Street Newspapers Organize

by Brian Davis

On August 19-21, street newspapers from around the world gathered in Chicago, for what was billed as a time to share information, exchange ideas, and celebrate the existence of media outlets for voices from the streets. Out of the conference was born the North American Street Newspaper Association, which will meet annually.

Angelo Anderson and Savetta, both vendors from Cleveland, and Donald Whitehead and Lemuel Israel from Cincinnati represented the Homeless Grapevine newspaper.

Savetta characterized the event as “Wonderful, and very enlightening. I felt a true sense of camaraderie and a real feeling of community with all these papers,” she continued.

Professor Norma Green of the Columbia College provided a historical look at street newspapers, from the first—Street News in New York (who was not represented at the conference) to the current proliferation of papers in 50 cities.

Approximately 75 representatives of 20 different papers in Canada and the United States as well as Tessa Swithinbank of the United Kingdom’s Big Issue (keynote speaker) were gathered by the National Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago’s Streetwise, and Seattle’s Real Change newspapers.

Each paper was given the opportunity to talk about the particulars of their paper and provide some historical perspective. The first day culminated in a look at vendor issues, publishing and content issues, and leadership issues.

An emerging issue that flowed just beneath the surface of the conference was the role of vendors in leadership and decisions of each paper and, at the heart of the matter, the mission of each paper. A vendor from Chicago got to the heart of the matter when he said that the staff of the papers must keep in mind the reason that they are in business—homelessness and reducing the homeless population.

Savetta said, “I didn’t want the paper to overshadow the purpose of the papers. I would like to see more participation by the vendors around the country.”

Tim Harris, editor of Real Change and an organizer of the event, said, “It is inevitable. I expected these issues to develop. It is indicative of the powerlessness these people feel. Our job is to deal with [these issues] constructively.”

The second day was organized around the concept of formalizing the relationship between the papers and constructing a street newspaper trade association. The memberships in this association were picked at, but not finalized.

Some of the areas that the new North American Street Newspaper Association are going to undertake include sharing news/commentaries among the members, technical assistance, creating a World Wide Web page, publicity, and training. Probably the most difficult goal of the NASNA is the facilitation of new papers in major cities, such as Detroit, that do not have a street newspaper.

Harris of Seattle has a goal to have a street paper in every major city in America and Canada by 2000. He says that the street newspaper association is the first step to that end.

Membership in the NASNA will be finalized this year, and bylaws and the structure of the organization will be released at next year’s conference of street newspapers.

Ron Lonus of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who attended the street newspaper summit, hoped that this will be an annual event, and that all the papers will stay in contact.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996