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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.

QuoteToMe has raised $1 million to reimagine construction procurement

QuoteToMe has successfully closed a $1 million seed financing round led by Seer Developments, SkipTheDishes co-founder Chris Simair, and Startup TNT. The company’s digital construction purchasing service launched in November to help contractors save money on materials and digitize paper-based processes.

"Since November we’ve achieved month-over-month growth of 90%, so that’s pretty exciting," said founder and CEO John Chabluk. "We’re now working with some of Canada’s largest contractors."

The company, founded in 2017, has 14 employees, who are mostly in Edmonton. It will use the funds to keep up with growing demand. Chabluk noted the COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the use of its services as construction companies increasingly adopt digital innovation.

Last month, QuoteToMe wrapped up participation in the Propel pre-accelerator program from Startup Edmonton. "It was an amazing way to get integrated into the community," said Chabluk. "I wish we had been in the program during the first three months of our company!"

The seed round came together slowly but now that the company has momentum, Chabluk is preparing to launch a $2 million bridge round to facilitate a Canada-wide expansion within the next 12 to 18 months.

QuoteToMe’s 2019 Q2 Advisory Meeting: Paul Verhesen, Barrie Bridgeman, Joel Semeniuk, Andrew Langstone, Roman Jaworsky, John Chabluk. Supplied.

Strategic support

Paul Verhesen, former CEO and partner at Clark Builders, is one of the company’s advisors. He first learned of QuoteToMe when Clark’s Northstar Equipment Rentals business was facing competition from the startup (equipment rental was an early line of business for QuoteToMe).

Around the same time, a friend had challenged Verhesen to do more to help bring about the innovation in the industry he was always talking about. Though he was a founding member of Canadian Construction Innovations (one of the reasons he was awarded the Edmonton Construction Association’s Claude Alston Award in 2017), Verhesen had not yet opened up his pocketbook.

"It really hit home," Verhesen said of his friend’s challenge. "It’s easy to say someone else has to take responsibility, but all of us as individuals have to do that."

So Verhesen decided to meet with Chabluk and his team, and he quickly realized they were on to something. A few months later, he was talking more seriously with the startup and today is a strategic investor in QuoteToMe.

How it works

QuoteToMe helps contractors order materials and equipment digitally by centralizing communication and handling quote comparisons which can often result in better pricing. It makes money by charging a small percentage on each transaction.

Though it’s an integral part of their business, purchasing is something that construction companies often aren’t focused on, Chabluk said. That leads to increased costs.

"Most construction companies know they have this problem, but they didn’t have a solution, or had more important priorities," he said. "It is a complex problem that we aim to simplify."

Verhesen agrees. "That purchase of lumber is probably the least serious part of your day, it’s not high on your priority list," he said. "But the cumulative impact of those purchases is significant, and that’s what QuoteToMe has exposed."

"The average savings for our customers is 20%," said Chabluk. "The construction industry has extremely tight margins, so to be able to save that amount is huge."

Growing from Edmonton

Chabluk, who hails from Winnipeg, says the company will remain based in Edmonton as it grows, though a new sales team in Ontario is currently planned.

"Edmonton is a construction hub for Canada," he said. "It has been an incredibly welcoming place for us to run the company."

Verhesen sees "plenty of talent and entrepreneurial moxie" in Edmonton, and notes that the city used to be a proving ground for contractors. "If you could make it in Edmonton, you could go elsewhere and be successful."

But he worries that the industry has become complacent.

"I want to get back to the days where Edmonton is cultivating the next generation of contracting expertise."

Verhesen sees no reason why QuoteToMe can’t be successful from Edmonton.

"QuoteToMe could be the next PCL Construction."

Hempact wins $10K at Inventures

An Edmonton-based company dedicated to making more sustainable feminine hygiene products won $10,000 at a pitch competition last week.

Hempact is a women-led entrepreneurial venture focused on creating menstrual pads out of hemp. They aim to provide chemical and cotton-free alternatives to conventional menstrual pads that are both biodegradable and disposable.

“Women shouldn’t have to choose between saving themselves and saving the environment,” said co-founder Sonia Lal during her pitch in the Agriculture in the Technology Age category at Inventures Unbound, which was held online June 3 and 4.

Hempact was one of four Edmonton companies vying for a share of $60,000 in the pitch competition, presented to a panel of expert judges in front of a virtual audience. The winner in each of six categories took home a $10,000 cash prize.

Hempact pitched at Inventures Unbound on June 3, 2020

Three other Edmonton-based companies pitched at the event but did not win:

  • 2S Water, which has developed a sensor to detect metals in water in real time, lost out to SensorUp in the Data in the Digital World category.
  • Rogue 7 Inc, which offers a digital assistant for control room operators as a solution to monitoring pipelines, lost out to AutonomIQ in The Future is AI category.
  • True Angle, which pitched a device-enabled smart training system for people with swallowing disorders, lost out to Goldfinch Health in the Healthier Living, Broader Thinking category.

Other categories included Innovation of Work, won by Moodbit, and Smart Cities, Vibrant Communities, won by Summit Nanotech. The 18 finalists were chosen from over 200 applicants.

Inventures is a Calgary-based tech conference organized by Alberta Innovates. This year’s iteration, which had to move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attracted more than 2,000 innovators, investors and service providers from Alberta and around the world.

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.

Meet our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

We’d like to introduce you to Hiba Kamal-Choufi, who started curating the Health Innovation Roundup a few weeks ago.

Hiba has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on in the health innovation space. As you can imagine, the past month has been quite a unique time to take over this particular roundup! Hiba has done a great job of curating the latest COVID-19-related news as well as other updates from the sector.

Hiba Kamal-Choufi, our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

Hiba started her career as a news editor in Beirut, covering stories that involved a range of topics, including the Arab uprisings in 2010 and 2011. After moving to Edmonton, she joined Shaw TV and has since held a number of communications positions. She has a master’s degree in communications and technology (MACT) from the University of Alberta and holds an M.A. in international relations and B.A. in journalism from Beirut, Lebanon. Hiba is currently the Director of Jobline and Email Marketing at IABC Edmonton.

The Health Innovation Roundup launched in the fall of 2018 with Catherine Griwkowsky as curator. We’re grateful to Catherine for all the work she did to keep readers informed and to help grow the roundup, and wish her all the best.

We’re thrilled to have Hiba 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:

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.

Answers to local questions about the COVID-19 pandemic

We have launched a COVID-19 microsite containing curated answers to questions about Edmonton’s response to and experience of the pandemic. Our objective is to help the local community understand this complex and quickly evolving topic better.

How the microsite came about

In the latest edition of our newsletter, sent on March 17, Karen wrote:

"In light of COVID-19 and the efforts to control its spread, we’re thinking about what more we can do to inform our community without contributing to the noise and information overload."

Our curators were already (and still are) collecting relevant news for our roundups, but we felt there might be an opportunity to do more. We invited readers to submit questions related to the pandemic. It wasn’t long before the first few questions came in and we’ve since received dozens more. That validated the need for Taproot to offer something more on this topic.

We discussed a number of different approaches for answering those questions. Given our resources, our expertise in curation, and our experience building microsites in the past, we felt that a microsite was the best approach for us.

What the microsite is for

The microsite contains questions posed by our community and answered by Taproot editors, based on primary documents and reliable published sources.

There’s no shortage of important information being shared about COVID-19 right now, but it is difficult to find answers to specific questions. Often the nugget of information you need is buried in the middle of an article or government document. You might also have to look at a large number of sources to get the complete answer.

Those are the problems the microsite aims to solve. You’ll find answers to specific questions, all in one place. Each answer contains links to sources and other information if you want dig deeper.

We don’t intend to publish the news of the day nor are we trying to be the destination for breaking news. The mainstream newsrooms in our city have that covered, and we are grateful to those journalists for their hard work, much of which we are pointing to in our answers and in our roundups. Our contribution is to simply and succinctly deliver what our readers say they want to know.

As Lauren Harris wrote at Columbia Journalism Review:

"In times of crisis, newsrooms ought not stop producing the news. But they can slow down, ask themselves what matters most, and be a calm guide for readers. Signal, not noise."

We strive to be that calm guide here in Edmonton.

What’s next

We have published a handful of entries thus far, and we’re working on many more. Keep your questions coming in, and we’ll keep the site updated with new curated answers. We’ll also update existing answers as new information arises.

As the pandemic evolves, so will the microsite. Send us your suggestions and feedback at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

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.

How sponsorship at Taproot works

In the spirit of doing a better job of telling our own story, here’s an update on how part of our business has evolved since we started.

From the very beginning of Taproot, we’ve worked to avoid being dependent an advertising-supported business model. We started with membership as our first revenue stream. Membership is an effective way to align incentives – the better we serve members, the more of them we should be able to attract!

When we introduced our Roundups last year, we added sponsorship as our second revenue stream. We were inspired by popular newsletters from around the world that offer organizations an opportunity to display their brand inside each edition, to help make the newsletters sustainable. Sponsorship offers us another way to align incentives – the better we serve the community that sponsors care about, the more of them we should be able to attract!

The sponsors you see in our Roundups are supporters of the work we do and their financial contributions help to make our publications sustainable. The benefit they receive, in addition to ongoing brand awareness, is to be associated with something that (hopefully) is making a positive impact in the community they care about.

We have three types of sponsors. Title sponsors make the largest financial contribution and so receive the largest benefit, with their logo in the top and bottom of each edition, on our website, and special mention on social media. Our Cultivators are the square logos you see inside each edition. And on occasion we will promote relevant events through ad hoc sponsorship.

To be clear, none of our sponsors get any say over the content of the roundup. Our curators and editors determine what the lead story is and which headlines and events are included in each edition. We maintain editorial independence, which benefits readers of course, but also sponsors. It’s in their best interests to have a publication that the community trusts.

Our first allegiance is and always will be to the reader. If readers can’t trust us, we’ll fail at our mission to help the community understand itself better. In order to serve readers though, we need to have money coming in. We hope that we’ve struck the right balance with sponsorship.

If you have questions about this or if you’d like to learn more about sponsorship, send us an email at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.