We’re excited to introduce The Pulse, a daily news briefing that informs you about what’s going on in Edmonton. It launches on Monday, Jan. 18, and you can sign up now to get it for free.
What is The Pulse?
The Pulse is a one-stop shop for what you need to know before getting on with your day. Every weekday morning, we’ll share original stories from our team, a curated selection of local news from around the web, and other local items of interest that will hopefully provide you with a small dose of daily delight.
The Pulse is free, and it will contain minimal, locally focused advertisements to help us keep it that way. You can also support our work by becoming a member.
To start, we’ll deliver The Pulse via an email newsletter, on the web, and on social media. We know that everyone’s routine is different, and while email works well for many people, it may not for others. We want to meet you wherever you are in order to serve you well. To that end, we will continue to evaluate additional ways to make The Pulse available.
Why is Taproot launching The Pulse?
As readers, we subscribe to some fantastic daily newsletters from media companies elsewhere in the world, such as The Morning Newsletter from The New York Times, Morning Brew, and Axios AM. These and other similar newsletters are a great way to get oriented and provide useful context for the day ahead.
We wanted to subscribe to a local newsletter, too, something focused on our city, but what we were looking for just didn’t exist. Now it does.
Taproot Edmonton is well-positioned to make this happen. Our team pays close attention to Edmonton. We’re constantly gathering information about our city, evaluating those updates, adding context, and sharing them with readers. This effort has helped us keep Edmontonians informed through our roundups as well as an increasing number of original articles. Now it’ll help us produce The Pulse.
What benefits does The Pulse provide?
In December, we piloted The Pulse for two weeks with a few hundred of our existing email subscribers. That gave us an opportunity to gather feedback from readers on what elements of the briefing they liked best, as well as to test and refine the editorial process needed to produce a new edition every day.
We then took some time before the holidays to evaluate all the feedback and data we had collected. We were very encouraged by the response, with a majority of survey respondents indicating they liked The Pulse and wanted something like it to continue. In fact, 83% of respondents told us that The Pulse informed them about things they care about.
Our goal is for The Pulse to inform you, save you time, connect you to Edmonton, and delight you, each and every day.
We’ve made some adjustments since the pilot, and we’ll continue to iterate over the weeks and months ahead. We welcome your feedback!
Sign up to get The Pulse for free
We are launching The Pulse on Monday, Jan. 18, and we’d love for you to sign up to receive it in your email inbox every weekday. It’s free!
We’re able to bring him on board thanks to the field placement program at MacEwan, which has an ongoing relationship with Taproot to provide real-world experience for journalism students, and the Venture for Canada internship program, which gives Canadian students and recent grads an opportunity to get entrepreneurship training and work experience at startups like ours.
We’re happy to have the opportunity to be a training ground, and we’re looking forward to having Jackson’s help to continue to pay attention to what’s going on in our city.
We’re thrilled to introduce you to the new website for Taproot Edmonton!
You’ll find it at https://edmonton.taproot.news and it includes all of our stories, roundups, podcasts, and other work in one place. The site also includes all of our reader and membership functionality, and is the foundation we’ll be building on for the future.
The new site is another important step in the ongoing evolution of our web presence.
How we got here
When we launched Taproot Edmonton in the spring of 2016, we just had a simple, static landing page, which we replaced with two websites over that summer. At http://www.taprootedmonton.ca, we launched a WordPress-based site to serve as the home for our original journalism and our blog. And at members.taprootedmonton.ca, we launched a custom-built site to serve as the place for our member services — everything from joining to participating in the Story Garden.
That’s essentially how our web presence remained, though what we do at Taproot Edmonton has evolved quite a bit in the years since. We still publish original stories, but we also publish roundups and podcasts, neither of which showed up very well on our two existing sites. For new projects, like the COVID-19 microsite, we had to choose which site to add it to while still connecting both.
Both existing sites had fairly static home pages, which made sense when we were launching four years ago but doesn’t reflect the dynamic nature of our operation today. And having two sites was confusing. It felt very disjointed to go from reading a story on one site to a very different looking website in order to sign up as a reader or member.
We started taking some small steps this past summer to address these and other related challenges. In August, we launched our new blog at taprootpublishing.ca, which meant we removed it from taprootedmonton.ca.
Now, we’ve taken a big step forward.
The new site
First and foremost, there’s just one site now, at https://edmonton.taproot.news. The new domain positions us to serve new communities in the future. We’ve redirected our existing domains so all the links already out in the world will just keep working.
Roundups, podcasts, news articles, and features are all integrated, better reflecting all of the work we publish on a daily basis. Also integrated is the ability to sign up as a reader (free) or member (paid), which means there’s no more hopping from one site to another.
The front page now shows our latest work, rather than static information about Taproot itself (that is available on the About page).
The new site has been designed with the expectations that we all have for websites in 2020, such as responsive design and a dark mode. There’s also plenty of behind-the-scenes changes that will enable us to improve the experience even further.
For the next two weeks we’re piloting a new way to keep Edmontonians informed called The Pulse, and the new website is foundational to that effort.
Our website remains a work in progress, and we’ll keep improving it over time. There are probably also some bugs still waiting to be fixed! If you spot any issues or have any suggestions, please let us know.
As we all wait for the votes to be counted in the United States, and brace ourselves for whatever comes next, you might not want to hear another single thing about any kind of election anywhere. I hear you.
But we will have a civic election here next October, and the candidates we choose will have more effect on our day-to-day lives than anything that happens south of the border, however overwhelming it may be right now. We really want to make sure Taproot equips voters to make informed decisions and alerts candidates to what is important for them to address.
The point of the People’s Agenda method — which aims to find out what issues Edmontonians want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes in the 2021 municipal election — is to act as an antidote to coverage that focuses on who’s ahead and who’s behind, i.e. the infamous “horse race” that relies so heavily on polling. It’s also a way to keep the focus on real things that city council has to make decisions about, rather than sniping or gaffes or “us vs them” appeals.
Here’s an update on the progress we’ve made so far:
We have welcomed Rob Houle to our steering committee. You may have heard him before on Speaking Municipally — on Episode 92 he spoke about council’s decision not to reduce the police budget, and on Episode 100 he talked about the city’s new Indigenous ward names. He joins Elise Stolte to help us stay accountable on our goals to hear from as wide and diverse a swath of Edmontonians as possible.
We’ve figured out how we’re going to follow up with the respondents who gave us permission to do so. This may seem like a very small step, and it is, but we hadn’t come up with a procedure for that when we launched this thing, and now we have. We expect that these follow-up conversations and calls will lead to story ideas, which we will start assigning and publishing soon. This is how we will make sure we go deeper than superficial surveys and get closer to the kind of deep listening that Elise is doing with her Groundwork project.
It’s clear from the first hundred or so responses that some common themes are coalescing. We still have a lot more people to reach out to and hear from, but there’s enough early consensus on several topics to indicate a preliminary agenda. So we’ll be putting that together and publishing it soon, in hopes that it prompts further responses.
We’re working out a less aggressive timeline. The election is less than a year away, but that’s still pretty far down the road. For various reasons, we were planning to do a lot of response-gathering and listening in the fall, with a view to launching our coverage in January. We’ve since taken a step back to give the outreach process a little more air while altering the rest of the plan so you can see actual stories and not just progress reports sooner.
That may be more information than you require, but transparency is a good policy.
For examples of some of the responses we’ve seen so far, keep an eye on the Council Roundup, where we update the numbers every week.
Send that link to someone in your circle whose voice should be heard.
If you are putting on an online event involving Edmontonians, please get in touch with me at email@example.com. We have a small budget for sponsorship, as well as some additional opportunities for cross-promotion. In return, we’re looking for a chance to briefly invite your attendees to participate in the People’s Agenda.
Happy Edmonton Startup Week! We’re marking the occasion with the debut of Taproot Edmonton Presents: Igniting Innovation, a podcast series exploring how startups and investors are coming together in Edmonton’s tech innovation sector.
Here’s the trailer to give you a taste:
Igniting Innovation is the first series under our new imprint, Taproot Edmonton Presents, where we’ll tell stories that suit the podcast medium and take advantage of the tremendous audio talents of managing editor Emily Rendell-Watson.
Episode 1 sets the scene with power couple Zack Storms, founder and chief organizer of Startup TNT, and Keren Tang, an angel investor with the Startup TNT Investment Summit. They share stories about building and fostering relationships with entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity that more diversity would bring.
You’ll be hearing more from Zack in the coming episodes — he’ll be a bit of a colour commentator for Emily as she learns more about the scene, talking to veterans and newcomers about what it takes to get an idea off the ground, and the challenges involved in connecting entrepreneurs and innovators with investors to help bring the ideas to life.
The series leads up to the Startup TNT Summit on Nov. 19, which is aiming to raise $150,000 for two local tech companies in Edmonton and Calgary, “while also training new investors to become confident angels.”
Taproot Edmonton Presents: Igniting Innovation is available now in most of the places where one subscribes to podcasts, with new episodes on Wednesdays. If you prefer the desktop experience, here’s Episode 1:
Every day, I face a barrage of requests for money for the media I consume. Podcasters ask me to support their Patreon. News sites want me to subscribe, and insist that I pay if I want to read the rest of the story I’ve clicked on. Journalists tweet, “If you value this, pay for it.” Newsletters invite me to upgrade to a higher tier of membership. New ventures seek contributions to their crowdfunding campaigns.
It’s a lot.
I can’t afford to say yes to everyone, much as I want to. So I understand folks like this who feel torn. Most of us are not in a position to support every media organization we value. And in the olden days, we didn’t have to. Many publications were advertising-supported, and their subscription revenue was a nice (and sizeable, to be sure) add-on that also helped reassure businesses that their ads were seen. As Clay Shirky wrote in 2008, the internet broke that model, and it’s not coming back.
We are now well into the “Nothing will work, but everything might” phase of Shirky’s scenario, and that means a whole bunch of experiments, plus the legacy outlets that are still around — hello, National Newspaper Week! — are trying to survive in an environment that tends to rely a lot more on you, the user, to pay the way. That’s a lot to ask at the best of times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic.
We value our paying members highly. Taproot would not even be here without the validation of those early members who believed in us enough to send us money before we even knew what we were going to do with it, and everyone else who has joined since to keep the train moving. Every time someone buys or renews a membership, we get a double dose of happiness — one for the revenue and one for the encouragement, two precious things when you’re a bootstrapped startup.
But for a locally focused outlet like us, the math argues against relying solely on paid memberships. We don’t ever want to find ourselves saying “Pay up or else we’ll die.” As Shirky said of newspapers, “‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.”
Our first step towards diversification was to open our roundup newsletters to sponsorship. This allowed us to enlist businesses in our effort to inform our community, without getting into the traffic-based ad game that has so many perverse incentives embedded in it. The next was to develop our briefings service to produce roundup-like newsletters for organizations that need them. We’re proud of that innovation, and we think it has tremendous potential to fund the journalism side of our operation in a way that doesn’t compromise it. We’re building a social enterprise with the stability to be here for the long haul.
Maybe it’s not smart to tell you that we never want to rely on your membership fees alone to ensure Taproot’s survival. But I have a bias towards the truth.
That said, we value members’ support a great deal, and we put it to very good use. By joining Taproot, you are investing in a product that we will make better and better, with more convenience and personalization in the future. You are also investing in our commitment to publish more and more high-quality journalism for everyone, freely available and never trapped behind a paywall.
If that sounds like an investment worth making, join us.
Taproot has been named a finalist in the “Business Idea of the Year” category of the 2020 LION Awards, which celebrate the best of independent online media across the U.S. and Canada.
The awards are run by LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, and will be presented on Oct. 22.
We were nominated for Spotlight, our curated newsletter that helps businesses and organizations pay attention to their communities. We submitted it because we think we’ve come up with an innovative way to provide a service that generates revenue for the journalism side of our operation, in addition to the money we get from membership and sponsorship. It’s also built on the same technology and methodology that we use to generate our roundups, so we’ve got a nice circle going.
Many thanks to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute for sponsoring this award, and to LION Publishers for making this possible. A lot of inspiring work has been recognized in all of the categories, and we look forward to learning from all of the amazing finalists.
Emily first entered our orbit when we brought her on in February of 2019 to curate the Music Roundup. We later made her the editor of most of our roundups, and we soon had designs on putting her talents to even greater use. Now she is Employee No. 1, and we’re so excited about what we’re going to be able to accomplish with her on the team. And she’s excited, too.
“It’s been almost two years since I started doing freelance work for Taproot Edmonton, and it feels incredible to say I’m now joining the team full-time and that Taproot has grown into what it is today,” she writes. “It goes to show that any opportunity or connection can lead to something bigger!
“I believe journalism is part of the connective tissue that makes communities thrive, and what Mack and Karen are creating at Taproot will ensure that happens in a sustainable way. I’m so excited to keep building the future of local journalism with them and hope to meet as many of you as possible over the months to come.”
Emily is originally from Ottawa, and attended the University of King’s College in Halifax. She worked as a reporter, editor and associate producer with CBC Edmonton for three years, and has done work for national CBC programs such as The Current, Now or Never, What on Earth, The World This Hour and World Report, among others. As a multimedia journalist, she has worked in Edmonton, Jasper, Halifax and Yellowknife. In her spare time, she coaches speed skating, and enjoys local music, ski touring, backpacking, mountain biking, and exploring Mill Creek Ravine with her rescue pup, Abby.
Emily will continue to oversee our roundups, and she will help us move the People’s Agenda project forward. She will take over a number of other editorial duties from the co-founders (that’s Mack Male and me) so we can concentrate more on the tech development that empowers a small team to do a lot and the business development that sustains a growing company. And that’s just the start — we have big plans for the coming year, and Emily is going to play a major role in making them come to fruition.
We’ve reached this milestone in part because of the ongoing support of our paying members. If you’re one of them, thank you for your confidence. We hope you’ll join us in celebration, as you helped make this happen. If you’re not a member yet, we’d love to have you aboard to help us keep Taproot growing. Join today.
A week after launching our People’s Agenda project, we’re pleased and relieved to report that we have received responses. As I write this, 45 people have told us what they want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes in the 2021 municipal election. That’s a good start!
Here is a very small sample of the answers we’ve received, in no particular order and edited slightly for clarity:
“Affordable, subsidized, and permanent supportive housing. Since we have a 10,000-unit deficit in all 3 kinds of housing, it needs to stay the main topic until things are followed up on. Part of this is funding but part of this is reducing barriers to development.”
“Climate action and economic diversification, because without a plan on those fronts, Edmonton post-oil might be as broken as Newfoundland post-fish or Detroit post-car.”
“The arts. Artists have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. With the closure of most venues, performing artists, filmmakers, visual artists have lost almost all opportunities to display their work. The Edmonton Fringe Festival brings in millions of dollars to our city. That organization needs ongoing support. Our independent theatre venues and concert halls need support.”
“Defunding the police/abolishing the police and how maintaining the status quo infringes on the human rights of marginalized people and in fact all Edmontonians.”
“How can we sustainably and responsibly grow and operate the city without spending so much money? It seems the city budget grows faster than is needed.”
Some people truly have one key issue — e.g. “Climate change. Nothing else is important.” Others shared an omnibus of related issues — e.g. “How will you ensure that the goals of the City Plan are implemented through Council decisions over the next four years? This includes a commitment to climate action, curbing sprawl, smart district-based planning, innovative economic diversification, and increasing multimodal transportation options.” Still others have given us more eclectic responses, expressing, for example, a desire for more social enterprise, protection for the river valley, more people-oriented development and “more common sense and less ‘innovation’ ” in the same breath.
It’s going to be an interesting challenge to synthesize all of this into an agenda that will form the basis for our coverage, but it’s encouraging to see the quantity and quality of the raw materials we have to work with already.
And we’ve only just begun. If you haven’t already responded, here’s your chance to answer the question:
Taproot Edmonton is embarking on a quest to find out what Edmontonians want candidates to be talking about as they campaign for votes in the next municipal election, which will be held Oct. 18, 2021. This will shape our coverage and form the basis of a guide to help you decide who to vote for. We are looking for your help to establish a People’s Agenda.
This is our version of Jay Rosen’s citizens’ agenda. The approach is grounded in a desire to make elections about more than the horse race or the spectacle, but rather to listen intently to what voters say is important to them, to deepen our understanding of those issues, and to determine where the candidates stand on them, so people feel empowered and informed when they go to the polls.
Why are we doing this?
From the beginning, Taproot has been interested in learning what people wanted us to find out on their behalf. We have tried various versions of this, to varying degrees of success. The Election SOS Engaged Elections training that we participated in this summer gave us access to the inspiration, tools, and prior experience of journalists and community organizers to help us build a strategic plan for applying this approach to our upcoming municipal election.
How did this come about?
In June, we received an invitation from Bridget Thoreson of Hearken to attend a webinar with Rosen on the citizens’ agenda. I sent it to my friend Elise Stolte, the Edmonton Journal’s city columnist and a journalist who cares deeply about listening to readers. She was on a leave of absence in Switzerland at the time. We applied to join the next cohort of the Engaged Elections training and together built a strategy for how to apply Rosen’s idea to our local context.
What are we trying to accomplish?
Here is the vision for this project:
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.
Here’s what success will look like:
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.
This will only work if we get input from a large number and wide variety of people. That’s why we’re starting now. We very much want to hear from the existing Taproot community, but we also know that the success of this project depends on hearing from people who don’t yet know who we are or what we do. We want and need the full diversity of Edmonton to be reflected. We’d love your help to achieve this.
Where do we start?
The work starts with a question. Here is our first version:
I say “first version” because the question may change if it turns out to be hard to answer or confusing. We won’t know until we start, but we need the freedom to iterate.
This isn’t a scientific poll — it’s a listening campaign, an effort to be openly curious. If we change the question, it will be to further get at what is actually important to people. This isn’t a junk poll either — we are not trying to manipulate the question to get an answer that aligns with our own political beliefs. We are just trying to hear you, and we may have to adjust our listening device to do so.
We will also ask you for permission to follow up on your response to ask more questions, and we will ask your permission to send you updates about the project, including the reporting that comes out of it. If you don’t want us to email you, we will also be reporting our progress on this blog until our election coverage begins on Taproot Edmonton.
We are forming a steering committee, on which Elise has agreed to serve. We’ll be announcing additional members in the coming weeks. This committee will help keep us on track and make sure our outreach efforts are sensitive, effective, and as wide-ranging as they need to be.
What does this lead to?
Later this fall, we plan to release a preliminary version of the People’s Agenda. We expect that to elicit more responses, which will lead to a more final version of the agenda. We’ll aim to unveil that in January.
We will then assign and publish stories that dive deeper into those issues, to provide a further explanation of city council’s power to address them or make decisions pertaining to them. We will also ask the candidates where they stand on those issues. Between their answers to us and what we glean from other election coverage, we will produce a voters’ guide outlining what the candidates say they’ll do about the issues you say matter. When the election is over, we’ll also have a record of what the mayor and councillors said they’d do, which provides an opportunity to hold them to account over the course of their terms.
Most election coverage yields stories and something like a voters’ guide. Our end products may not look that different from what other media outlets will produce. What is different is the intense focus from the beginning on what a wide swath of people say they want this election to be about. And we think that will make our coverage more meaningful than who’s ahead, who’s behind, and who’s sniping at who.