How Taproot puts membership fees to work

I’d like to draw your attention to Taproot Edmonton’s latest big feature — Public purchasing power leaves small businesses on the outside looking in — not only because of the journalistic value, but also because of what it says about where we are right now.

First, the journalism. Back in January, there was a brouhaha when The Breakdown and CTV News revealed that the provincial procurement of reusable masks to be used in schools ignored the Alberta-based companies that had participated in a request-for-proposals process and granted the contract instead to a vendor in Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s riding, in addition to Old Navy.

Plenty of coverage ensued, and we didn’t cover this particular scandal ourselves. But it left us with a question that speaks to the bigger picture of how decisions are made, which is something Taproot likes to dig into: To what extent do governments "shop local" and should they do it more?

The government procurement process, both at the municipal and provincial level, is outdated and opaque, TIQ Software’s Jason Suriano told Taproot’s Ryan Stephens in a recent feature story. (Supplied photo)

So, we assigned Ryan Stephens to look into it. He learned there is a growing interest among governments to take economic growth and social improvement into account when making purchasing decisions, but as Claire Theaker-Brown of Unbelts and Jason Suriano of TIQ Software told him, that process remains opaque and difficult to navigate, which means a lot of opportunities have been lost. Read the whole story to see what they mean.

What does this story say about where Taproot is at?

When we started, all we published was longform features. We couldn’t afford the time or money to do daily coverage, but thanks to our first paying members, we had enough revenue to commission stories based on the curiosity of our community. One such story was Ryan’s piece on the motorcyclists who congregate at the Tim Hortons on Whyte, published in 2017.

This was a good way to start, but the metabolism was a little slow for us to really get traction. Our weekly roundup newsletters helped speed it up, while diversifying our revenue to include not only membership but also sponsorship. Roundups also opened our eyes to the opportunity to create a briefings service for businesses and organizations. This made it possible to hire Emily Rendell-Watson as Taproot Edmonton’s managing editor, and that increased capacity enabled us to speed up our metabolism even more with The Pulse, our daily newsletter.

As we built all of that, those longform features fell by the wayside, mostly for lack of time to think, organize, assign, and edit. But we’ve got our feet under us now, at least somewhat, and we’re able to bring such explanatory work into the world again more regularly.

We’re also getting to a place where we can publish stories pitched by freelancers, as we did with Tom Murray’s recent story, Indigenous entrepreneurs on the rise in Alberta. And we’re in a position to run longer pieces written by staff, too, as with Misleading or helpful: Should city councillors use branded graphics on social media? and Building Innovate Edmonton: The first four months.

Free to read, but not free to make

One thing that has not changed about Taproot, from Day 1, is that our journalism is available for everyone to read, whether they pay us or not. We have never wavered from our belief that for journalism to do its job, it has to be widely accessible.

Many outlets believe that if they can’t sell your attention to advertisers (because advertisers now pay Facebook and Google instead), then they must erect a paywall to force you to pay for their journalism directly. This reveals a lack of imagination. And it risks putting well-researched, well-edited stories out of reach while the market is flooded with free but lousy work, not to mention misinformation and disinformation.

All of the work we publish is high-quality and free to read. But no one works for Taproot for free. Membership fees are part of what allows us to pay our staff and freelancers to do this work.

So, if you are one of our paying members, thank you! And if you are one of our original paying members, please know how eternally grateful we are for your continued support through all of these iterations. We hope you are happy to see us returning to the kind of journalism you originally signed up for, augmented by a whole lot more.

If you read Taproot but have not yet become a paying member, consider hopping on board. It costs $10 a month or $100 a year to help us pay for more local journalism and to send a signal that this kind of work is valuable to you.

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