Monday, November 13, 2006

“Street Beacon” Out

We blogged last night about the Street Beacon, a “street” newspaper described as being for the Near West Side neighborhood.

The paper is published by a group of Marquette students called the “Urban Initiative” which is a recognized Marquette student group.

The editor, Matthew Ryno, says (in his column):
We distinguish ourselves from other community newspapers by focusing on issues pertaining to poverty and homelessness while hiring unemployeed, homeless or impoverished members of the community to vend for our paper. We operate at no profit for ourselves.
The paper is being distributed on campus, and is in fact pretty impressive for a first issue.

It’s a twelve page tabloid with essentially no ads. That’s a large “news hole” to fill. And the staff has done quite a good job of filling it. The headlines give a flavor of what the paper is about. They include:
  • Wireless internet on the West-Side lacks a network of input
  • Nonprofit groups and Legal Action say Fire Department money is up in smoke
  • New computers will assist guests at transational shelter
  • Community members grow their own healthy food
  • Lack of supermarkets may affect local health
While being impressed with the effort, we have some questions about this project.

First, is there actually a market for a paper dealing with neighborhood issues of the Near West Side? Is there any sort of Near West Side community, aside from the sense of community among Marquette students?

Second, will the publication persist? Independent student papers tend to disappear quite quickly. The masthead of the paper, and the bylines of the writers show about a dozen students who are involved. That’s a good number, and if they stay committed (and especially if they recruit other volunteers), the paper has a future.

The final question is whether this paper actually has anything to do with the homeless. We walked around campus today, and found the paper being distributed in three locations. In each case, it was students, and not homeless people, who were doing the selling. We were told that, in front of the Raynor Library, one homeless person had worked for an hour selling the paper.

“Street newspapers” have come up with journalistic coups. A sister paper to the “Street Beacon,” StreetSense in Washington, D.C., produced an article which we blogged about when local unions there hired homeless people to picket.

So what will we see from the Street Beacon? Time will tell.

Still . . . the students who put the paper together deserve a lot of credit for their initiative and enterprising spirit.


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