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:
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.
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.
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!
On our original FAQ page, we clarified that Taproot Edmonton is not a blog: “We love blogs, but this is not a blog.” We hadn’t yet published any stories and we had a high bar for quality in mind, so we wanted to convey that. Now you can actually read our stories and see the quality for yourself.
We have always been fans of blogging though! I’ve been writing at mastermaq.ca since 2003, and Karen was an early adopter of blogs too. A blog is an excellent tool to communicate what we’re working on, which is why we’re launching this one now. We plan to share product updates, thoughts on the future of local media, and other updates related to Taproot.
If you’re new to Taproot Edmonton, we’re a source of curiosity-driven stories about our city, cultivated by the community. We are building a new way to do local journalism, and a new way to fund it, because the business model that used to support local journalism is broken. We are striving to replace what is being lost with something that is sustainable and responsive to the community we serve.
We look forward to sharing the journey with you here.