The Activist Newspaper: Advocating Justice, Building Community

By Gregory Flannery
This is the last monthly edition of Streetvibes that you will ever read. That’s because, starting with this edition, Streetvibes is publishing twice a month. New editions will appear on the first and 15th days of each month.

Newspapers across the United States and in Greater Cincinnati are in decline. The Cincinnati Post has gone out of business. The Cincinnati Enquirer has laid off staff. CityBeat, once Cincinnati’s leading alternative newspaper, has laid off staff, cut pages and backed away from its once aggressive editorial focus on social and political issues.

Yet Streetvibes is growing. Our success is the result of many people’s efforts.

Our vendors – people who are or once were homeless – stand on street corners every day, in all kinds of weather, offering Streetvibes in exchange for donations of $1 or more.

Our writers and photographers contribute their work without expecting compensation. In fact, I am the only person paid to write for the paper.

The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which publishes Streetvibes, has committed its limited financial resources to double our publication schedule.

The individuals and organizations that fund the Homeless Coalition have continued to support its work of advocating on behalf of homeless people.

Our readers have bought more papers, with the result that we have sold all available copies four times in the past year, in spite of the fact that we have significantly increased our press run. When I became editor of Streetvibes in March 2008, we were selling about 2,700 copies per month. Now we typically sell 5,000 to 6,000 copies per month.

Our sales and feedback from readers seem to indicate that Streetvibes is offering what readers want in a newspaper – solid reporting, engaging photography, excellent writing and, most important, a sense of purpose.

In May Streetvibes received an award from the International Network of Street Papers for a story about the exploitation of Latino workers in Greater Cincinnati. The article was the work of a community of people committed to working for justice. The workers had the courage to speak out. Activists helped the workers to organize, document their maltreatment and bring it to the attention of the news media. Writer Margo Pierce interviewed some of the workers. Andrew Anderson captured their images. Andy Freeze, then education coordinator for the Homeless Coalition, designed the story’s layout. Georgine Getty, then executive director of the Homeless Coalition, stood strong when lawyers tried to stop us from running the story. Our vendors got the story into the hands of readers.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the new tag line under our masthead on page 1: “Streetvibes – Advocating Justice, Building Community.” That statement applies to the story that won the award, and it summarizes our editorial policy.

Streetvibes exists in order to advocate for justice and build community. That’s important work – and it is, I believe, the very reason newspapers exist. At its root, journalism is a form of public service, a form of civic activism.

Some newspapers have forgotten that. Driven by the desire for ever increasing profits, they have abandoned their mission, pandering to what they believe popular tastes require: a focus on entertainment, less investigative reporting, shorter stories that promote sentimental good feelings while ignoring the historic role of the free press as guardian of the people’s liberty.

Streetvibes aims to be Cincinnati’s activist newspaper.

Your opinion of what we’re doing is important to us. Let us know what you think and what you’d like us to do in the future.

Advocating for justice, building community: This is the essence of a good newspaper, and it’s what Streetvibes aims to do twice a month.