Building a thriving team at Taproot

This month we’re wrapping up our participation in the 2022 GNI Startups Lab on Building and Managing a Team, hosted by LION Publishers in partnership with Google News Initiative. We’re thankful to have been among the 16 publishers selected for the program that provided training, coaching, and funding.

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.

At Taproot, we’re curious, courageous, and we care. If you’re interested in working with us, we’d love to hear from you! Please fill out our simple intake form or reach out to me directly via LinkedIn.

Look at what you helped us accomplish this year

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:

We’ve weathered some storms but seen a lot of beautiful things come together this year, thanks to you. (Mack Male/Flickr)

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.

Most of that is thanks to the aforementioned bootstrapping, but the strength of the business has also allowed us to access funding from Venture for Canada, Canada Summer Jobs, the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), and Riipen to help some young people gain valuable experience while helping us do the work.

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!

Taproot receives $23.5K to market B2B product

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve received funding from the Investment Readiness Program, administered by the Community Foundations of Canada, to better understand and reach the market for the product that largely funds our social purpose organization.

We now have $23,500 to spend on market research and the development of a marketing plan for our briefings service, the innovation we’ve come up with so we don’t have to rely solely on membership or sponsorship to fund our local journalism operation. We’ve engaged Purppl to help us figure out who needs what we sell and how to connect with them.

How is Taproot a social purpose organization?

A social purpose organization, or SPO, is "a nonprofit, a charity, a co-operative, a social enterprise for-profit, or a hybrid structure with a clear social, environmental, and/or cultural mission at the core of their operation," says Innoweave.

As Futurpreneur puts it, it’s simplistic to imagine a dichotomy between profit-maximizing businesses versus charities that maximize social and environmental returns. Rather, it’s a continuum:

We’re in that blended returns zone as a for-profit company that exists to achieve social benefits, i.e. a more informed and connected community through sustainable local journalism.

What good do we do?

We believe a city works better when its people are informed about what’s going on and feel a sense of connection with each other. Local journalism plays a role in that, and the way we do it is particularly geared towards that.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals have become a guiding principle in the social enterprise space. Certified B Corporations measure themselves against the SDGs, and ventures applying for SheEO indicate the SDGs they are working on, for example.

The SDGs we address are Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. These are big goals, and the impact that any individual organization like ours can have is tiny, but it’s through the accumulation of all of these small actions in the right direction that we will ultimately make a difference.

This is why our journalism is free to read, even though it isn’t free to make. It’s also why we don’t have a business model that relies on traffic (and thus outrage). And it’s why we have embarked on projects like the People’s Agenda, even though there is no direct revenue from such endeavours.

So how do we pay for it?

As we’ve said before, our business model has three streams: membership, sponsorship and advertising, and our briefings service. The first two are pretty conventional in the media business, though even there, we differ from many legacy media outlets in that we don’t put a paywall on our stories and we don’t sell the kind of advertising that follows you around the internet.

Our third revenue stream is this business-to-business service we sell. It is separate from the journalism side, but we apply the same technology and methodology to pay attention to and convey what’s going on. We simply shift our focus to the topics or communities that our clients are curious about, which they then use for internal intelligence or external communications, or both.

This suits us better than other revenue streams that media companies have pursued, such as sponsored content or events. It’s definitely more aligned with our goals than, say, an online casino. And it has made it possible for us to hire journalists and advance our ambitions beyond Edmonton much more quickly than we would have been able to if we relied solely on membership and sponsorship.

We’re grateful to have access to the IRP grant to further develop that side of our business, and we’re pleased to have yet another signal that we’re onto something.

What’s next?

We’re working with Purppl over the next few months to develop a plan to take our briefings service to customers throughout North America. In the meantime, Taproot will continue to provide a daily look at what’s going on in Edmonton, along with weekly deep dives into tech, food, the region, health innovation, the arts, and business.

If you’d like to help, here’s what you can do:

Business idea earns Taproot a LION Award nomination

Taproot has been named a finalist in the “Business Idea of the Year” category of the 2020 LION Awards, which celebrate the best of independent online media across the U.S. and Canada.

The finalists for the 2020 LION Awards for local journalism were announced on Sept. 24, 2020.

The awards are run by LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, and will be presented on Oct. 22.

We were nominated for Spotlight, our curated newsletter that helps businesses and organizations pay attention to their communities. We submitted it because we think we’ve come up with an innovative way to provide a service that generates revenue for the journalism side of our operation, in addition to the money we get from membership and sponsorship. It’s also built on the same technology and methodology that we use to generate our roundups, so we’ve got a nice circle going.

We’re thrilled that the jury for the LION Awards saw merit in our idea, alongside Detour Detroit for its Keep Detroit Local initiative, Richland Source for its Source Brand Solutions digital marketing agency, and VT Digger for its press release portal. It looks like we’re the only Canadian finalists, so that’s pretty neat, too.

Many thanks to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute for sponsoring this award, and to LION Publishers for making this possible. A lot of inspiring work has been recognized in all of the categories, and we look forward to learning from all of the amazing finalists.

Introducing Spotlight

As we hinted at when we moved our blog, we’ve been working hard on the business-to-business side of Taproot Publishing over the past few months. It’s time to introduce you to Spotlight, our product that helps an organization pay attention to its community.

Spotlight grew out of our observation that it’s powerful to show the people you serve that you have noticed their efforts, events and successes. It’s the sort of thing that can make people happy to be your members, customers or partners. It can provide useful intelligence for readers as well.

It’s also a lot of work. I’ve been doing this kind of attention-paying for a long time — remember when I used to round up Edmonton blogs and podcasts? — and it can take over your life. I was only able to do that on a regular basis back then because of a rudimentary tool that Mack Male built to make it easier to gather up posts, long before we started Taproot.

Mack has now built more powerful tools, and we can use them for a variety of communities, not just for my particular bent. That early experience also helped us develop a methodology for this kind of thing, which feeds back into the technology that enables it and is grounded in the curatorial expertise that only a skilled human can provide (so far, at least).

After a lot of listening to prospective clients and experiments with our early customers, we’ve developed this product that gives you all of the power of paying attention without having to do any of the work.

Who is Spotlight for?

Spotlight works well if your organization has members or a defined group of partners, stakeholders or clients, and those folks tend to share things on the internet and/or get media coverage for their work. We’re basically harvesting the owned media (blogs, videos, podcasts, social media posts, etc.) and earned media (mentions in the news, guest appearances on podcasts or blogs, any kind of third-party attention) that pertains to the people in your particular community. Then we curate it into a readable summary of the most interesting items.

For some clients, such as the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta, we put this information into a newsletter and send it on their behalf. For others, such as ATB, we compile the items, and they send them out themselves. Our first international client, SheEO, uses our curation to bolster its regular newsletter and shares some of the items separately on social media. There’s a lot of flexibility.

Why are we doing this?

We saw an opportunity to serve business customers by applying the tools we use for the journalistic side of our work, primarily our roundups. Spotlight is part of a suite of such services — we’ll tell you more about the rest in the coming months.

It’s not unusual for media companies to develop B2B services to diversify their revenue streams beyond subscriptions or advertising. Some do that through sponsored content. Others provide graphic design and marketing services to help local businesses with their digital presence. Still others work with clients to put on events for their customers. There are lots of ideas out there to support the kind of work we do.

We think our particular approach is unique, and it’s a key part of our quest to build a robust, sustainable business that supports local journalism. We also sell memberships and sponsorships, and those are very important. We’ve found that this third leg, so to speak, provides significant stability, and it gives us a stronger chance of fulfilling our mission to inform communities about themselves.

Want to hear more?

If you think your business or organization could benefit from our approach, we’d love to talk. Contact us at

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 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.