Monday, July 30, 2007

Willamette Week swings and misses

The Willamette Week, a paper that Street Roots has always had the utmost respect for, published an article this week that was misleading and inaccurate. Under a photo taken in February of 2006 a caption read: Portland's street paper vendors don't plan to attend a national conference of execs planning their industry's future this week in Portland.

The article says, “Representatives from 17 "street newspapers" are converging in Portland this weekend for their biennial conference. But if you're imagining planes packed with homeless scribes landing in Portland, bringing color to local hotels and banquet halls, don't.

In the world of street newspapers, the homeless don't run the show. Instead, the North American Street Newspaper Association conference, being held this Friday, July 27, through Sunday, July 29, will be attended primarily by about 50 directors and editors paying $150 each.” Read the article here:
  • WW article

  • Although the article states that Street Roots had in fact invited vendors we believe the WW only talked to three vendors, one of which says, “They (vendors) don’t have much of a stake in the paper.” Another who says “A conference. I haven’t heard anything about it.” The other vendor who told us he had nothing but good things to say about vendors and the participation in the organization was not quoted.

    Nineteen vendors attended the NASNA conference this weekend with vendors in attendance in eleven of the twelve workshops. Vendors took part in discussions at workshops, networked with vendors, editors and directors at other street papers, and were in attendance at both of our evening social events sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalist among others.

    Here’s what we don’t understand. Street Roots talked to the reporter about a variety of things happening with Street Roots, while the Executive Director of both Street Sense in Washington DC and Tim Harris with Real Change in Seattle had talked in depth with the reporter about the North American Street Newspaper Association and gave her the organizations strategic plan.

    During our many conversations I had talked about the idea of creating an atmosphere for homeless and poor writers that didn’t differentiate in print who is housed and who is not.

    It’s very easy for people on the streets to be tokenized. We talked about how it’s important to us to not refer to people as being homeless or not homeless in the context of a byline. If a writer is homeless and wishes to share those details through their commentary or poetry or as a journalist than the reader will be able to pick that up. Street Roots is not going to say, “Hey, read this because it’s by a homeless person.”

    People on the streets and low-income people shouldn’t be held to a lesser bar because they are homeless. Street Roots chooses to publish the works of people that are advancing their writing skills or who are telling a genuine story about their experience. Some of these individuals are mentored and some already have those skills.

    We also talked about being an organization that had one staff person a little more than a year ago, but now have four individuals working with the paper – one a formerly homeless vendor. We talked about the growing pains of being a small organization and constantly coming from a place of scarcity.

    We shared SRs recently finished strategic plan that lays out the three major goals of the organization - to empower vendors, improve the quality of the newspaper (so vendors can make more money) and build a sustainable fundraising platform. We also shared the organizations 2005 and 2006 Annual Reports.
  • Street Roots 2006 Annual Report

  • We also talked about the relationships that are created between vendors and the community and how those relationships are helping breakdown stereotypes about homeless individuals.

    The article was written in a way to make it seem that Street Roots is a small business and moving towards broadening our content and readership, but somehow lacks the integrity or the knowledge to publish a professional newspaper and to be upstanding to people on the streets – specifically our vendors. They use the word “street newspaper” in quotes as if to say it’s a novel publication. In our minds it was meant to do nothing more than damage our image in the community as professional publication and an empowerment project for poor people.

    We also believe that the WW was flat out wrong to report that vendors were not going to be a part of the NASNA conference.

    We want to assure our supporters and readers that we love Portland, and we believe in people – homeless and housed a like and that together we can make a difference through community journalism, creative writing, building relationships and offering people dignity through the sales of the newspaper.

    - Israel Bayer

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