Taproot is my focus

I am always surprised when I’m talking with someone and they don’t know that Taproot has been a full-time endeavor for me for a little over a year now. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Though Taproot has grown significantly over the last few years and reaches more Edmontonians than ever, I haven’t written much about my working situation. My last update here was an embarrassingly long time ago in January 2017. So let me address that!

Taproot was still very much a side project throughout 2017 and into early 2018, though we did continue to take small steps forward. Karen Unland and I officially incorporated the business in 2017, for instance. For the most part we continued with our original membership-based model and we did publish a number of high-quality, original stories that explored questions posed by our members. We also built an award-winning microsite for the municipal election that fall.

In early 2018 we made a short-lived foray into chatbots which we thought might mesh well with our curiosity-driven approach. It didn’t work out (though I still think the idea has merit and could work some day). One of the key things we learned during that time was the importance of "priming the pump" for curiosity. So in mid-2018 we launched our first official roundup, the Tech Roundup. It was inspired by the Edmonton Notes and Media Monday posts I have been posting here for years, and immediately it found an audience, which was certainly encouraging. We added a few others in the months that followed and developed a second revenue stream by offering sponsorship inside the roundups. We also launched our first podcast, Speaking Municipally, that summer after Troy Pavlek approached me with the idea.

Looking back, 2018 was a defining year for me. My daughter Emily was born (she just turned two!), my longtime day job ended, and I made Taproot my full-time focus. I also stepped away from most volunteer commitments and became more hesitant to say yes to things (well, I tried).

Becoming an entrepreneur again (still?)

As you probably know, I started working at Questionmark in 2008 and led their worldwide product development team from 2014 onward. That relationship came to end in early 2018 when my position was eliminated. Questionmark has since exited the Edmonton market. I never anticipated staying as long as I did, but there were always new opportunities and challenges to tackle. I learned a lot working there.

I always knew I wanted to get back into entrepreneurship though. Growing up, my family owned and operated a pet store. That’s where I learned many of my earliest lessons in business. I started my first software company when I was in high school. While studying at the University of Alberta a few years later, I co-founded a podcasting company. Being an entrepreneur is something that I enjoy and identify with.

Focusing on Taproot

With my full-time focus on Taproot in 2019, we launched a few more roundups, attracted new customers, and spent plenty of time learning and building our products. That led to our third revenue stream and newest product: a curation-driven briefings service for organizations. Think of it like our roundups, but customized and personalized for a particular organization’s needs.

While subscriptions and membership are a key part of what comes next, they won’t make up for all that has been lost in local news. We need a way to capture more of the money that used to be spent on local news via advertising. That’s what we think our briefings service can do.

ATB X Graduation
Meghan Dear, Karen Unland, Mack Male, Curtis Stange

In the fall we were accepted into the first Edmonton cohort of ATB X, a business accelerator run by ATB Financial, to iterate on the idea further. It was a great opportunity to work on the business (rather than in it) and we took plenty away from the experience.

In the year ahead we plan to grow significantly. We’re iterating on our products, exploring options to increase our resources, and focusing on sales. We’ve got a solid foundation and are working hard to make the operation sustainable and then scalable (and replicable). The whole reason we started Taproot in the first place was to make it possible to tell important, valuable stories about our city and to use that experience to strengthen local journalism everywhere. That’s what we’re going to do.

How you can help

So that’s the update! I am focused on Taproot full-time. We’re building what comes next in local news. Our mission is to help communities understand themselves better.

Here’s how you can help:

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.

Taproot Edmonton: We’re making progress!

Karen and I have made a lot of progress since announcing Taproot Edmonton nearly five months ago. I’ve been including some updates in my weekly media notes and we have a regular newsletter that we use to keep everyone updated but I thought it would be useful to summarize our progress in one post.

Taproot Edmonton

If you want to skip all of this and jump right into becoming a paying member, you can do that here. We’d love to have you!

What is Taproot Edmonton?

Here’s how we’re answering that question today:

Taproot Edmonton is 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. We don’t sell eyeballs, and we don’t put up paywalls. We enlist our members to tell us what they’re curious about, we commission writers to explore those questions, then we publish the story for all to see.

We recently put together a video outlining what Taproot is and what we’re working to achieve:

As anyone who has tried to craft an elevator pitch knows, it’s not easy! We continue to iterate on the best way to communicate what we’re all about.


Without our members, there is no Taproot. They give us the fuel we need to publish great local stories. Members share their curiosity with us and their questions are the starting point for our writers. In that way, members act as our assignment desk. They also provide us with the financial resources we need to pay writers fairly for the work they do.

We are very thankful to the more than 50 members who have joined us thus far – your support is making Taproot happen! But we need our membership to grow in order to continue moving forward. A Taproot membership is $100/year or $10/month. We hope you’ll consider joining us to help build the future of local journalism in Edmonton!

Story Garden

The Story Garden is central to how Taproot works. It’s the place that members go to post their questions, to comment and vote on other questions, and to interact with one another. In the early days we prototyped the Story Garden using online forms (we used Typeform) and we learned a lot through that process. It was a free, simple way to validate some assumptions and it allowed us to keep moving forward.

In August we launched the first version of our real Story Garden. We have big ambitions for the site but it’ll take time to achieve those. Our first version is a solid platform to build upon and we’re improving it as we learn from our members. We showed off the Story Garden on September 22 at DemoCamp Edmonton 32 and received some great feedback from the crowd there too.


We have published two stories so far:

I’m incredibly proud of both! Mel and Anna did some really great work and we have two high quality stories as a result. I hope you’ll check them both out if you haven’t already.

It took quite a bit of effort to get our first stories published. We had to make our theoretical process real and there was a lot to figure out and setup along the way. Now that we have, we are working toward ramping up our production of new stories. We’re not the kind of place that you’ll find ten new stories a day, but we would like to publish more frequently than once a month.

Future of Local Journalism

We are building Taproot because we know that the business model that used to support local journalism is broken. We want to find a new, sustainable approach that can ensure quality local journalism will exist in Edmonton and beyond. We know we’re not the only ones experimenting in this space, and that’s a great thing. We want to learn from others, collaborate when appropriate, and do our part to push the industry forward.

That’s why it was important to us to be a part of this list of 30+ examples of Canadian media innovation. And it’s why we wanted to be at Hacks/Hackers Connect in Toronto last month. Organizer Phillip Smith posted a recap of the event today, saying “we knew that by bringing participants together from coast-to-coast we had a unique moment to start some critical conversations about the shifting landscape of media facing Canadians in the next months, and years.”

What’s next?

We are thrilled to be one of the presenting companies at Launch Party 7 on Thursday evening. If you’re curious about Taproot and want to learn more, please come and talk to us about it.

Next month we’re going to be attending the People-Powered Publishing Conference in Chicago. We’re excited about the opportunity to connect with others working on innovative new approaches to participatory journalism.

We have a number of stories in the works and we can’t wait to share them with you! We’re working with some great local storytellers and our members have given us fantastic questions to explore. We’re also focused on improving the Story Garden and adding new value to our members.

You can help us do all of this by becoming a Taproot Edmonton member today. Thank you!