DIRECTOR'S CORNER: The Digital Age

 

Delegates from street papers all over the world met last month in Munich, Germany for the INSP conference. Photo by Stephanie Dillig.

 

In late July, more than 100 members of street papers from around the world gathered in Munich, Germany to discuss a critical issue: how can street papers survive in the digital age? It’s a vexing problem for all media, but an even more unique challenge for publications like Megaphone that are based around street sales. 

 

The good news is that we’re ready to make a great leap forward.

 

There are over 120 street papers like Megaphone in 40 different countries. Combined, there are 14,000 people selling street papers every day with a circulation of six million per edition. It helps to put roughly $40 million into the pockets of homeless and low-income people every year. 

 

Street papers are the biggest social enterprise in the world and we’re just getting bigger. One of the best assets we have is each other, and street papers work closely together to help ensure we all can succeed. 

 

Megaphone’s vendor coordinator, Jessica Hannon, and myself attended the 17th annual International Network of Street Papers (INSP) conference last month in Munich in hopes of learning from our colleagues and finding some solutions to some of our challenges. It was an incredible week of brainstorming and networking that I know will make Megaphone stronger.

 

While the conference offered a range of discussions and workshops around vendor services and fundraising, perhaps one of the most crucial discussions was centred on how street papers can survive in the digital age. I had the opportunity to both facilitate the discussion and present Megaphone’s own project: a ‘Find a Vendor’ app that we’ll be launching in September. 

 

On the discussion’s panel, we heard about Chicago’s digital payment program, Northern England’s digital edition and South Africa’s electronic subscription program. Each of these alone are amazingly innovative projects that offer new ways for customers to support their vendors. Together, along with Megaphone’s app, they offer a blueprint for the future of street papers. While each of these projects are still in their infancy, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Megaphone customers use their phones to find where a vendor is selling, purchase a copy from them and then read it online. We’ll use digital innovations to keep creating an income for homeless and low-income people while maintaining the strong face-to-face connections that vendors make with their customers. 

 

The conference also included an awards ceremony, of which Megaphone was nominated for the interview we ran with Julio Montaner, the director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. While we didn’t win (congratulations to Nashville’s The Contributor for taking ‘Best Interview’), it was a huge honour just being nominated in what I feel is the most prestigious award any street paper could receive. 

 

The INSP conference reminded me once again that street papers offer a powerful tool to fight poverty. It’s wonderfully inspiring to get a chance to work with, and learn from, other papers and to get ready, together, for the next step in helping the vendors who sell papers like Megaphone around the world. 

Get on your megaphone

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