NASNA’s Transition May Leave Smaller Papers Behind

Commentary by Kevin E. Cleary

      The North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) held its latest conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia from July 28th through the 31st. (NASNA was created as a trade organization to help homeless papers stabilize themselves.) A number of seminars and events were hosted by Halifax’s Street Feat and administered by NASNA staff and volunteers.

       The main issues discussed this year by the voting members of NASNA were the election of the new Executive Committee and the ratification of NASNA’s strategic plan. Seven members of the Executive Committee ran uncontested, and 3 candidates vied for 2 slots as Associate members (meaning they were not affiliated with street newspapers) of the EC. The vote tally was apparently very close, which resulted in Linda Dumant being granted an Honorary Associate membership on the Committee as her paper’s charitable status was still pending.

       Slightly more contentious was the debate around ratifying NASNA’s strategic plan, which includes the intention to bring NASNA into the fold of an international street newspaper organization, the International Network of Street newspapers (INSP). As a voting member of a decidedly “grassroots” paper, I felt it was my duty to represent the concerns of other smaller street newspapers. I still feel that the concerns of such papers were not really addressed, but the strategic plan was ratified with one abstention (my own).

       While I am not opposed in principle to joining an international “movement,” I do question what tangible benefit doing so will bring to smaller papers. Currently, the day-to-day benefits of NASNA lie mostly in our ability to share content between papers. To me, the main objective of NASNA conferences should be the ability to network with other papers, and meet the individuals behind them face-to-face. The regimented chaos of the seminars seemed to me to be a distraction from what should be NASNA’s real purpose. 

       If the fees increase for membership, or the travel arrangements become more expensive, how will this affect the attendance of the papers with smaller budgets? In addition, many grassroots papers struggle to get attention and funding in their own communities. If the overall goal of NASNA is to become an international activist group, will this distract smaller papers from focusing on their core missions at home? Will these papers be able to justify the costs of membership and a flight to Luxembourg if the costs outweigh the tangible benefits?

       If NASNA is determined to take this course, and some of the smaller papers are left by the wayside, there may be a need for some sort of mini-NASNA in the future. Perhaps it would be something along the lines of a moderated web log where staff and volunteers of various street papers can gripe, share tactics and practices, and possibly content. 

       I am encouraged by the efforts of Ryan Richardson of the Madison Warming Center Campaign and The Homeless Cooperative to establish an independent list-serve for street papers in the Midwest, as this will not compete with NASNA, but may allow Midwest papers to discuss regional issues in a different forum. I would propose something along the lines of NASNAlite, wherein there will be no membership dues or efforts to conglomerate into a unified voice.

       I also propose a permanent prohibition against creating an acronym for this effort, as acronyms are sometimes the first step toward building unstoppable bureaucracy. This will also hopefully prevent the impression that such a forum would be in competition with NASNA, as it not my desire to undermine their efforts or larger goals. I merely feel that grassroots papers should have a place to go if their budgets or policies will not permit them to take on a mission of global activism.

       In closing, I would like to thank the staff and volunteers of Street Feat for being extremely kind, courteous, and hospitable, and especially for all of their hard work. I would also like to thank the staff and volunteers of NASNA for providing me with the opportunity to take part in the conference and meet the faces behind the newsprint.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.