[Hpn] Boston, MA - Street newspapers' dilemma: money vs. mission - The Boston Globe - July 20, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sat, 20 Jul 2002 10:04:21 -0500

Street newspapers' dilemma: money vs. mission
''Street papers have to start writing for their readers,
or else they're going to fold - and they won't be able
to carry the voices that other papers don't publish.''
By David Abel - The Boston Globe - July 20, 2002

Like many hardened activists, Mora LaMountain yearned for a permanent soapbox,
one that would give voice to the legions of homeless in Southern California.

So, like a growing number of activists, the 41-year-old started a street
newspaper called Making Change, a feisty quarterly sold by the homeless on the
streets of Santa Monica.

Then came competition.

The Big Issue, a chain of weekly street magazines from London featuring
celebrity profiles, also sought to put money in the pockets of homeless vendors.
But LaMountain was horrified.

''They were trying to sell a glossy puff piece that had no real social
conscience,'' said LaMountain, who called it "The Big Tissue."

''It seemed like they were trying to make money off the backs of poor people.''

Now, as scores of editors and publishers of street newspapers, many of them once
homeless, meet this week in Boston, they're confronting a dilemma:

"Do they preserve their mission of giving voice to the homeless, or do they put
more money in their pockets by publishing papers with a broader reach?"

''It's the capitalists vs. the anarchists,'' said Norma Green, a journalism
professor at Columbia College in Chicago, who has studied the rise of street

''There are those who would sooner jump off a cliff than take an ad, and there
are others who support whatever is necessary to help the homeless and get their
message out.''

A decade ago, street newspapers were novelties, rants against corporations and
screeds about unresponsive government.

Today, what started out as a means of helping the homeless help themselves is
increasingly becoming an institution.

There are now 45 street newspapers in North America and more than 100 elsewhere,
from Australia to Argentina.

The problem, some say, is that instead of running essays and poems by the
homeless, to many are publishing entertainment news and catering to advertisers
and corporate donors.

As a result, feuds such as that between Making Change and The Big Issue are
popping up around the country.

In Chicago, the debate about the direction of street newspapers - which
publishers provide to homeless vendors, who buy them for little to nothing and
sell them for a profit - reached a high point last year when several staffers at
StreetWise quit because they believed the paper was selling out.

One of them, associate editor Kari Lydersen, says the paper was more interested
in profit than people. ''We were even discouraged from writing about poverty,''
she said. ''It was all pro-corporate America and entertainment. There was no
point anymore.''

Some argue, however, that supporting such an idealistic mission as helping the
homeless requires a measure of pragmatism.

When he started in street newspapers a decade ago, helping found Boston's Spare
Change in 1992, longtime activist Timothy Harris wanted nothing more than to
provide a permanent voice to the voiceless.

But he also wanted something people would read.

Since moving to Seattle and starting Real Change, one of the nation's largest
street papers with about 30,000 copies sold every two months, he has sought a
middle ground.

He runs ads and rather than writing just for the poor, he aims at reaching the
middle class, running columns such as ''News You Can Use'' and ''Notes from the

''You can be professional without selling out,'' he insisted. ''Street papers
have to start writing for their readers, or else they're going to fold - and
they won't be able to carry the voices that other papers don't publish.''

One paper on the cusp of folding is Sacramento's Homeward Street Journal, whose
editor, graphic designer, and sometimes writer, Gary Lee Parks, lives on the
steps of a church and struggles to get by on the $100 a month he earns from
helping publish the paper.

The paper, like many others, doesn't accept ads and survives on grants. In hard
economic times, grants aren't a sure thing, and Parks says the five-year-old
paper could go under any time.

''It's a struggle,'' he said, ''but it's a worthwhile struggle.''

A few hours away, in Santa Monica, where LaMountain first began distributing
Making Change from her pickup truck four years ago, the struggle up to now has
not been for naught.

Though like other papers, she runs into problems with police banning the
homeless from selling the paper on certain corners, her paper has survived into
its 16th issue and has a quarterly circulation of about 5,000.

It has even earned enough money for the paper to afford a laptop computer.

And, best of all, she has outlasted the competition.

About a year after The Big Issue started showing up on corners around Los
Angeles, its publishers decided the costs were too high and decided to close the

''You could call that sweet justice,'' LaMountain said.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.
 Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
source page:  http://makeashorterlink.com/?H25622F41

H. C. [Sonny] Covington, Editor
Homeless and Housing News