Taproot Edmonton: An update to kickoff 2017

Happy New Year! Time for an update on where we’re at with Taproot Edmonton and our quest to build a sustainable future for local journalism in Edmonton and beyond.

Taproot Edmonton at Launch Party 7
Photo by Ampersand Grey

We’re closing in on eight months since we announced Taproot. We started with just an idea. We shared it and received valuable feedback. We refined the idea and made predictions about how to make it real. We started prototyping and learned what worked and what needed work. Then we launched and began iterating. Now we’re looking to grow. And on that note, we’re thrilled to start the year as an official entity: Taproot Publishing Inc.!

Getting to this point has been both challenging and rewarding! We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us along the way.

Growing our membership

Taproot members are our primary source of funding and curiosity, both of which are critical for great local stories to get published. We are approaching 100 members – big thanks to all of you! We’re committed to delivering an increasing amount of value to you in the year ahead, and we’re thrilled to have you along for the ride.

If you’d like to support us and share your own curiosity, becoming a member is quick and costs just $100/year or $10/month.

Publishing new stories

Thanks to the curiosity of our members and the hard work of our storytellers (who are also members), we have now published four stories and are preparing to publish our next before the end of the month.

Our November story was a rumination on what Edmontonians can do to make streets safer for those on foot. How to stop discounting pedestrian deaths was a collaborative effort between Karen, Jeff, Stephanie, and myself. We learned a lot through the production of that story and were happy with the response it received.

Our December story was a follow-up piece, taking into account some of the feedback and discussion that happened in the comments and on social media. Stephanie wrote about how a family longs for Vision Zero to live up to its promise. We were really happy to be able to share that important perspective.

We’ve got a bunch of stories in the hopper and we’re applying the lessons learned through publishing our first four to ensure we can ramp up our publication frequency. There’s certainly no shortage of great questions from our members that we’d like to explore!

Sharing our own story

Just after I posted my last update in October we participated in Startup Edmonton’s Launch Party 7. That was a great opportunity for us to refine our message and to tell our story to a whole new group of people. We spent the entire evening talking to curious people about Taproot and what we’re up to. It was great to hear encouragement, feedback, and constructive criticism.

Taproot Edmonton at Launch Party 7
Photo by Ampersand Grey

In November I travelled to Chicago for a holiday and while there attended the People-Powered Publishing Conference. The event took place just two days after the U.S. Presidential Election, which made for some interesting discussions about journalism. It was a great opportunity to share some of the journalistic innovation that is happening up here in Canada.

We have received quite a bit of media attention so far, which we’re happy about! To highlight just two, we were featured on journalism.co.uk which gave us great exposure abroad, and Karen spent some time talking about Taproot on Edmonton AM. We have started collecting all of the links on our website at Taproot in the News.

Ongoing curiosity

We have been thinking a lot about how we can better serve our members and play a bigger role in the future of local journalism. Our current approach works well for exploring some of the questions our members have asked, but as we found through working on the pedestrian deaths story, some questions are perhaps best explored over time. This requires a different, additional approach.

Here’s what Karen said in an interview with Story Board:

“How do you make it possible for somebody to follow an issue so closely that they can see stories that other people wouldn’t, that they have sources that other people don’t, that they can go deeper than someone just parachuting into an issue can?” she says. “I think that is probably, journalistically, one of the biggest things that we’ve got to figure out a way to fund.”

We think there’s a real opportunity to tackle this challenge together with our members and we’ve started sharing some ideas with them. Stay tuned!

Sustainable local journalism

Exactly a year ago I was writing about the merger of the Journal & Sun newsrooms, a change that resulted in more than 30 people losing their jobs. We’ve seen more people either leave or be let go since then and I don’t think the end is in sight yet, to say nothing of the downsizing that has taken place at other local media organizations.

The business model that used to support local journalism is broken. The newspaper you used to know isn’t coming back. We are working to replace what is being lost with something that is sustainable and responsive to the community we serve.

How you can help

Want to help us grow Taproot Edmonton? Become a member. You’ll get access to the Story Garden where you can share your curiosity with us, you’ll get our weekly members-only newsletter, and you’ll be first in line to receive new benefits and take advantage of new products as we build them out. Your support will help us ensure that quality local journalism has a future in Edmonton.

If you’re not quite ready to become a member, then we’d love the opportunity to earn your support. Join our free mailing list to keep up-to-date on new stories and products. Invite us to speak at your meeting or event – we’d be happy to talk about media, journalism, and our vision. Or join us for coffee if that’s more your style. If you’d prefer to stay online, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium. Of course, you can always send us an email too.

Your Guide to Winter 2016/2017 Festivals & Events in Edmonton

Here’s my listing of winter festivals & events for 2016/2017, powered by ShareEdmonton. Below you’ll find dozens of events with a website, dates, and links to social media and ShareEdmonton for each. I hope you find this listing as useful as I do.

Christmas Lights Amidst City Lights
Christmas Lights Amidst City Lights, photo by Dave Sutherland

Festivals & Events

For winter, I’m generally looking at events that take place from mid-November through March. Those with a winter or holiday theme are more likely to be included. Here’s the listing for 2016/2017:

Event Dates Links
Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up November 12 SE 
Hazeldean Christmas Craft Sale November 12-13 SE  
Santa’s Little Helpers Shopping Extravaganza November 13 SE  
All is Bright on 124 Street November 19 SE    
Santa’s Parade of Lights November 19 SE    
Leduc Festival of Trees November 19-20 SE  
Royal Glenora Club Christmas Gift Show November 20 SE   
I Heart YEG Winter November 20 SE   
Indie Handmade November 24-27 SE    
Festival of Trees November 24-27 SE    
Make It Edmonton November 24-27 SE     
Hand2Hand Christmas Market November 26 SE  
Silver Bells Winter Market November 26 SE   
Shop the Hall November 26 SE   
The Great Sweater Run November 26 SE  
A Christmas Carol Nov 26 – Dec 23 SE     
So This Is Christmas Nov 30 – Dec 3 SE  
The Legislature Light-up December 1 SE    
Butterdome Craft Sale December 1-4 SE    
Winter Wine Festival December 2 SE   
Celebrate the Season December 2-23 SE    
Winter Patio Kick-off December 2-4 SE  
Winterfest at Snow Valley December 2-4 SE    
Luminaria December 2-4 SE   
Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair Dec 2-4 & Dec 9-11 SE    
Santa Shuffle Fun Run & Elf Walk December 3 SE   
A Festive Mosaic December 3 SE 
A Christmas Karol: The Karol Wojtyla Nativity Play December 3 SE 
Gold Bar Craft Sale December 3 SE   
Old Strathcona Horse-Drawn Sleigh Shuttle Dec 3, 10, 17 SE     
The Many Moods of Christmas December 5 SE 
Carrot Christmas Arts Bazaar December 9-10 SE    
Zoominescence: Festival of Light December 9-18 SE    
ETS Christmas Lights Tours December 9-18 SE   
Leefield Community’s Gift & Craft Sale December 10 SE  
Trains, Toys and Christmas Traditions December 11 SE  
Candy Cane Lane Dec 11 – Jan 3 SE    
Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree December 15-18 SE     
Christmas Reflections Dec 16-23 SE     
#YEGlongnight December 21 SE  
Shumka presents Clara’s Dream! December 29-30 SE   
New Year’s Eve Downtown December 31 SE    
Swing ‘n Skate Sundays Jan 1 – Feb 26 SE 
Southeast Winter Fun Festival January 14 SE   
Deep Freeze: Byzantine Winter Festival January 14-15 SE   
World Snow Day January 15 SE     
Edmonton Whisky Festival January 18 SE 
Ice on Whyte Jan 26-29 & Feb 2-5 SE    
Winter Walk Day February 1 SE   
The Flying Canoe Adventure February 3-4 SE   
Parka Patio February 4 SE   
Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival February 10-11 SE   
Silver Skate Festival February 10-20 SE   
Hypothermic Half Marathon Feb 12 & Feb 26 SE   
Valentine’s Day Disco Skate February 14 SE 
Winter Cities Shake-Up 2017 February 16-18 SE  
Family Day at the Alberta Legislature February 20 SE    
Coldest Night of the Year February 25 SE    
SkirtsAFire Festival March 9-12 SE    
Winter Warrior Challenge March 11 SE   
Western Canada Fashion Week Mar 23 – Apr 1 SE   

You can check out a calendar view of festivals here or you can download the iCal feed for your own apps.

I’ll do my best to keep this list updated as new events are announced. For instance, Ice Castles is expected to return in 2017, weather permitting!

Winter in Edmonton

Edmonton is a winter city, and we’re working hard to reclaim the joy of winter and embrace the season! You can learn all about the WinterCity strategy and associated events and ideas here. You can also download the Winter Excitement Guide in PDF.

Happy New Year 2015!

For some in our community, this time of year is anything but merry. Lots of organizations do great work on behalf of the less fortunate, and they’ll especially need your support this year given the poor economy. Consider supporting the Christmas Bureau, Santas Anonymous, The Salvation Army, Edmonton’s Food Bank, or one of the many other serving agencies in Edmonton.

There are of course many more events listed in the ShareEdmonton calendar, so check it out! Have I missed something that should be included? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

Happy winter!

Digital Canada 150: The plan for Canada’s digital future

Have you heard about Digital Canada 150? I bookmarked the plan on April 4 because it caught my eye when Industry Minister James Moore announced it.

“Digital Canada 150 encompasses 39 new initiatives that build on our government’s successful measures for a more connected Canada. It is based on 250 submissions that were received from more than 2,000 Canadians who registered to participate in online consultations held over three months in 2010.”

In his speech, Minister Moore said “we want to position Canada among the world’s leaders in adopting digital technologies.” You can watch the speech here – which makes sense if we’re going all-in on digital! He made it clear that this isn’t just a Government of Canada plan, but that it requires “polytechnics, clusters, universities, start-ups, angel investors, apps developers, chambers of commerce, business leaders, community leaders” to all work together to realize the vision.

“Working together, we can prepare Canada for a new digital world and shape the course of our country for years to come.”

The plan is called Digital Canada 150 because it is meant to coincide with our country’s 150th birthday in 2017. I understand that much of the plan was already in place, though there are some new initiatives too.

The plan contains five key pillars:

  1. Connecting Canadians: An effective digital policy is one that connects Canadians through high-speed Internet access and the latest wireless technologies
  2. Protecting Canadians: Canadians will be protected from online threats and misuse of digital technology.
  3. Economic Opportunities: Canadians will have the skills and opportunities necessary to succeed in an interconnected global economy.
  4. Digital Government: The Government of Canada will demonstrate leadership in the use of digital technologies and open data.
  5. Canadian Content: Providing easy online access to Canadian content will allow us to celebrate our history, arts, and culture and share it with the world

Digital Canada 150

While much of the plan reads like marketing-speak for the Government, there are some things that I was happy to see, particularly under the “What’s New” section of each pillar. Here are a few thoughts on each.

À la carte TV

Will we really get to pick & choose channels?

“We will work with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to develop a plan to unbundle television channels and ensure cable and satellite providers offer Canadian consumers the option to pick and choose the combination of television channels they want.”

It would be fantastic to only choose the ten or so channels that we actually watch, rather than having to buy the giant package, but I just don’t see this happening anytime soon. Especially since it’s something they’ve been working on for a while now. I’m skeptical but hopeful that this initiative actually comes to fruition.

Have your say on where cell towers are built

Living downtown I don’t really notice cell antennas (as they are typically on top of buildings) but I know people in more residential areas do.

“We introduced changes to the policy on how new cellphone towers are installed to ensure that local residents and governments are at the forefront of the tower placement process.”

Edmonton City Council adopted a new policy on cell towers last January, but ultimately their placement is up to Industry Canada. That’s why the announcement on February 5, 2014 was a step in the right direction, ensuring that residents are informed and consulted.

Stop the Spam

Some estimates peg the amount of spam at up to 92% of all email messages sent each year. It’s a problem, though not as bad as it was a few years ago.

“We passed Canada’s world-leading anti-spam law, which comes into force July 1, 2014, to protect Canadians from malicious online attacks.”

While it’s great to see tougher legislation on the spam problem, I’m not sure how much of an impact the law will actually have. Filters and other technological solutions have come a long way in recent years, and at least for me personally, receiving spam nowadays is relatively rare.

More funding for startups

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 announced $60 million over five years for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP).

“Support for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program will increase to $100 million to help digital entrepreneurs take the next step in developing their businesses.”

Increasing the fund will help to make even more accelerator and incubator programs, like those run at Startup Edmonton, possible. These kinds of organizations have a big impact on the viability of early-stage firms and entrepreneurs. The deadline to apply to the existing CAIP fund was October 30, 2013 so presumably a new round of applications will now be accepted.

Open Data

The Government of Canada has quickly caught up to other jurisdictions, making a significant amount of data available online in its open data catalogue.

“We will continue to support and stimulate the app economy and create a homegrown open data developer ecosystem in Canada.”

Last year, Minister Tony Clement came to Edmonton to talk about the government’s revamped open data portal. They have definitely worked to continue improving the catalogue, in both the breadth of data available and in the features offered. There’s still a lot of data that could be added though, so it’s great to see a continued push to take this forward!

More history available online

Established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions, Canadiana.org has been working to make Canada’s heritage content available digitally for quite some time now.

“We will continue to support the digitization and online publication of millions of images through the partnership of Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org.”

While I’d like to see an initiative to capture Canada’s digital history as we create it (think a Canadian version of archive.org) I’m happy to see that we haven’t given up on making all of the existing content available online.

The final section of the plan is called “Moving Forward” and it thankfully acknowledges that things change quickly in the world of technology:

“It is imperative that we keep our plan current because, in the digital world, change is the only constant. We are committed to continuously updating Digital Canada 150, adapting to better serve Canadians.”

It’s not clear what I as an individual can do to help move Digital Canada 150 forward, aside from “acquiring the skills and embracing the opportunities of the digital economy.” Still, it’s encouraging to have a national plan for becoming a digital nation.

Now if only we could adopt a national strategy for public transit…