Tuesday, July 24, 2007

We're all NASNAnians now

So we said to ourselves, a mere five months ago, if there’s going to be a convergence of alternative news freaks, wild-eyed radicals and social justice junkies, it ought to be in Portland, right? Really, we kidded ourselves, how hard could it possibly be to make 40 journalists happy and fulfilled — for 72 hours and change?

The answer will come July 26-29, when members of the North American Street Newspaper Association converge on the City of Roses for its 2007 annual conference, which, in keeping with media mathematics, hasn’t occurred since 2005 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It is an event to bring together the people and mission of the street newspaper movement, represented regionally across North America by NASNA, and around the world through the International Network of Street Papers. Papers from Cincinnati, Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Boston, Washington, D.C., Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas and many more will be attending, in addition to people not affiliated with papers, including an historian from Columbia College who is writing a book on the street paper movement.

Paul Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, will be the keynote speaker for the event. WRAP is a coalition of west coast social justice-based homelessness organizations, and it’s report, "Without Housing" documents how more than 25 years of federal funding trends for affordable housing have created the contemporary crisis of homelessness and near-homelessness. The report, which draws a direct correlation between the decline in housing funding and the rise in homelessness, has been disseminated to the public through street newspapers across the country.

Education is key for street newspapers, externally and internally, and the conference serves to help papers at all levels develop as media and businesses. For two days, participants will be attending workshops that cover such topics as design, reporting techniques and the rights and obligations of the media. Fortunately, we have some amazing local talent helping us out.

Portland Mercury news editors Amy J. Ruiz and Scott Moore will host a workshop on walking the line between objectivity and advocacy. And Nick Budnick, a reporter who has worked with the Willamette Week and is now with the Portland Tribune, is hosting a workshop on guerilla journalism, with tips on how small newspapers can leverage greater strength through good sources and public record laws. (Doesn’t hurt that Nick was an intern for legendary muckracker Jack Anderson.)

These days, however, it’s as much business as bylines, and street papers are learning that to stay viable as an advocacy and employment model, they’ve got to operate as smart businesses. Street Roots is lending the expertise of board member and business strategist Bruce Anderson to help papers create and implement a breakthrough strategy. Tim Harris, the founding director of Real Change newspaper in Seattle will teach people the basics of fundraising, and Bonnie Olsen, a consultant to nonprofits and community organizations will teach participants how to build effective partnerships and coalitions and how papers can grow. Tere Mathern with Portland’s own Technical Assistance for Community Service will help on the fundraising front as well.

City Commissioner Erik Sten will be opening the conference, along with Laura Thomspon-Osuri and Street Roots Director Israel Bayer, NASNA chairman and vice-chairman, respectively.

At their core, though, these conferences allow us a moment to unbridle ourselves from deadlines and obligations, and mingle with the rest of the herd, to sup at the trough of experience and ideas, and drink in the passion and energy of people just like us, only from somewhere else.

We’re honored this year to have Lisa Maclean, the network director for the International Network of Street Papers join us. She’s traveling all the way from Glasgow to work with NASNA members on the Street News Service and on the partnership between NASNA and the INSP, as we develop regional and global campaigns that will undoubtably change the world.

In fact, the tagline for the conferencce is “Changing the world, one street paper at at time.” But that’s really not the case. What’s really happening is that the world is changing one reader at a time. Together, readers and papers employ thousands of low-income and homeless people, with dignity and mobility, through sales and journalism. Vendors meet opportunity through their readers, get jobs and make connections. And equally important, their voice is being heard and having an impact, literally, around the world.

So, welcome, NASNAnians, to Portland, Ore. We shall do our best to keep things weird, inspiring, fullfilling and somewhere close to budget.

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff writer

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