In a bid to find a new business model to support local journalism, Canadian news organisation Taproot Edmonton is only publishing stories sourced from ideas paying members share on its online platform for the community.
The most popular ideas are then shared on the organisations virtual newsroom on Slack, where freelancers pitch to pick up the stories.
“Taproot Edmonton is our attempt to figure out what is next in local news,” explained Mack Male, co-founder of Taproot Edmonton.
"Local journalism all around the world has been having a difficult time with the existing business models, so we wanted to figure out if there is another way to support local news, content that people often lament the loss of when a newspaper downsizes or shuts down.”
The news organisation, which began publishing in September this year, enables everyone to view its content, but members, who pay either $100 (£60) per year or $10 (£6) a month, are able to log into the online Story Garden and suggest ideas for future articles by asking how and why questions about things they want to know.
“Those questions are the starting points for stories, which are written by freelancers,” he said.
“The process is still evolving as we learn more about it, but the questions get posted online by members and we look to see which ones gain the most traction from people commenting on them or voting for it using what we call a 'curiosity slider' that rates interest between one and five."
When a question has enough attention, Male and his fellow co-founder Karen Unland will ask freelancers in their virtual newsroom whether anyone would like to pitch to cover the story.
We wanted to figure out if there is another way to support local news, content that people often lament the loss of when a newspaper downsizes or shuts downMack Male, Taproot Edmonton
Freelancers who want to pitch also need to be Taproot members, but they are paid $50 (£40) for their pitch if Male and Unland assign them some initial work to explore the possibilities of the question further.
“In most cases, writers are pitching to publications for free, but we think it is important that they get some form of compensation for that work – we want to raise the bar."
Male and Unland chose the name of the organisation to act as a gardening metaphor, representing the norishment needed to develop and grow stories, just like taproots, which are the main root from which other roots sprout.
Although Taproot Edmonton has only been running for a few months, the publisher has a pool of 10 freelancers so far and over 70 paying members who are participating actively in the storytelling process by asking questions and commenting on other people’s questions.
“We don’t have any advertisements, so page views are irrelevant to us. We are mostly looking to get the stories out as widely as possible, which means publishing on our website, on Medium or maybe Facebook Instant Articles, which might be another potential revenue stream,” Male said.
“We’d like to get to the point where we are publishing one of these in-depth, solid pieces of journalism per week, which will put us in a good position to have a powerful impact on our city.
“If we could figure out the model and refine the technology here, the bigger vision would be to have an impact on local journalism elsewhere as well."
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