Meet the newest additions to Taproot Edmonton’s team

We’ve bolstered Taproot Edmonton’s editorial team with the addition of two more interns from local journalism schools.

Sara Gouda and Andy Trussler have joined Taproot Edmonton on field placements from NAIT and MacEwan.

Sara Gouda joins us from NAIT’s Radio and Television program. She was born in Egypt and earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a concentration in journalism at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates before coming to Canada to further her studies. She has done work for CNN Abu Dhabi, Sky New Arabia, and Foochia Magazine, in addition to NAIT NewsWatch and the NAIT Nugget.

"I’m excited to work on People’s Agenda to see what audiences are excited about, what they would like to read more on," she said. "Taproot will be a good and challenging fit to grow my strengths and also learn more."

Andy Trussler joins us from MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Communication Studies program, where they are in their fourth year of studies. Before moving to Edmonton, they served as the opinion editor at The Carillon at the University of Regina, and worked as a theatre instructor, a regional director of the Canadian Improv Games, a sexual violence activist, and a public speaker.

"Taproot has graciously provided me with the opportunity to do journalism for the community with the community, and I can’t wait to navigate the curiosities of real Edmontonians," they said. "The media’s future exists online, and I am delighted to pursue that future with the team at Taproot."

We’re grateful to have the opportunity to bring students on board through the field placement programs at NAIT and MacEwan, and we look forward to publishing their work. We’re also pleased to be able to again access funding through Venture for Canada to extend Andy’s stay with us.

More personnel news

Andy and Sara join Jackson Spring, who arrived in our virtual newsroom in January to do his MacEwan field placement and a Venture for Canada internship. Having completed those hours, Jackson is sticking around with us for a few more months.

Among his other duties, he has taken over as curator of the Regional Roundup, now that Stephen Cook has stepped away to pursue other interests. "It’s not rare for a journalist to learn more about their city by covering it — I was lucky to get the chance to learn more about a whole metro region," Stephen wrote in a farewell message to Regional Roundup readers. "As a born and raised Edmontonian, it’s been my pleasure to read about and share the bigger, brighter future that so many local leaders are working towards."

We have also welcomed Michelle Ferguson to the team. She puts The Pulse together and compiles the headlines that we draw to your attention every weekday morning. We’re happy to have her help to keep you informed.

We’re working on a revamped About page on Taproot Edmonton’s site to credit the whole team behind our operation.

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.

Another progress report on the People’s Agenda

We’re halfway through our series of listening sessions on the issues raised by the initial respondents to our People’s Agenda project, so this is a good time to look back at what we’ve learned and look ahead to what’s next.

How we got here

The series of events we’ve been holding throughout March and April are the latest stop in a journey that started last summer with the Election SOS training that I had an opportunity to attend with Elise Stolte. We used that opportunity to imagine what it would look like if Taproot’s municipal election coverage were centred on the issues that are important to Edmontonians, instead of being focused on who’s running or who’s winning or who’s sniping at whom.

In September, we put our question out into the world: What key question do you want the candidates to talk about as they compete for votes in the 2021 municipal election, and why?

Here is Taproot’s roadmap for the People’s Agenda, as depicted by steering committee member Elise Stolte in an April 7 talk for an Election SOS event called Better Journalism: A Roadmap for Engaged Democracy.

We turned the first 150-ish responses into a first draft of the People’s Agenda, which was based on a whole lot of data-crunching from Madeleine Stout and then a fair amount of synthesis by me into eight questions that generally captured what respondents were concerned about.

We then turned those questions into the basis for a series of listening sessions to enable us to hear more about what was on people’s minds and to convey that to a wider audience. We hired Chris Chang-Yen Phillips to plan, program, and run the events, taking advantage of his experience with creating meaningful engagement.

A look at the listening sessions

Chris has brought in a wide variety of guests — such as Christy Morin of Arts on the Ave, Barry Morishita of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Assocation, and Emily Grisé of the University of Alberta’s school of urban planning — to set the scene for each topic and connect the issues to what city council has done and can do.

He has also tapped into his network of civicly minded folks to facilitate the breakout sessions that follow those talks, which has been a great way to nurture a welcoming and productive conversation, while freeing up Taproot staff to capture what has been said.

Our intern, Jackson Spring, has been listening to each session and recapping them on our site.

Here’s where we’re at — Jackson’s recaps are linked to the topics that have already happened, and the registration pages are linked to those that are still to come:

What happens next

These listening sessions will continue through April. We also have a lot of material aside from the recaps to sift through in search of feature ideas, which we’ll assign and publish in the coming months.

We are continuing to collect answers to our initial question. Many thanks to community partners such as Rat Creek Press and SPANN for publishing and sharing our invitation for responses. We have been working with Michelle Bartleman‘s online journalism class at MacEwan University to engage with other communities on this topic, which we hope will lead to some stories. We have more work to do to reach out to people who aren’t already familiar with Taproot, and that will be the focus of our efforts into the summer.

We need to synthesize the answers we’ve received since the first draft, as well as what we’ve heard at the listening sessions and will hear from future engagements. That will allow us to put out a revised People’s Agenda, which will form the basis of the voters’ guide we will publish in the fall, some time between the end of the nomination period and the opening of advanced polls. The voters’ guide will tell you where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you, so you can make an informed decision.

Many thanks to everyone who has participated so far. This has been an instructive process, and we’re eager to see where it takes us next.

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 launches People’s Agenda listening sessions

It’s time to dive deeper into the issues raised so far in our People’s Agenda project.

We invite you to join us for some or all of our weekly listening sessions to further uncover what is important to you as we head towards the municipal election on Oct. 18.

The first one is set for noon March 11, and it will tackle this question that we’ve synthesized from a number of responses: Will our taxes be well-spent? Sign up to attend.

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips will guide the discussion at noon on March 11 with Mack Male’s help. Register to attend.

This isn’t just about property taxes. We’ve heard from people who want the city to spend less, but we also heard from people who want it to spend its resources differently, and others who are concerned about reduced funding from other orders of government. So let’s talk.

The wonderful Chris Chang-Yen Phillips will host this series. Taproot was pleased to support a season of his Let’s Find Out podcast focusing on answering questions about how humans and nature interact with each other in and around our city, and we know him to be a creative and genial facilitator who draws the best out of participants.

We’ve tapped Taproot co-founder Mack Male to be a resource for the March 11 event. He’ll apply his knowledge from years of observing City Hall to explain how the budget works, what kinds of spending decisions city council makes, and what challenges we can anticipate in the 2021-25 term.

Then it will be your turn. Tell us more about what you want city council to care about, and help us make sure Taproot Edmonton’s election coverage is focused on what matters to you.

Save these dates for future sessions. They’ll be at noon:

  • March 18: Will Edmonton be a good place to live?
  • March 25: Will city council have integrity?
  • April 1: Will we be able to move around the city easily?
  • April 8: Will we spend less on police?
  • April 15: Will we house everyone?
  • April 22: Will we act on climate change?
  • April 29: Will we build our city intelligently?

A word about the Digital News Subscription Tax Credit

It’s tax time, which means some of our paying members are wondering about whether they can claim the new digital news subscription tax credit for their Taproot membership.

The answer is no, as we are not deemed to be a qualified Canadian journalism organization (QCJO), notwithstanding our dedication to local journalism. When the tax measures were first introduced, we were too small to apply. We may still be too small, though we have grown since then (it depends on who you count). Also, some of our B2B clients are crown corporations, municipal corporations, or government agencies, which also appears to be disqualifying, even though that’s separate from the journalism side of the business.

Photo by recha oktaviani on Unsplash

In any case, we had qualms about the idea of designating some media outlets as QCJOs, because it risks attaching an air of illegitimacy to those who don’t qualify for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of journalism they produce. The program is really set up to prop up newspaper companies, even though they continue to cut jobs and close newspapers while paying millions to their executives. Erin Millar notes that the program did improve somewhat from what was originally proposed, but it still leaves much to be desired.

That said, we will look into whether we can get QCJO status, for the sake of our members who would appreciate that write-off.

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!

Meet Taproot Edmonton’s intern reporter

We’re kicking off the new year with an addition to Taproot Edmonton’s editorial team.

Jackson Spring is in his final year of the Bachelor of Communication Studies program at MacEwan University. He is an assistant editor at the griff, MacEwan’s student-run magazine. He has a particular interest in covering urban planning, public transportation, and climate change, and he really loves writing about trains.

Jackson Spring started an internship at Taproot Edmonton on Jan. 4, 2021.

Over the next few months, Jackson will be working on stories for Taproot Edmonton and helping us with our People’s Agenda election project.

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.