On Friday night, staffers from over a dozen street newspapers -- papers created by and for not just the poor and homeless, but the public that should care about the poor and homeless -- gathered for the North American Street Newspaper Association Awards ceremony. The event was downtown at Marlowe's, and the doors and windows were wide open to all the life outside on the 16th Street Mall. The street life was both gritty and great.
Although these street newspapers all have their own personalities, gritty and great to varying degrees, most feature opinion pieces by vendors, the homeless people who sell the papers on the street and get to keep most of what they collect -- a very basic economic model that has proven effective at helping to break the cycle of poverty. These opinion pieces discuss everything from Barack Obama's election to schizophrenia, and at their best -- Eric Johnson's "On Slinging Poetry" in the Denver Voice, for example, in which he shares some of the poems he used to peddle while homeless -- they open doors and windows to a true understanding of what life on the streets is like.
"The purpose of journalism is not to make money," one editor said at the international street papers awards ceremony a few months ago. "The purpose of journalism is not to make reporters into celebrities. The purpose of journalism is to serve the public."
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And to serve that public an honest look at life.