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.

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.

Why and how we’re pursuing the People’s Agenda

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.

Tension
We’re feeling the election-related tension these days — how about you? (Photo by Jie Qi)

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:

Rob Houle has joined Taproot’s People’s Agenda steering committee.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Here’s how you can help