I drove south last week with my colleague Carolyn and Megaphone’s executive director Sean Condon to visit the street papers in Seattle and Portland. Our goal was to see how things are done there, especially to see how these successful street newspapers run their vendor programs.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.
Seattle’s Real Change and Portland’s Street Roots started up in the 1990s. They sell thousands of papers, providing employment for hundreds of homeless and low-income people, and are incredible examples of how effective street papers can be. The organizations are known for their investigative journalism and strong advocacy of social issues, which reminded me of Pivot’s advocacy campaigns. Real Change, for example, is advocating against Seattle’s new aggressive panhandling laws and Street Roots played an integral role in launching Dignity Village, Portland’s only city-sanctioned homeless community.
Each of the street papers has hundreds of vendors. Their supporting vendors programs have given us lots of ideas on how we can expand our vendor program, from training to maintaining regular interaction with vendors. It was great to see their offices, which provide space for vendors to sit and have a coffee and have access to computers and the internet. In Portland we joined an early morning vendor meeting before the new issue of Street Roots was delivered from the printers. Vendors were asked to weigh in on some marketing plans and asked for their feedback (good and bad) about the past issue before the editor talked with them about feature articles in the new issue.
In Vancouver, many of the Hope in Shadows vendors sell Megaphone and over the years the two organizations have developed a strong relationship, regularly holding vendor meetings and training sessions together. Although the number of vendors is fewer than those who sell the calendar, Megaphone is increasing its readership as awareness of this award-winning magazine grows.
If you bought a Hope in Shadows calendar last year and would like to support the vendors please look out for Megaphone on the streets in the months before the next calendar comes out. The paper is bought by vendors for 75 cents and sells for a $2 suggested donation. And next week Megaphone is launching a special literary issue featuring poetry and prose written by participants in their community writing workshops and a selection of Hope in Shadows photographs. You can also join us at the literary issue launch at the Waldorf Hotel on May 3.