When the Edmonton Journal and Sun merged their newsrooms, in early 2016, eliminating dozens of newsroom positions in the process, Mack Male saw an opportunity. For years, the well-known Edmonton blogger had been “coffee buddies” with Karen Unland, a blogger and podcaster in her own right, talking about media and digital technology. Now, they decided to enter the field themselves.
The result is Taproot Edmonton, a digital outlet that crowdsources its ideas as well as its finances. Members can suggest topics around the city that they’re interested in — such as the pack of deer that live around 23 Avenue — and if enough people sign on, then a journalist is hired to go report it. And unlike an impartial daily newspaper, Taproot ends its stories by giving readers opportunities to get involved. “We’re not afraid to say: Here’s what you can do about it,” Mack says. “We think that’s an important aspect.”
On his personal blog, Mack has in the past been very critical of the City’s approach to public engagement, which he felt was too superficial: You’d walk into a room, say your thoughts, and then an official report would appear, as if by magic, on the other side. “Whereas in this case,” he says of his Working Group, “we actually drafted the document.” Mack is excited about “playing in the dirt” with his fellow Edmontonians, and hopes the City continues to expand its concept of what public engagement might mean — not just holding a town-hall meeting for a specific project, but inviting community members to be part of an ongoing, active process that might even include writing policy themselves.