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:

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!

Highlight reel: Excerpts from Stories and Strategies

I had the pleasure of speaking to Doug Downs about the success of digital news startups for the Stories and Strategies podcast from JGR Communications. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

We’re journalism nerds

Doug asked about how Taproot came about, so I went all the way back to when Mack Male and I first met, when I was working as the digital editor at the Edmonton Journal, and he was a blogger who had started a podcast company before most people knew what that was.

If you want to know more about how Taproot came about, check out our full origin story.

Something that travels

You’ll often hear me talk about "a thousand flowers blooming" as we try to figure out how to ensure we continue to have local journalism as the legacy media players shrink. No one knows what will work, which means that anything might. We are one of those flowers — one of many startups trying to figure out the future. As I’ve indicated before, we’ve built a business model that allows us to do more than just create jobs for ourselves, which gives us some confidence that we can not only live but grow, and do the same for others.

Many have accepted as orthodoxy that digital news startups are too small to replace what’s being lost in the mainstream. "Hundreds of news outlets have shut down or reduced service, and digital news startups are too small to fill the gap," the Public Policy Forum’s Shattered Mirror report said in 2017. We certainly are small, but we’re growing, and we have the potential to not only fill the gap but do it better. Why be defeatist? Why not build back better, as they say?

A job to be done

Just about every interview like this touches on variations on "what about fake news?" We agree with our colleagues in legacy media that it’s bad to have stories spreading around that have the veneer of journalism but are unmoored from reality. But newspapers and broadcast outlets are not the only ones in the truth business. We are, too.

It’s also our job to sift through the overwhelming amount of information at our disposal and find the most useful, truthful stuff. We spend our days doing that sort of work, for journalism consumers through Taproot Edmonton and for our business clients through the B2B side of Taproot Publishing.

Our printing press moment

Zooming all the way out, it’s important to remember that we are living in revolutionary times when we consider our media, and it is completely understandable that we haven’t figured out how to deal with the fallout of the arrival of the new means of communication. When I say "our printing press moment," I’m thinking of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, written in 1980 but highly applicable to our current situation.

What I do know is that desperately trying to restore things to how they were pre-internet is not only impossible but also undesirable. News Media Canada insists that only newspapers can ensure that local journalism survives. We disagree. And we have risked much more than the executives in those companies to try to make it so.

Would you like to join us on this journey? You can! Sign up for The Pulse for a weekday look at what’s happening in Edmonton. It’s free to read, because communities require reliable information to function, and paywalls stand in the way of that.

Should you wish to help even more, you can become a member, which helps us continue to do this work (it’s free to read, after all, but not free to produce) and makes it available to those who can’t afford to pay.

And, if you run a business or organization, we have other ways to work together that help you get the word out while helping us continue to serve our community.

Many thanks to Stories and Strategies for the opportunity to expound. Mack and I love to talk about these things, so if you’d like to have us on your podcast or at your event, email us at hello@taprootpublishing.ca.

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

Taproot Edmonton launches a new podcast

Happy Edmonton Startup Week! We’re marking the occasion with the debut of Taproot Edmonton Presents: Igniting Innovation, a podcast series exploring how startups and investors are coming together in Edmonton’s tech innovation sector.

Here’s the trailer to give you a taste:

Igniting Innovation is the first series under our new imprint, Taproot Edmonton Presents, where we’ll tell stories that suit the podcast medium and take advantage of the tremendous audio talents of managing editor Emily Rendell-Watson.

Keren Tang and Zack Storms at Avenue Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 gala in 2017. (Photo from @zjstorms)

Episode 1 sets the scene with power couple Zack Storms, founder and chief organizer of Startup TNT, and Keren Tang, an angel investor with the Startup TNT Investment Summit. They share stories about building and fostering relationships with entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity that more diversity would bring.

You’ll be hearing more from Zack in the coming episodes — he’ll be a bit of a colour commentator for Emily as she learns more about the scene, talking to veterans and newcomers about what it takes to get an idea off the ground, and the challenges involved in connecting entrepreneurs and innovators with investors to help bring the ideas to life.

The series leads up to the Startup TNT Summit on Nov. 19, which is aiming to raise $150,000 for two local tech companies in Edmonton and Calgary, “while also training new investors to become confident angels.”

Taproot Edmonton Presents: Igniting Innovation is available now in most of the places where one subscribes to podcasts, with new episodes on Wednesdays. If you prefer the desktop experience, here’s Episode 1:

Taproot Edmonton Presents joins our other forays into the podcasting realm: Speaking Municipally, where Troy Pavlek and Mack Male conduct a weekly discussion on key stories in municipal politics, and the audio version of the weekly Tech Roundup. Many thanks to Dave Von Bieker for the theme music and to Kirra Kent for the cover art.

Subscribe to Taproot Edmonton Presents, Speaking Municipally, and Taproot Edmonton Tech Roundup.

As alumni of Launch Party 7 in 2016, we’re so pleased to be in a position to mark this year’s Edmonton Startup Week in this way. Startup Edmonton has even more podcast recommendations if you’re looking to fill your queue. Happy listening!

The media consumer’s dilemma

Every day, I face a barrage of requests for money for the media I consume. Podcasters ask me to support their Patreon. News sites want me to subscribe, and insist that I pay if I want to read the rest of the story I’ve clicked on. Journalists tweet, “If you value this, pay for it.” Newsletters invite me to upgrade to a higher tier of membership. New ventures seek contributions to their crowdfunding campaigns.

It’s a lot.

I can’t afford to say yes to everyone, much as I want to. So I understand folks like this who feel torn. Most of us are not in a position to support every media organization we value. And in the olden days, we didn’t have to. Many publications were advertising-supported, and their subscription revenue was a nice (and sizeable, to be sure) add-on that also helped reassure businesses that their ads were seen. As Clay Shirky wrote in 2008, the internet broke that model, and it’s not coming back.

We are now well into the “Nothing will work, but everything might” phase of Shirky’s scenario, and that means a whole bunch of experiments, plus the legacy outlets that are still around — hello, National Newspaper Week! — are trying to survive in an environment that tends to rely a lot more on you, the user, to pay the way. That’s a lot to ask at the best of times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic.

We are an acorn now, but we are aiming to grow into a mighty oak. What will it really take to get there?

We value our paying members highly. Taproot would not even be here without the validation of those early members who believed in us enough to send us money before we even knew what we were going to do with it, and everyone else who has joined since to keep the train moving. Every time someone buys or renews a membership, we get a double dose of happiness — one for the revenue and one for the encouragement, two precious things when you’re a bootstrapped startup.

But for a locally focused outlet like us, the math argues against relying solely on paid memberships. We don’t ever want to find ourselves saying “Pay up or else we’ll die.” As Shirky said of newspapers, “‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.”

Our first step towards diversification was to open our roundup newsletters to sponsorship. This allowed us to enlist businesses in our effort to inform our community, without getting into the traffic-based ad game that has so many perverse incentives embedded in it. The next was to develop our briefings service to produce roundup-like newsletters for organizations that need them. We’re proud of that innovation, and we think it has tremendous potential to fund the journalism side of our operation in a way that doesn’t compromise it. We’re building a social enterprise with the stability to be here for the long haul.

Maybe it’s not smart to tell you that we never want to rely on your membership fees alone to ensure Taproot’s survival. But I have a bias towards the truth.

That said, we value members’ support a great deal, and we put it to very good use. By joining Taproot, you are investing in a product that we will make better and better, with more convenience and personalization in the future. You are also investing in our commitment to publish more and more high-quality journalism for everyone, freely available and never trapped behind a paywall.

If that sounds like an investment worth making, join us.