Street Papers: A Unique Platform for Marginalized Voices

One of the cool things I discovered this past Saturday at Media Democracy Day is Megaphone, a Vancouver street paper sold by low-income and homeless vendors that also provides them with a voice.

Street papers are a growing movement. Sean Condon, Editor-in Chief of Megaphone, explained that there are over 100 street papers worldwide. The first was created in New York in 1989 when someone came up with the idea of printing a paper to be sold by homeless people as a means of employment. It worked and now there are a number of street papers all over the world in both developed and developing countries that not only provide employment to low-income and homeless individuals, but also frequently provide them with a voice.

Ironically, street papers are also one form of media that is experiencing growth. According to the International Network of Street Papers, the number of street papers that are members of its network have doubled since 2004.

Megaphone, Vancouver’s street paper, features compelling and unique voices that are different from much of the mainstream media. Take, for example, a guide to Vancouver panhandlers by a megaphone sales rep named Bob:

There are several different types of panhandlers in Vancouver. There’s the type of panhandler found sitting with a tin or hat and a sign saying “Homeless—need money, food or shelter”. Other panhandlers are senior citizens, people in low-paying jobs, people recently unemployed due to the recession or those on disability pension. Most are not aggressive and …

Issues contain a variety of articles ranging from a piece by David Suzuki to a profile of artist Jorge Campos, who paints brightly coloured portraits of the Downtown Eastside.

At Media Democracy Day, Monte Paulson, who frequently writes for the Tyee about homelessness, pointed out that there is a two-class media structure: online and not online. Many on the Downtown Eastside don’t have regular internet access, so they can’t even read what publications like the Tyee publish about them.  Megaphone , on the other hand, contains reporting about the Downtown Eastside thats accessible to the people that live there.

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