Frequently Asked Questions

General
What is Taproot Edmonton?
Why is it called Taproot?
Is it affiliated with anything else called Taproot?
How does it work?
Where is this Story Garden?
Why does it cost money to belong?
Where will the stories be published?
Why aren’t the stories exclusive to members?
How often do you publish?
What if I subscribe to the newsletter but I’m not a paying member?
What is your corrections policy?
What if my question isn’t answered here?

Members
What do I get for my membership fee?
How do I participate?
Do I have to be a storyteller to participate?
What makes a good Taproot story?
How do you decide whether to assign my idea?
How will you prevent trollish behaviour?
Where can I see a list of members?
How can businesses or other organizations get involved?
What about corporate sponsorship or advertising?

Storytellers
How do I get on your freelancer list?
How much do you pay?
Can I seed my own story idea in the story garden?
What stops someone from stealing my idea?
What is the editing process like?
What if I’m not a writer?

Disclosures
Karen Unland
Mack Male

General

What is Taproot Edmonton?
Taproot is a member-supported home for local journalism in the Edmonton area, created with the community instead of simply for it. Taproot will commission stories prompted by “how and why” questions asked by members.

Why is it called Taproot?
We love the gardening metaphor and think it works exceptionally well for what we’re doing. You can learn more about taproots at Wikipedia, but essentially a taproot is the largest, most dominant root. In some plants like carrots and radishes, the taproot as a storage organ is so well developed that we eat it. It takes plenty of nourishment to get there, just like good stories. And finally, taproots grow very well here in Edmonton!

Is it affiliated with anything else called Taproot?
No. We know there are other things with that name, but you’ll find if you try to name anything nowadays, someone has beat you to it. To avoid confusion, we’ll usually refer to it as Taproot Edmonton or @taprootyeg, using the airport code for Edmonton.

How does it work?
The essence of Taproot is something we’re calling the Story Garden. In that garden, paying members will be able to seed stories by asking a question that they’d like us to answer. Other members will be able to cultivate that idea by indicating their level of curiosity and/or commenting on it. When we see that an idea has garnered interest from the members, we will assign the story to a freelancer, then publish and promote the finished product, crediting everyone who contributed from the beginning. We’ll try to keep track of the impact of our stories and report back in the newsletter.

Where is this Story Garden?
Members have access to it by logging in at members.taprootedmonton.ca. It works like a forum, more or less, and members can ask a question, indicate their curiosity level on other members’ questions, and chime in if they have something to add that would help us answer the question or tell the story better. This is also where freelancers can call dibs on ideas.

Why does it cost money to belong?
We think a membership-supported model is better for this kind of journalism than an advertising-supported model, which tends to create incentives for page views at all costs. Our idea benefits more from quality than quantity. We want to pay our freelancers competitive rates (no writing for “exposure”), and we want to turn this into a self-sustaining business. A membership fee is also a good way to see how strong the support is for this kind of thing. We know that if you’re willing to part with your hard-earned cash to make this happen, we might be onto something.

Where will the stories be published?
Definitely on the Taproot Edmonton site, as well as on Medium. We’ll be looking into Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, too, and we would not be opposed to partnering with a mainstream media outlet to publish there as well. Our stories are the opposite of paywalled. We want as many people to read them as possible.

Why aren’t the stories exclusive to members?
If a story is worth telling, it’s worth sharing as widely as possible. If journalism makes society stronger and democracy work better, it doesn’t make sense to keep it locked away. We think we can put a premium on participation in the process, and we think there will be other revenue we can derive from convening such an engaged community. But we don’t think selling access to the finished product makes sense for us.

How often do you publish?
We don’t know yet. It will depend on a lot of factors: the quantity and quality of ideas in the Story Garden; how much money we have to commission stories; how long it takes the freelancers to turn them around. We aren’t beholden to advertisers to deliver a product on a schedule regardless of how ready it is. That said, we’re in this to get some good journalism into the world, so we have reason to move things along.

What if I subscribe to the newsletter but I’m not a paying member?
We’ll keep you informed of our progress, and we hope to prove Taproot worthy of your financial support over time. You won’t have access to the Story Garden, but feel free to ask us questions or give us feedback by email.

What is your corrections policy?
We are committed to correcting errors in a transparent and efficient way. You can view our corrections policy and past corrections at taprootedmonton.ca/corrections.

What if my question isn’t answered here?
Send us an email and we’ll answer it and add it to this page. Thanks!

Members

What do I get for my membership fee?
You get access to the Story Garden, where you can plant ideas by asking a question that you’d like us to answer. You will also be able to cultivate other members’ ideas by indicating your curiosity level or commenting. Perhaps you have a supplementary question or you know someone who would be good to interview about that story. Members will also likely be eligible for other perks down the road. We’re contemplating live events, merchandise, special deals and other benefits, once we get the essential parts of Taproot built.

How do I participate?
Watch your members-only newsletter for access to the Story Garden. Turn on your curiosity and plant the seed of an idea. Help other members’ ideas grow. Spread the story once it’s out in the world.

Do I have to be a storyteller to participate?
Not at all. Taproot is a community for curious citizens. We expect that the vast majority of our members will not be writers themselves, but simply people who want to understand something better and want others to understand it better, too. Some of our members will be storytellers who are assigned to answer those questions, and we want them to be full participants in the Story Garden, seeding ideas and cultivating others.

What makes a good Taproot story?
It starts with a question, usually one that begins with “How” or “Why.” This isn’t a place to engage in conventional PR, where you’re trying to sell a journalist on doing a story about your company or yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a personal interest in finding the answer. It means that you’re motivated by a desire to understand something better, rather than being motivated by a desire to get other people to understand your thing better.

How do you decide whether to assign my idea?
If an idea is getting a lot of attention from other members in the Story Garden, that will be a good indication that it’s worth pursuing. That said, we will always exercise our own editorial judgment as well. If a story doesn’t seem like a good fit, we’ll weed it out, to continue with the gardening metaphor. We will be as transparent as possible about our decisions as we go along, and we will be guided by an attitude of service.

How will you prevent trollish behaviour?
We will be tending the Story Garden carefully from the beginning, and we will insist that our members treat each other respectfully. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it comments section at the end of a story. This is an ongoing conversation among people motivated to understand things better. We are inviting members into our yard, so to speak, and we expect them to behave appropriately.

Where can I see a list of members?
The member list is not currently posted anywhere. For now you can see some of them interacting in the Story Garden, if you are a member. Members who help cultivate a story will also be acknowledged on that story.

How can businesses or other organizations get involved?
There is no corporate rate for membership right now, and we’re not sure there will ever be one, as the essential force behind Taproot is an individual’s curiosity.
The Story Garden is not a place to put press releases. The driving force is “Help me understand this better,” not “Help me get my story out.” That said, if a question in the Story Garden had something to do with your business, you should feel free to chime in and offer your expertise or willingness to be interviewed for the story. There’s no guarantee you would be interviewed, but it’s more likely if you volunteer your knowledge.

What about corporate sponsorship or advertising?
There won’t be display advertising associated with Taproot stories. Once we get going, we can imagine opportunities for companies to reach out to members through us with perks or at live events or by other means. That seems like a good way to reach out to some of Edmonton’s smartest, most engaged people in a way that benefits everybody. We will be transparent with our members about those activities.

Storytellers

How do I get on your freelancer list?
When you become a member of Taproot, we will send you a survey that asks if you want to be a storyteller. If you say you do, that will put you on our list, and we’ll follow up with more questions once we get set up so we can better understand what kind of stories you’re good at.

How much do you pay?
This is still a work in progress, and it depends on a lot of factors, but for now, we assign a freelancer some initial work to explore the possibilities of the question, for which they are paid $50. If it seems like the story is a good fit for Taproot and the freelancer is right for the job, we’ll pay an additional $450 for the final product upon publication.

Can I seed my own story idea in the story garden?
Yes. In fact, that could be a very good way to find out if anyone else is interested in your story before you put in a whole bunch of work.

What stops someone from stealing my idea?
Honour. We recognize that it can be risky for a freelancer to put an idea out there before it’s finished. But the kinds of stories we’re interested in are very local, and there aren’t that many local outlets, so whoever stole your idea is going to be pretty easily detected. We also aren’t that hung up on exclusives. It’s unlikely we’d kill a story just because someone else did it. There’s always more to say if it’s a truly interesting idea, and we can link to the other related stories for an even richer experience for the reader.

What is the editing process like?
We don’t know yet, but we do know that we will be editing stories. We love blogs, but this is not a blog. We’ll be applying Karen’s journalistic experience and Mack’s knowledge of civic affairs to help make the stories as strong as possible.

What if I’m not a writer?
Some questions might be better answered in video, infographic or audio form, and all stories will benefit from some kind of image to go with them. So please join as a storyteller if you’re interested in contributing in that way, regardless of whether you’re a writer.

Disclosures

Karen Unland
When I’m not doing Taproot, I do Seen and Heard in Edmonton, a blog and podcast about bloggers and podcasters. Sometimes I sell ads onto my podcast and its associated content.

I am also building a local podcast network, which will be underwritten by a major sponsor and supported by other local businesses. I will disclose those partners if and when they become official.

I do paid speaking engagements and consulting. Some of those clients are local institutions. If I think I have a conflict of interest on a story, I will recuse myself from the process.

I teach at MacEwan University and the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta.

Mack Male
When I’m not doing Taproot, I work for Questionmark Computing Ltd., managing the software development team. I also have my own software company called Paramagnus Developments Inc. that builds ShareEdmonton.

I run an urban affairs blog about Edmonton called MasterMaq’s Blog. I am the co-founder of What the Truck?!, a local non-profit food truck festival, and am still actively involved in the organization of those events.

I am active in the community and currently serve on a number of civic committees and boards, including the Edmonton Food Council, Edmonton Heritage Council, and Council Initiative on Public Enagement. A full, up-to-date listing can be found here.