Karen Unland

Karen is the co-founder of Taproot Edmonton.

Stories, sidebars, and posts

An update on our editorial vision and election plans

Taproot had the great good fortune to be accepted into the Election SOS Engaged Elections training this month. Three-quarters of the way through the program, I can say it is going to have a profound effect on the way we cover the 2021 municipal election, and will inform much of my thinking for all of Taproot’s editorial work in the future.

Taproot is proud to be in the July cohort of the Election SOS Engaged Elections training.

Taproot was founded on the idea that our work should be grounded in the curiosity of our community. We’ve tried this in various ways in the past:

  • The Story Garden: Taproot Members could ask a question, and if others were curious about the same thing, we would assign a story to answer the question or at least explore the issues raised by it.
  • Supporting Let’s Find Out: Chris Chang-Yen Phillips’s podcast is based on answering people’s questions about Edmonton. We supported a season’s worth of episodes answering questions solicited at a live event about how humans and nature shape each other in our city.
  • The COVID-19 in Edmonton microsite: We gathered questions from the public and tried to answer them, drawing from reliable sources and organizing the information so readers could find out exactly what they wanted to know.

We’ve learned more from those experiments than I have room to list here. Among the lessons:

  • Participation shouldn’t be behind a paywall.
  •  “What do you want to know?” can be a paralyzingly broad question.
  • Deeper engagement yields great questions.
  • If you’re going to ask, you’d better find the resources to answer.

Through a serendipitous series of events, Election SOS came along right when we needed it to put those lessons to good use and to tap into the vast experience of others who are trying to do this kind of work.

We’ll share more in the coming weeks about what that is going to look like, but the short answer is that we’re going to apply Jay Rosen’s concept of The Citizens Agenda to our coverage leading up to Edmonton’s civic election in October of 2021. That means we need to find out what a significant number of people in our community want candidates to address in this election, and apply what we learn to ensure our work is useful and relevant, our electorate is informed, and our candidates are aware of what is important.

What we learn from this experience will no doubt shape our editorial vision outside of and beyond that election. This feels to me like an excellent framework to keep working towards what we have aspired to do since the beginning, and I’m eager to see what we can do with it.

This work has delayed the call for contributors that we promised in June as part of our effort to build more diversity into Taproot, and to create more opportunities for journalists who are Indigenous, Black or people of colour. We haven’t forgotten that promise, and we remain committed to making it happen. The Election SOS methodology is thoroughly grounded in the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the need for journalists like us to be collaborative rather than extractive. This work simply cannot be done without widening our circle.

Stay tuned for details and information on how to get involved. Many thanks to Hearken, Trusting News, the American Press Institute and The Democracy Fund for letting a Canadian outfit into this excellent program. By the way, applications close on July 24 for the next intake, so if you are a journalist interested in applying these principles to your own organization, apply here.

Where Taproot stands, and the work ahead

Black Lives Matter. The deaths of George Floyd and too many others at the hands of police make it necessary to say out loud what we believe but have not been sufficiently vocal about.

As two white co-founders, we have a responsibility to use our privilege to contribute to a more just society. As a media organization, here are some actions we have taken or will take:

  1. We’ve made a donation to the Canadian Association of Black Journalists. We were prompted to do so by a thread compiled by Indiegraf Media, which is building a network of indie news entrepreneurs.
  2. We will actively encourage journalists who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour to answer the call for contributors that we’ll be issuing in July. Taproot pays for commissioned work, and we know we will do a better job of paying attention to our community with more diversity among our contributors.
  3. We will work towards answering the seven calls to action issued by the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and Canadian Journalists of Colour. We are as yet too small to do some of these things, but the place where we can start is to create mentorship opportunities for aspiring journalists of colour.

We share this simply to be accountable for backing up our words with action, knowing that we still have more work to do.

We know we have missed opportunities in the past to take similar action in response to racism against Indigenous people in our city. We must at least live up to the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls for the media to include more Indigenous people and be more aware of Indigenous history. And that too is a very small beginning.

Kindness is the key on Giving Tuesday Now

We invite you to join us in marking Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity on May 5.

You may be used to hearing about this as part of the cavalcade of “days” surrounding American Thanksgiving, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday. This year, the movement has designated another day as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, and May 5 is it.

Chalk messages of kindness and hope
Messages of love and hope from the sidewalks in Karen’s neighbourhood.

If you have money to give, there are a number of local charities that could use your support. Here are some suggestions from members of our crew:

You can find lots more on Canada Helps, where you can also donate to a special Edmonton Fund that helps 159 local charities. You may also draw inspiration from these good deeds.

If you don’t have money to give right now, the Local Goodness Project offers a number of ways to contribute, and Giving Tuesday Now has suggestions, too.

There’s also a movement afoot to turn May 5 into Giving News Day. The economic disruption surrounding COVID-19 has taken its toll on local journalism at a moment when we need reliable and responsible information more than ever.

Canada doesn’t have the same kind of philanthropic support for journalism that the U.S. has, but you can still make a contribution. If, for example, you wanted to support Taproot, here are a few ways:

  1. Spread the word about Taproot. You could start by sharing this post!
  2. Become a Taproot Member.
  3. Become a Taproot sponsor.

Thanks for your interest. We’ll get through this together.

A note about Speaking Artistically

At the request of Bottom Line Productions, we have taken down Episode 13 of Speaking Artistically, our podcast about arts in Edmonton.  

Removing published work is a drastic step, so we feel we owe you an explanation.  

We launched Speaking Artistically last November, a few months after launching our Arts Roundup. It was hosted and produced by Bottom Line Productions, and published by Taproot.  

It’s not typical for us to work with companies in this way. Usually, we pay contributors to produce things for us. This was an exchange of value — Bottom Line would produce the podcast, on which it would promote our Arts Roundup, and we would publish the podcast on our platform and draw attention to it on Taproot’s channels.  

We understood the hosts would sometimes talk about shows that Bottom Line was promoting, but not exclusively. The show was meant to be a conversation among people who are immersed in local arts, talking about what’s on or coming up, and that’s what it was.  

Bottom Line has run into a situation where something said on the podcast has landed it in trouble with a client. And so they have asked us to take the episode down. “The intentions of our comments could have been misconstrued and for that we apologize,” writes Darka Tarnawsky, President of Bottom Line Productions. 

We have reluctantly agreed to do so. This demonstrates, however, that the unusual arrangement we made with Bottom Line is not going to work. Our first allegiance has to be to the listener.  

Speaking Artistically will be on hiatus until we decide whether to find new hosts or cease publishing it altogether. We do thank Bottom Line Productions for the opportunity to experiment, and we wish them well.

Meet our Regional Roundup curator

Before this year comes to an end, we’d like to introduce you to Stephen Cook, who has been doing a great job of curating our relatively new Regional Roundup

Since taking the roundup over from Taproot co-founder Mack Male in October, Stephen has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on, economically and otherwise, in the 15 municipalities that make up the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.  

Stephen Cook, our Regional Roundup curator.

It’s a lot to keep track of, but Stephen uses his journalism chops to pull it off every week. A recent graduate of the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University, he has written for the Edmonton Journal, The Canadian Press, and The Globe and Mail, covering such topics as municipal affairs, provincial politics, crime, court, and international human rights. He currently works at CBC Edmonton.  

We launched the Regional Roundup in August with a title sponsorship from Edmonton Global. Every Wednesday, it brings together the headlines and happenings in Beaumont, Bon Accord, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County, with a view to informing the region about itself so the players can more easily work together. 

We’re thrilled to have Stephen on our roster of roundup curators who pay attention to what’s going on and distill it to its essence to make sure you are informed. Here’s the whole crew: 

  • Arts — Fawnda Mithrush 
  • Business — Paul Cashman 
  • City Council — Mack Male 
  • Food — Sharon Yeo 
  • Health Innovation — Catherine Griwkowsky 
  • Media — Linda Hoang 
  • Music — Emily Rendell-Watson 
  • Regional — Stephen Cook 
  • Tech — Mack Male 

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.  

If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.

Taproot joins first Edmonton cohort of ATB X

We’ve been sitting on some news for the past few weeks, and now it can be revealed — we’ve been selected for the first Edmonton cohort of the ATB X business accelerator program! 

Since Mack and I started talking about Taproot in 2016, we’ve known we wouldn’t succeed without building a sustainable business to support the local journalism we seek to do. So many media startups have failed because their founders have not focused enough on the money side. We knew we had to avoid that trap. 

Mack and Karen will be learning how to strengthen Taproot at ATB X over the next 11 weeks.

Keeping an eye on the bottom line is necessary but not sufficient for building what comes next in local journalism. Lots of smart people are working on this problem, but no one has completely figured out how to ensure we can afford to pay enough people to pay attention to our community, not only as well as local newsrooms used to, but better. There’s no map — we have to find our own way. 

We’ve gone pretty far on our own. This was very much a side project when we started; now it is Mack’s full-time job, and I contribute as much as I can while running the Alberta Podcast Network (another adventure in local media, because that’s what I do). Along the way, we have diversified our revenue streams and listened hard to our members, sponsors and customers to build a new way forward. We are on a path we could not have imagined when we began, and we think it’s going to take us where we need to go.  

Enter ATB X, a support program for startup companies that helps entrepreneurs like us level up, through expert advice and peer mentorship. There’s no equity or funding involved; this is really about making sure we have the skills to make Taproot strong enough to achieve its full potential. 

Photo by Kathryn McKenzie

We’ll be joined by a fascinating variety of local businesses:  

We look forward to learning from these teams, and to sharing what we know to help them, too. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way, whether you’ve become a member or shared our stories or sponsored a roundup or given us a chance to spread the word. You’ve invested confidence in us; we’re looking forward to paying dividends. 

Taproot joins Covering Climate Now

We are proud to be among more than 170 news outlets participating in Covering Climate Now, a worldwide project to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate crisis.

Like our fellow participants in this effort pulled together by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, we have committed to running a week’s worth of climate coverage leading up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23.

There are 17 Canadian participants, including The Sprawl, a fellow Canadian Journalism Innovator.

Ongoing disasters tend not to get the concerted attention that sudden ones do, and this effort is meant to address that weakness in how we tend to inform people about what’s going on. We know there’s a lot going on locally on this file, and we feel we can perform a valuable service by putting it together in one place.

Taproot’s coverage kicks off with a discussion with climate-change communicator Chris Gusen on the Speaking Municipally podcast. Chris will go on to curate a climate change section in each of our roundups throughout the week of Sept. 16. Then he plans to pull all the threads together at the end of the week.

Chris Gusen
Chris Gusen at Green Drinks, photo by Troy Pavlek

If you already subscribe to our roundups, watch for Chris’s contributions, and feel free to share the newsletters and the podcast on social media. If you don’t, now is a good time to signal your interest in this topic and our effort to better inform our community. Sign up today.

Introducing the Regional Roundup

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region is made up of 15 municipalities that — ideally — work together to compete on the global stage. It helps if all of us know what’s going on with our neighbours and partners, so we’ve started a Regional Roundup to keep everyone up-to-date.

Thanks to the support of Edmonton Global, we’re able to put together a weekly summary of the headlines and happenings in the region. That includes what’s going on with the metro region itself, as well as news from Beaumont, Bon Accord, Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County, Sturgeon County and, of course, Edmonton.


Edmonton Metropolitan Region via Edmonton Global

We published our first two editions on Aug. 14 and Aug. 21, and we’ll put out a new one every Wednesday. It’s curated by Mack Male, co-founder of Taproot and the curatorial force behind the Tech Roundup and the Council Roundup.

You may have noticed some of our roundups are sponsored by specific entities. That is the case for the Regional Roundup (sponsored by Edmonton Global), the Health Innovation Roundup (sponsored by Health City), and the Arts Roundup (sponsored by the Edmonton Arts Council).

These sponsors have provided enough funding to allow us to launch and maintain a roundup. Think of them as underwriters — they have made the roundup possible. They don’t exercise any control over the content. If you want to support the creation of a roundup or underwrite one of our existing ones, get in touch at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

Our roundups are also supported by a number of “cultivators” who contribute funds to make it possible for Taproot to pay sustained attention to a file. If that’s of interest, we’d love to hear from you.

Meet our new Business Roundup curator

Edmonton's skyline under construction, by Kurt Bauschardt

We are excited to bring veteran journalist Paul Cashman on board to curate the Business Roundup.

Paul Cashman, our new Business Roundup curator.

Paul brings a wealth of valuable experience. He was a reporter and editor at the Edmonton Journal for 33 years, and served as the business editor for much of that time. After he left the Journal in 2012, he worked in communications for industry associations representing homebuilders and heavy construction. And now we get to share his talent for spotting news and conveying it efficiently in our weekly wrap of what’s happening in Edmonton’s business scene.

We launched the Business Roundup on March 29 to keep track of the companies, entrepreneurs, employees, investors, leaders and others shaping Edmonton’s economy. Mack is happy to hand the reins over to someone of Paul’s stature, and this will give him more time to focus on building our own business here at Taproot.

The Business Roundup comes out every Friday, and Paul’s first edition will be published Aug. 16.

We’re proud of our growing roster of roundup curators who are working hard to keep you informed about what’s going on in Edmonton:

  • Arts — Fawnda Mithrush
  • Business — Paul Cashman
  • City Council — Mack Male
  • Food — Sharon Yeo
  • Health Innovation — Catherine Griwkowsky
  • Media — Linda Hoang
  • Music — Emily Rendell-Watson
  • Regional – Mack Male
  • Tech — Mack Male

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.

If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.

Introducing the Arts Roundup

Talus Dome

Every Thursday, we’ll publish a newsletter gathering up the headlines and happenings in theatre, dance, the visual arts, the literary arts and other local creative endeavours that catch our attention.

The arts scene in Edmonton is vibrant, multifaceted and a little under-covered. So we’re thrilled to take a step towards filling the gap with our new Arts Roundup.

Fawnda Mithrush, our new Arts Roundup curator.

We published our inaugural edition on Aug. 1. Starting this week, the Arts Roundup will be curated by Fawnda Mithrush, a former editor at the departed SEE Magazine, current executive director of LitFest, and co-host of the award-winning podcast I Don’t Get It. We’re thrilled to have Fawnda on board to share her knowledge, experience, and passion for the arts.

The Arts Roundup grew out of previous experiments with the #YEGFringe Daily Digest in 2017 and the Fringe Roundup in 2018, both of which helped us refine the idea of creating an ongoing way to satisfy readers’ curiosity about a topic. Thanks to a title sponsorship from the Edmonton Arts Council, we can now share what’s going on in local arts year-round.

The Arts Roundup makes a great companion to the Music Roundup, curated by Emily Rendell-Watson and published on Thursdays as well. You can get up to two roundups for free if you join us as a Taproot Reader; if you want to be even more well-rounded, become a Taproot Member, which affords you other perks, including access to as many roundups as you like.