Research carried out last year by UK charity the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) showed that the combined readership of the 100-plus publications sold by homeless people across the world is over 6.2 million, an increase of 10% since 2009.
INSP – which connects and supports 118 street papers in 40 countries, including the UK’s Big Issue – says that at a time when consumers are becoming increasingly disillusioned with media conglomerates, street papers offer high quality journalism free from political and corporate interference.
This remarkable media success story highlights the winning formula of the street paper concept, which combines independent journalism and employment to help some of the world’s poorest people to improve their lives and escape poverty. Vendors buy their local street paper at 50% of the cover price and sell them on at a profit to generate an income. In addition to employment, many street papers offer their vendors on-going training and social support.
Lisa Maclean, executive director of INSP, says that street papers offer more than dignified employment alone: “They are also a valuable source of quality, independent journalism. Together, we are in a unique position to uncover untold stories and share the perspectives of people and issues not typically discussed in the mainstream media.”
The first modern street paper was Street News in New York City in 1989, followed by the UK’s Big Issue in 1991. In order to promote and develop sustainable street papers worldwide, the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) was founded in 1994. Since its establishment, INSP has helped over 200,000 people living in poverty to earn a living.
Street papers are now well-established in Europe and North America and have been making their mark in Africa, Asia and Latin America. New publications have recently been launched in Taiwan and Nigeria and INSP says expansion plans will continue across the world.
The charity’s global and independent media reach has attracted high-profile supporters, including Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow. David Schlesinger, chairman of Thomson Reuters China and former editor-in-chief of Reuters News, is honorary president of INSP. He says: “Go around the world and buy a street newspaper and you are not just doing good, you are really getting something good. There’s a true exchange and creation of value, using real journalism as the medium. As someone who has always believed passionately in the revelatory and transformative powers of journalism, I am really proud to be associated with this movement. It shows how the published form can help people change their own lives and also have an impact on the society around them.”
The INSP News Service is one of the charity’s key member services. It provides vital editorial support to street papers — to build their capacity and increase their sales — so that tens of thousands of homeless vendors can earn a living and improve their lives.
INSP street papers run on very tight budgets and with the increasing pressure on vendor support services, the editorial budget is often low. At the same time, it is important that street papers are quality products in order to attract and increase sales. Instead of being simply a ‘charity buy’, street papers strive to have the best quality content to ensure a loyal readership and regular income for their vendors.
The INSP News Service provides street papers with free content from within the network and from external media partners, as well as a free translation service. The News Service also adds value to street papers by using INSP’s unique position to create exclusive content, detecting and reporting on global trends relating to poverty and social justice and securing support from high profile contributors.
In the past year, street papers used over £500,000 worth of INSP material — 10 times the operational cost of the service itself.
But the INSP News Service does more than change the world for people in poverty. It also changes perceptions of millions of readers, by putting a human face on homelessness and building relationships across social boundaries. It offers a refreshing outlet that is focused on positive change for the world.
INSP is currently seeking support to grow and sustain its news service in order to meet the needs of a growing number of street papers around the world.
INSP street papers in the digital world
Later this year, INSP will pilot a digital street paper. Although the shift in media consumption patterns from print to digital is yet to affect street papers, the charity believes there is potential for digital to compliment the print product on the streets. Using QR code technology printed on a card sold by street paper vendors, INSP hopes to attract a wider readership without compromising the unique vendor-customer transaction that is at the core of the street paper concept. If successful, the project will be rolled out across the street paper network.
The economic crisis has caused a rise in the number of homeless and unemployed people worldwide. In a report released last year, the UN agency for Human Settlements, Habitat warned that sustainable urbanisation is one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. At the same time, there is a need for media freedom and pluralism to counter government restrictions and monopoly tendencies in many countries.
With the demand for street papers in both the developed and developing world growing, INSP’s work is more important than ever.
For more information: www.street-papers.org
Helen Harvey is projects officer at the International Network of Street Papers