it’s cracked up to be. A bill in the Senate that aims to force the tech giants to pay royalties to Canadian journalism organizations is similarly flawed, as was eloquently explained by Sen. Paula Simons (a former Edmonton Journal colleague of both mine and McKeen’s) in a piece for The Line. It’s not clear that such a use of Canada’s copyright law would work, and even if it did, it would favour the incumbents. "At what point is it actually unfair to help big companies like Postmedia and Torstar and Bell Globe Media, while making it harder for new start ups and innovative news platforms to get a start?" she wrote. "Is there a point at which we simply have to acknowledge that the era of the big legacy newspaper companies is over?" In Taproot’s view, we have indeed reached that point.
Council can take action itself
At any rate, there’s not much we can do to influence what the federal government decides to do or not do on this file. However, there is action that our municipal government could take to strengthen the health of local journalism in our city.
The City of Edmonton buys a lot of advertising. Between 2008 and 2018, it spent well over $7 million on ads in the Edmonton Journal, and council’s executive committee agreed to renew an agreement for up to $3.5 million more over three years in November of 2018. We know these figures because the contract is big enough to have to go to council for approval. That agreement ends on Dec. 31, 2021.
A substantial proportion of that amount had been for "legally required advertising" — certain notices that the Municipal Government Act used to require the City to place in the main local newspaper. The act no longer requires this, and in October of 2019, city council passed a bylaw providing "alternative methods for advertising proposed bylaws, resolutions meetings, public hearings, and other things required to be advertised by the City." Now most of that legally required advertising can appear on the City’s website instead of in paid ads in the Edmonton Journal.
While the ostensible reason for advertising in the Journal was to reach a substantial proportion of the population as required by the MGA, the actual outcome was to subsidize Postmedia — a debt-ridden, Toronto-based company that has continually cut local journalism — in a way that has been unavailable to any of its competitors. What Taproot co-founder Mack Male told executive committee in 2018 remains true today: "Paying Postmedia for legally required advertising is effectively a subsidy to a single outlet. The opportunity here is to consider whether that subsidy should be reduced and whether it could be spread across multiple outlets, especially those who will invest the money in building a brighter future for journalism right here in Edmonton."
The City no longer has to spend as much on print ads as it used to, and its current agreement expires at the end of this year. It still has to make sure as many people as possible know what it is up to. And council just passed a motion saying that healthy local media outlets are vital to democracy. So this seems like an excellent time to use that spending power in a way that accomplishes these goals. Even a fraction of what has been allocated for advertising in Postmedia would make a huge difference to local media outlets like Taproot that inform the community and are part of the connective tissue that makes a city work.
To be clear, the City wouldn’t be buying influence with such purchases. Postmedia’s journalists feel free to criticize city council and administration, and so would Taproot’s and those at any other reputable media outlet. If there were strings attached to that money, we wouldn’t take it, and I don’t see any evidence that the City has or wants such strings. Some outlets choose not to sell any advertising at all; we do, with a clear moral compass that directs us to give up revenue if it puts the integrity of our journalism at risk.
And one more thing: With so much of the City’s communications now taking place on its own website and social media channels, it seems plausible that an ever-larger proportion of the advertising budget will go to search engine marketing and social media marketing. This is the advertising world we live in now, and it is why Google and Facebook have eaten newspapers’ lunch. But if council truly believes that something should be done to support local journalism, then it shouldn’t send all of its advertising budget to the tech giants either. Spend some of it here on the local media ecosystem.