Late last month, I wrote an article for Relevant about Street Roots, a Portland newspaper that is largely written, produced, and distributed by the poor and homeless. My article was too short – at 1,000 words it is less than one-third the length I had in mind when I initially pitched the idea. I am okay with how the article turned out, but I had to leave quite a bit of good stuff – ideas, interviews, and polished text – in a file labeled “Street Roots Scraps” on my computer desktop.
The New York Times, which frequently scans the Relevant website for my article ideas and to get a feel for what Christian twenty-somethings are caring about these days, picked up on the story and published an article on street papers in last Sunday’s edition.
Newspapers produced and sold by homeless people in dozens of American cities are flourishing even as the deepening recession endangers conventional newspapers. At many of them, circulation is growing, along with the sales forces dispatched to the sell the papers to passers-by.
The NYT article appeared in the business section and concentrated primarily on street papers and the new economy. My own article focused on the opportunities for personal transformation street newspapers offer their vendors.
What my article touched on only briefly, and the Times article failed to mention at all, is how street papers like Street Roots (and Street Sense in Washington and Real Change in Chicago) are changing the public discourse by offering a megaphone to those “who can’t afford free speech.” In Portland, for example, Street Roots has done an admirable job elucidating complicated issues like low-income housing, the plight of sex workers, and the city’s controversial sit-lie laws, which effectively criminalize homelessness, in a way that the mainstream media has been unwilling to do. This is an important element to the street paper model that I will address in more detail if I ever have a chance to write a longer article on the subject. That is, unless the New York Times gets to the story first.
I know you’re out there.