We’re trying something new at the top of some of our roundups, as part of our continuing quest to build a sustainable, tech-enabled media business that helps our community understand itself better.
Instead of a story at the top of the Jan. 17 Food Roundup and the Jan. 18 Health Innovation Roundup, you’ll see a message from the editor pulling together some threads in a meaningful way. We pay a lot of attention to these topics, and sometimes we notice things that aren’t really stories and aren’t really items, but are still worth attention and context. That’s what we’d like to provide at the top of the roundups, in a way that’s more conversational than our usual editorial voice.
We’ll try this again with a couple of other roundups next week to see if we’ve hit on a format that will stick. We’d love to know what you think — send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are we doing this?
Change is the Taproot way. We started with long-form features inspired by readers’ questions, and we published them as soon as we had the time and money to put them out, which in the early days was at a pretty slow cadence. Then we introduced roundups, our weekly newsletters gathering items on specific topics, serving readers’ curiosity in a different and more frequent way and opening up a new revenue stream via sponsorship. Their format has evolved over time.
Two years ago, we launched The Pulse, a weekday newsletter that distributes our stories and curates news and items from other sources to help Edmontonians get on with their day in an informed way. That product has become the centre of our editorial work, and its readership is much higher than that of any roundup.
When we started The Pulse, it made sense to distribute the stories that we wrote for the various roundup beats in that newsletter, along with elements that are only distributed in The Pulse, such as some of our city council coverage, our weekly moment in history, and our event listings.
Now we’d like to differentiate the content of The Pulse from that of the roundups, partly for some operational flexibility but also because we think it will be a better experience for readers. We want to encourage you to subscribe to The Pulse for a daily look at what’s happening in Edmonton, and to the roundups for deeper dives into what’s happening in tech, food, health innovation, the region, the arts, and business. You may have a greater incentive to do that with less duplication.
Will we still have stories on our roundup beats?
Many of our story ideas emerge from the topics our readers want us to pay attention to, so we will naturally continue to cover stories that fit our roundup beats, whether this new format sticks around or not. Those stories will continue to be curated into items for the roundups they fit into, as is our practice now.
This gives us the flexibility to publish daily stories that aren’t necessarily related to or timed with a particular roundup. We think this could improve the quality of our work.
We’ll experiment with this for a couple of weeks, then make a call on whether to keep doing it. If we do, that will likely lead to some other changes we’re considering to improve the experience for readers and paying members.
As always, if you’d like to help us go further faster, become a Taproot member or sponsor. You’ll be helping us build what comes next in local journalism.
Speaking Municipally’s annual Jeopardy episode will be coming to your podcatcher just in time for Christmas. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss councillors Anne Stevenson, Ashley Salvador, and Michael Janz squaring off on Edmonton trivia.
For the past eight weeks or so we have learned about many aspects of building and managing a team. Planning for growth, hiring, onboarding, employment policies, management, and addressing and avoiding burnout were all among the topics covered. While much of the information was familiar to us given the stage we’re at, we also took away several new ideas and insights that we have already been applying. For example, we have adopted the use of user manuals, a helpful articulation of how someone likes to work and collaborate with other people. Participating in the program also caused us to follow-through on some work already underway, such as improving our employee handbook and onboarding process.
We enjoyed meeting with and learning from the other publishers that participated in the program. Most of all, we are grateful for the chance to work with our coach, Bene Cipolla. As the former editor-in-chief and publisher of Chalkbeat, we knew she’d have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Every week we looked forward to hearing her advice and guidance on the issues we were tackling. Bene’s engagement, enthusiasm, and expertise made the program an impactful and enjoyable experience for us.
During our summer break we identified growing our team as a key priority, so the timing of the program was great. We hear regularly from the communities we serve that our work is having a positive impact, whether you start your day with The Pulse, listen to one of our podcasts while doing the laundry, or you receive one of our briefings through your employer. With a thriving team, we can continue to grow and improve our ability to help communities understand themselves better.
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.