Street Newspaper Movement Begins to Unify

by Brian Davis

Street newspapers from all across North America gathered in Montreal to plan for expansion in 1999 and discuss areas of mutual interest. In the past, the North American Street Newspaper Association conferences have been very divisive, with contentious debates between big papers and small papers and more commercial papers lining up against grassroots empowerment-oriented papers. The third NASNA conference in 1998 was more businesslike, with a focus on “ways to work together.”

Donald Whitehead, Editor of Street Vibes in Cincinnati, said, “The third try by NASNA proved to be the best.” Personally, I had concerns about my continued involvement in NASNA due to last year’s conference. My faith has been restored. The Montreal conference made me truly believe that the goals set at the first conference will soon be realized.

The major goals for the coming year include the creation of a homeless news service that will feature the exchange of stories from all the member papers of NASNA. Also, a high priority for NASNA is to develop a strong web site and listserv for its members. The group also intends to raise funds for a staff to foster and expand the street newspaper movement. “We got all good feedback,” said Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who is also treasurer for NASNA. He went on to say, “This conference will strengthen NASNA because of the agenda that was passed. It will be a good coming year for the street newspaper movement in the United States and Canada.”

The conference started with a two-hour debate on the future of the street newspaper movement which was intended to bring to the forefront the heart of the debate that caused such dissension in last year’s conference and throughout last year. There were many visions expressed from the loose collaboration of papers that operate independently and feature a broad spectrum of newspapers to the view that the movement should be based on an ideology that is created by poor people that unites and empowers homeless people across North America.

The issue that crystallized this debate was the move by the Big Issue of London, England into Los Angeles. This was representative of the debate within the entire movement—a big, commercially successful paper (the Big Issue) moves into an area that has a small, struggling, homeless-driven paper. The editor of the smaller paper, Making Change, Jenaffer Waggoner, was adamant that if NASNA allowed the Big Issue into Los Angeles then it would grow and push other papers out of existence.

In a surprising development, the Big Issue editors decided not to pursue membership in NASNA until 1999 to give all parties a chance to work out some compromise and quiet the fears of Making Change and other papers. This allowed the members of NASNA to focus on other issues in Montreal. The 1999 conference will be held in Cleveland.

Stoops said, “The debate at the conference was helpful and helped clarify what NASNA is all about. The host of the 1998 conference, Eric Cimon of Journal L’Itineraire, a French language paper in Montreal, was satisfied with what came out of the conference. “We are looking toward the future. We are more united than before, and we have better communication,” Cimon said. Cimon was impressed by the large amount of media attention over the conference, which he said, “Put homelessness more on the table.”

Some of the activities that Cimon is going to be working on over the next year are the establishment of two new papers in Quebec province, and he wants every newspaper plugged into the internet. Journal L’Itineraire has what Stoops characterizes as a “remarkable” café for homeless people that has computers available for use by those on the streets.

Angelo Anderson of The Homeless Grapevine was once again elected to the NASNA Executive Committee. He thought the conference was very helpful, but felt that the group needed better workshops next year. Anderson wants to help NASNA member papers work together over the next year.

Whitehead said, “I was really impressed with Montreal. It was almost a color-blind society. I just felt really comfortable with all the ethnic backgrounds that existed together.” He also noted that poverty did not seem to be as harsh or extreme as in the States.

Stoops is looking to assist with the development of some new papers and to formalize some technical assistance to existing papers and start up assistance to new papers. He looks forward to coming to Cleveland in 1999.

NASNA Priorities for 1998-9

  1. Better Electronic Interaction
  • · Homeless news service/listserv
  • · Web site construction and update
  • · Pamphlet on what NASNA is, including history and mission
  • · Newsletter for NASNA
  • · Articles about NASNA placed in member newspapers
  • · Construct some protection for existing street newspapers
  • · Set up a policy for the free exchange of articles
  • · Construct a set-up kit for new newspapers
  • · Outreach to involve Mexican street newspapers
  • · Provide technical assistance outreach to papers that may need help
  • · Construct a publication of standards and practices for NASNA
  • · Provide information on commercialization aspects of the street newspaper movement
  • · Increase funds to increase the number of papers
  • · Increase funds to hire staff and an intern
  • · Construct a donation network of computers and software to assist papers that need it
  1. Member Development
  1. Fundraising Committee

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 29, September-October 1998