[Hpn] Whats Up: News on the street;STLtoday;St. Louis, Missouri;10/24/01
Morgan W. Brown
Wed, 24 Oct 2001 14:56:26 -0400
Wednesday, October 24, 2001
[St. Louis, Missouri]
in stlvoices <http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/home/columns.nsf/STLvoices>
Whats Up: News on the street
By C.D. Stelzer
Exclusive to STLtoday.com
Sometime early next year, St. Louisans will be offered a new newspaper.
Unlike the fare they have grown accustomed to expect from the alternative
press, there will be nothing flaccid or verbose about Whats Up. At 32 pages,
the debut edition simply won't have enough space to meander. But organizers
of the nascent, monthly publication hope to stir public interest with an
edgy mix of news, commentary and arts and entertainment coverage.
Distribution of the newspaper is apt to raise some controversy, because it
will be hawked on the streets by homeless vendors for a dollar a copy. The
"in your face" delivery approach is the essence of Whats Up's editorial
stance, which is predicated on "disturbing the comfortable, and comforting
the disturbed." Street sales are also a pragmatic means of providing
transitional employment and economic self-sufficiency to those in need.
Jay Swoboda, the young publisher of Whats Up, borrowed the concept and the
name from a similar periodical in Boston. After returning from a stint with
AmeriCorps last year, the Washington University economics major began
pitching the project to local government officials and civic organizations.
Though he's gained tacit approval from the powers that be, and the support
of well-meaning social-agency types, Swoboda still finds himself strapped
with the daunting task of launching a newspaper on a shoestring. So far, his
funding has been limited to a $2,500 student grant.
Despite the paltry finances, Swoboda remains confident Whats Up will succeed
through sales and advertising revenue. He says he already has a commitment
from Joe Edwards, the owner of Blueberry Hill bar and restaurant in the
University City Loop. Swoboda is banking on other business owners joining
the cause once they realize their contributions benefit their own
advertising needs, while simultaneously helping to empower the underclass.
Whats Up will be loosely modeled after other homeless newspapers already
published in dozens of cities. Over the past decade, there has been a
proliferation of such publications, which are affiliated through the North
American Street Newspaper Association. Among the most longstanding examples
are Seattle's Real Change and San Francisco's Street Sheet. In Chicago, the
homeless sell approximately 60,000 copies of Streetwise every two weeks. In
London, Big Issue, the slickest and most successful homeless periodical,
sells more than 120,000 a week. The British magazine's Los Angeles edition
has a circulation of 50,000. On the other end of the scale, Change of Heart
in Lawrence, Kansas, sells about 150 copies quarterly. Whats Up is aiming
for an initial press run of 10,000.
Under its established formula, homeless vendors will receive 23 copies of
the newspaper for free. After they sell their first allotment, they can
purchase additional copies for 25 cents a copy. Before being allowed to sell
the paper, the vendors will be given a training session and issued
identification cards that they will be required to wear. If any vendor
harasses potential customers or otherwise violates guidelines, he or she
will not be permitted to continue selling the paper, Swoboda says.
News coverage will go beyond the plight of the homeless, says Swoboda,
highlighting such issues as affordable housing, health care, welfare reform,
job training and raising the minimum wage. In addition, Swoboda plans to run
prose, poetry and first person accounts written by the homeless themselves.
Other news stories and entertainment features will be written by local
Over the last several months, Swoboda has been laying the groundwork,
speaking to homeless advocates, civic leaders, representatives of the
mayor's office, the city Department of Health and Human Services and the
Veterans Administration. He's also been in contact with the city counselor's
As far as he can determine, the right to sell Whats Up on the street is
protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and
further codified by city ordinance. Swoboda has made a conscious effort to
play by the rules, and went out of his way to inform the proper authorities
of his intentions. So far, his endeavors have been met with a cooperative
response. But he's not naive enough to believe that some roadblocks won't be
thrown up once the paper and its homeless hawkers hit the street.
"There will be some flaps down the line," says Swoboda. "I'm looking forward
C.D. Stelzer is a freelance writer in St. Louis.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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