Taproot Edmonton reflects on the weekend everything changed

This weekend marks the anniversary of when everything changed. In addition to that look back, Taproot Edmonton has been documenting milestones throughout the pandemic on our COVID-19 in Edmonton timeline.

In this post, the Taproot Edmonton team reflects on the weekend that everything changed.

Shared by Coun. Aaron Paquette on March 17, 2020 (Twitter)

Emily:

It’s hard to believe it has been one year, and at the same time, it feels like it’s been much longer. While I don’t remember the particular details of the day everything changed in Edmonton, numerous moments over the past year stand out. My life certainly looks very different today than it did in March 2020. I haven’t seen my family, who live across the country, in a year and a half. I’ve talked to Canadians stranded all over the world as borders shut down, interviewed world-class scientists and doctors as they tirelessly worked on a vaccine and warned of caution fatigue, and learned how to produce stories from home, with an inquisitive dog at my side ready to "say hello" mid-interview.

I’m not sure our world, and Edmonton, will ever be the same again. While I would like to one day say goodbye to the copious amounts of hand sanitizer and my collection of leopard and floral face masks, I won’t be as willing to give up the opportunities to reconnect with friends and family, and the slower pace the pandemic has forced us to live by at times. Here’s to hoping we’ll be able to gather as a community like we used to again soon. Take care and stay healthy.

Jackson:

That whole semester of university, I was helping publish a weekly newspaper as a class project. On March 11, the reporters had all of their stories lined up for the next issue: a typical spread of campus issues, restaurant reviews, and problems with the city’s snow clearing efforts. The morning of March 12, the professor walked into class and said "cancel everything — we’re doing a special issue on this virus instead." The university cancelled in-person classes on March 13, and I haven’t been in a classroom since.

Karen:

I remember the last time I shook someone’s hand. I hesitated. He assured me he had washed his hands. I relented. I haven’t done it since.

That was on March 12, 2020, which feels to me like the last normal day, though I guess it wasn’t that normal. The World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic the day before, and that night, I emailed the organizer of a conference I was speaking at to say I understood if she had to cancel. Things were definitely starting to feel strange.

But I went to work as usual at Unit B on March 12. I had meetings, shook hands, rode the bus home, did the regular things. And then things stopped being usual.

An in-person meeting on March 13 became a virtual one. The iMedia conference was indeed postponed. Instead, I called in to Don’t Call Me a Guru. My kids went to school at their school buildings for the last time; as of March 15, they were home.

Everyone who has lived through the last year has a story like this. You should write yours down, too. The historians of the future will thank you.

Mack:

COVID-19 was all over the news that week, but it is Friday, March 13, 2020 that sticks out in my mind as the inflection point. I covered the emergency city council meeting and news conference that day and it became crystal clear that things were about to change in a big way.

My family had gone to West Edmonton Mall the weekend before. We saw the sea lions, explored the kids’ section of the bookstore, and stopped for coffee. The last event I went to, on Tuesday, March 10, was the kickoff for Downtown Dining Week at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Those normal, indoor experiences feel like a lifetime ago now.

Over the course of that week, some of my coffee meetings became virtual while others were cancelled. In every conversation, there was uncertainty, especially after the pandemic was declared and the NHL season was "paused."

The weekend was spent at home, a small preview of the weeks and months to come with daycares also closed as of March 15.

Now a year later, with vaccines rolling out, it feels like we’re at another turning point. A hopeful one this time.

Taproot does some more pruning

Taproot Edmonton is publishing the final edition of the Media Roundup on Feb. 15. From time-to-time you’ll still find coverage of media in Edmonton in The Pulse and on our website.

The evolution of the Media Roundup

We launched the Media Roundup in July 2018 to cover media, public relations, and communications in Edmonton.

I had been writing a blog series called Media Monday Edmonton since early 2011 and it made sense to bring that into Taproot when we started developing our roundups. We expanded the purview of the roundup and added events and job opportunities.

In June 2019, Linda Hoang came on board to take over the Media Roundup and she did a great job. But with her own growing online empire, Linda decided to step away and wrote her final edition last month.

Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

Why are we making this change?

Linda’s departure accelerated discussions we were already having about how the Media Roundup fits into what we’re building with Taproot Edmonton.

We continue to strive for "less but better" and just as with the end of the Council Roundup, we think this change will help us focus on other efforts, such as The Pulse.

There’s a popular quote in writing circles that "you must kill your darlings." Originally attributed to William Faulkner and popularized by Stephen King, the phrase refers to characters, paragraphs, chapters, or other bits of writing that we’re fond of and want to keep, even if they get in the way of serving the reader.

It has been ten years since I posted the first entry in Media Monday Edmonton. Paying attention to and writing about the media so regularly definitely factored into the creation of Taproot. I’m grateful for that, and I’m ready to let it go.

What’s next?

As appropriate, we’ll include media and communications-related items in The Pulse, the Arts Roundup, Business Roundup, and other publications so please continue to send us your suggestions and tips.

We are always open to opportunities to better serve our community and welcome your feedback.

And if you haven’t already done so, sign up to get The Pulse for free!

The Council Roundup is moving to The Pulse

Taproot Edmonton is publishing the final edition of the Council Roundup on Jan. 22 as we transition our coverage of the discussions and decisions happening at city hall to The Pulse and our new website. This means you’ll see more coverage of municipal politics from Taproot, and on a more frequent basis.

The evolution of the Council Roundup

We launched the Council Roundup in August 2018. For most of its existence, the roundup included a small summary of every agenda item. While this was a significant reduction from the hundreds of pages of reports that are published each week, it still resulted in a rather lengthy email.

When the pandemic hit last year, council’s schedule was upended, and we changed the Council Roundup accordingly. It became more like our other roundups, with some original writing at the top followed by curated headlines. And instead of including a summary of every agenda item, we included summaries of selected agenda items.

What hasn’t changed is our goal of providing readers with an overview of the items coming up at council and the decisions that were recently made. That’s a public service we’re committed to continuing.

What’s changing?

You’ll now find our coverage of municipal politics every weekday in The Pulse. That includes original reporting, curated headlines, and upcoming agenda items. For example:

We think this is a better way to inform you about municipal politics while also streamlining the efforts of our editorial team.

Our coverage of city hall is moving from the Council Roundup to The Pulse.

Why are we making this change?

One of our core principles at Taproot is that we edit. Of course we edit everything we publish, but this principle extends far beyond our journalism. We strive to make "less but better" part of all of our daily activities, and we give ourselves permission to stop trying to do it all.

With the launch of The Pulse, we evaluated everything else we’re doing and came to the conclusion that we could best achieve the objectives of the Council Roundup and of The Pulse by doing some consolidation.

What about the People’s Agenda?

For those who receive the Council Roundup to receive updates on our People’s Agenda project, we’ll be offering a monthly newsletter instead. It will cover what we’ve done in our quest to provide more citizen-focused coverage of the 2021 civic election, what we’re doing next, and how you can help us hear from more people.

What’s next?

We’ll continue to edit while also being open to opportunities to better serve our community, especially when it comes to understanding our local government and its activities. As always, we welcome and encourage your feedback.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up to get The Pulse for free!

Introducing The Pulse from Taproot Edmonton

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!

Taproot Edmonton launches revamped website

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.

A screenshot of the new website’s about page, featuring dark mode.

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.

What’s next?

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.

We’re merging Music into the Arts Roundup

We have made the decision to merge the Music Roundup into the Arts Roundup. The final edition of the Music Roundup will be published on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 and starting the following week we’ll be including more music-related coverage in the Arts Roundup. All existing Music Roundup subscribers will automatically receive the Arts Roundup instead.

The Music Roundup has actually been a key part of our progress over the last two years, so we haven’t made this decision lightly.

The context

We launched the Music Roundup in July 2018 as our second roundup. It was an important step as it helped further validate the idea behind the roundups and provided another place for us to iterate.

The Music Roundup was originally curated by Sandra Sperounes, a veteran music writer who had a long career at the Edmonton Journal and then as an entertainment columnist on CBC Radio. It was an incredible opportunity for us to learn from her.

When Sandra moved on to new things, we brought Emily Rendell-Watson on board. In addition to her interest in music and curation/writing skills, Emily quickly made herself indispensable by taking on most of the editing work for our other roundups.

In August 2019, the Edmonton Arts Council supported our efforts to offer local arts coverage by launching the Arts Roundup, curated by Fawnda Mithrush. It made sense at the time to add a new roundup rather than rebrand the Music Roundup, even though we knew there’d be some overlap.

Edmonton Kaleido Festival - 2018
While the Music Roundup is going away, our music coverage is not. The Arts Roundup already contains some of our music coverage and now you’ll find even more there. (Photo of the 2018 Kaleido Family Arts Festival by IQRemix)

The decision

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. If we were starting fresh, we likely wouldn’t launch two separate roundups! We’d launch one that covers all aspects of local arts, including music, theatre, dance, visual arts, literary arts, and more. Having one roundup for all of our local arts coverage will help us concentrate our resources.

COVID-19 also contributed to this decision. Arts and entertainment have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, which has in turn affected our coverage. While we hope for a return to "normal" in the near future, we know that the current state of affairs will continue for quite some time. Our approach needs to adapt accordingly.

What’s next

We are still committed to helping Edmontonians better understand the local music scene, and we encourage musicians, venues, promoters, and everyone else in the industry to continue sending news and other updates to us at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

If you’re not already a subscriber, please check out the Arts Roundup!

Welcome to the Taproot Publishing blog

Welcome to our new blog!

Wait — didn’t Taproot already have a blog? Yes, if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we have been blogging at taprootedmonton.ca for the past few years. But not anymore. Allow me to explain!

When we launched Taproot Edmonton back in 2016, all we had was a landing page. Initially we updated our members and readers exclusively through our email newsletter. Then in 2018, we launched a Taproot Edmonton blog. "A blog is an excellent tool to communicate what we’re working on, which is why we’re launching this one now," I wrote at the time. We were busy launching our roundups, and we used the blog to help spread the word about those efforts.

We did most of this work remotely using Microsoft Teams!

What you may not have realized is that our company is actually called Taproot Publishing Inc., a decision we made intentionally to reflect our ambition to create something that could grow beyond our hometown. Nowadays we think of Taproot Edmonton not only as the first of (hopefully) many local sites, but also as just one of the products that our company offers.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was a bit strange to share updates about our company, such as when we were selected to participate in ATB X, in the same place we published original journalism about Edmonton. It was OK when Taproot Edmonton was the only thing our company did, but that’s no longer the case.

Over the past few years, we’ve settled on a unique (and we think innovative) approach to making local media sustainable: we’re using the tools of journalism to offer B2B services to organizations, which provides a new and growing revenue stream alongside membership and sponsorship. We will have much more to share about our services in the future, and this blog is the place we’ll do just that. We’ll also use this space to share news about Taproot Edmonton, our other products, and our thoughts on the future of local media.

We’ve still got some work to do to make our web presence fully reflect what Taproot Publishing has evolved into, but this is a start. We’re excited to keep you informed about what we’re doing as we build a company that helps communities understand themselves better.

Meet our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

We’d like to introduce you to Hiba Kamal-Choufi, who started curating the Health Innovation Roundup a few weeks ago.

Hiba has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on in the health innovation space. As you can imagine, the past month has been quite a unique time to take over this particular roundup! Hiba has done a great job of curating the latest COVID-19-related news as well as other updates from the sector.

Hiba Kamal-Choufi, our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

Hiba started her career as a news editor in Beirut, covering stories that involved a range of topics, including the Arab uprisings in 2010 and 2011. After moving to Edmonton, she joined Shaw TV and has since held a number of communications positions. She has a master’s degree in communications and technology (MACT) from the University of Alberta and holds an M.A. in international relations and B.A. in journalism from Beirut, Lebanon. Hiba is currently the Director of Jobline and Email Marketing at IABC Edmonton.

The Health Innovation Roundup launched in the fall of 2018 with Catherine Griwkowsky as curator. We’re grateful to Catherine for all the work she did to keep readers informed and to help grow the roundup, and wish her all the best.

We’re thrilled to have Hiba on our roster of roundup curators who pay attention to what’s going on and distill it to its essence to make sure you are informed. Here’s the whole crew:

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.

If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.

Answers to local questions about the COVID-19 pandemic

We have launched a COVID-19 microsite containing curated answers to questions about Edmonton’s response to and experience of the pandemic. Our objective is to help the local community understand this complex and quickly evolving topic better.

How the microsite came about

In the latest edition of our newsletter, sent on March 17, Karen wrote:

"In light of COVID-19 and the efforts to control its spread, we’re thinking about what more we can do to inform our community without contributing to the noise and information overload."

Our curators were already (and still are) collecting relevant news for our roundups, but we felt there might be an opportunity to do more. We invited readers to submit questions related to the pandemic. It wasn’t long before the first few questions came in and we’ve since received dozens more. That validated the need for Taproot to offer something more on this topic.

We discussed a number of different approaches for answering those questions. Given our resources, our expertise in curation, and our experience building microsites in the past, we felt that a microsite was the best approach for us.

What the microsite is for

The microsite contains questions posed by our community and answered by Taproot editors, based on primary documents and reliable published sources.

There’s no shortage of important information being shared about COVID-19 right now, but it is difficult to find answers to specific questions. Often the nugget of information you need is buried in the middle of an article or government document. You might also have to look at a large number of sources to get the complete answer.

Those are the problems the microsite aims to solve. You’ll find answers to specific questions, all in one place. Each answer contains links to sources and other information if you want dig deeper.

We don’t intend to publish the news of the day nor are we trying to be the destination for breaking news. The mainstream newsrooms in our city have that covered, and we are grateful to those journalists for their hard work, much of which we are pointing to in our answers and in our roundups. Our contribution is to simply and succinctly deliver what our readers say they want to know.

As Lauren Harris wrote at Columbia Journalism Review:

"In times of crisis, newsrooms ought not stop producing the news. But they can slow down, ask themselves what matters most, and be a calm guide for readers. Signal, not noise."

We strive to be that calm guide here in Edmonton.

What’s next

We have published a handful of entries thus far, and we’re working on many more. Keep your questions coming in, and we’ll keep the site updated with new curated answers. We’ll also update existing answers as new information arises.

As the pandemic evolves, so will the microsite. Send us your suggestions and feedback at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

How sponsorship at Taproot works

In the spirit of doing a better job of telling our own story, here’s an update on how part of our business has evolved since we started.

From the very beginning of Taproot, we’ve worked to avoid being dependent an advertising-supported business model. We started with membership as our first revenue stream. Membership is an effective way to align incentives – the better we serve members, the more of them we should be able to attract!

When we introduced our Roundups last year, we added sponsorship as our second revenue stream. We were inspired by popular newsletters from around the world that offer organizations an opportunity to display their brand inside each edition, to help make the newsletters sustainable. Sponsorship offers us another way to align incentives – the better we serve the community that sponsors care about, the more of them we should be able to attract!

The sponsors you see in our Roundups are supporters of the work we do and their financial contributions help to make our publications sustainable. The benefit they receive, in addition to ongoing brand awareness, is to be associated with something that (hopefully) is making a positive impact in the community they care about.

We have three types of sponsors. Title sponsors make the largest financial contribution and so receive the largest benefit, with their logo in the top and bottom of each edition, on our website, and special mention on social media. Our Cultivators are the square logos you see inside each edition. And on occasion we will promote relevant events through ad hoc sponsorship.

To be clear, none of our sponsors get any say over the content of the roundup. Our curators and editors determine what the lead story is and which headlines and events are included in each edition. We maintain editorial independence, which benefits readers of course, but also sponsors. It’s in their best interests to have a publication that the community trusts.

Our first allegiance is and always will be to the reader. If readers can’t trust us, we’ll fail at our mission to help the community understand itself better. In order to serve readers though, we need to have money coming in. We hope that we’ve struck the right balance with sponsorship.

If you have questions about this or if you’d like to learn more about sponsorship, send us an email at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.