Street newspapers in crisis: here to abolish themselves

The first German street newspaper was created 30 years ago. Corona and digitization are putting pressure on magazines today. Future? Uncertain.

A street magazine salesman

A seller of the street magazine “Hinz&Kunzt” in downtown Hamburg Photo: Stephan Wallocha/epd/imago

BREMEN taz | If all goes well, there will be no street newspapers in Europe by 2030. Because then there will be no more homelessness. Because the EU Parliament has decidedto “eliminate” them by then.

Okay, none of the experts really believe in it. Even the EU has to admit that the number of homeless people in Europe has increased by more than 70 percent in the last ten years, to over 700,000 people. These are all potential sellers of a street newspaper.

Due to a lack of demand, only one magazine has been discontinued so far, the “Megafon” from Bergen, Norway. The reason for the success is a progressive drug policy, say the makers. Hardly anyone slept on the street there anyway, and there were other solutions for addicts.

In Germany, too, the street newspapers that have been established over the past 30 years would like to become superfluous, says Bastian Pütter from the magazine “Bodo”. appears in Bochum and Dortmund, at the same time spokesman for the German-language street newspapers. At the moment they are more of an existential threat.

Losses in the number of copies sold

“It’s crunching,” admits Pütter, many of them have had to accept “relevant losses” in the number of copies sold in recent months. Street newspapers are a seasonal business – it only ever does really well before Christmas, but this year in spring and summer it was much worse than before, than before Corona. And during the pandemic, little was sold.

In addition, the cost of paper has risen sharply. In the inner cities, where most street newspapers are always sold, many shops are empty, so there are fewer shoppers on the go. In addition, rising inflation and uncertainty about the Ukraine war mean that less money is being spent on non-essentials, such as street newspapers, and donations are often made elsewhere, for example for refugees. The global political situation is also making fundraising difficult everywhere. At the same time, the lives of the sellers are becoming expensive. Her have existential concerns in the pandemic increased. Pütter speaks of “many acute psychological situations” among the sellers and an “immense increase in the depth of advice”. And there is more visible homelessness in the cities.

Street newspapers can do little to change all of this. You open one low-threshold opportunity to get back into a daily structure. They give have-nots the chance to meet the haves of this world a little more on an equal footing, to be worth something again because they are selling something of value – and not just sitting on the ground and begging.

The sellers can regulate themselves when they sell and how much. But you also have to, because capitalism is lived here in its purest form: the sellers are allowed to keep half of the proceeds, but have to buy the street newspaper at their own risk. You work as a freelancer without security – permanent positions for salespeople are only available in Germany at Munich street magazine “Biss”. Selling a street newspaper can certainly convey self-esteem, but only those who overcome their shame come out: “Then everyone will know that I’m homeless” is an objection that is often heard.

“Bite” (citizens in social difficulties) belongs next to the “outsider“ from Cologne and “Hinz and Kunz“ from Hamburg is one of the oldest street newspapers in this country, the “Draussenseiter” is just turning 30, the other two will be next year. That Concept comes from New York, where the “Street News” originated in 1989. The British “The Big Issue” brought the idea to Europe in 1991. Pütter estimates that there are around 30 street newspapers in Germany today. They all work in separate regions so as not to compete with each other.

But while there are comparatively many such magazines in German-speaking countries, according to the Map of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) not a single one in France, Belgium or Spain, and only one in Poland, the Czech Republic or Portugal.

In Germany, the street magazines can be seen as a kind of successor to the alternative press, which came out of the then new social movements, but which in many cases did not survive the 1980s or ended up in increasingly commercialized city magazines.

Today’s street newspapers don’t just see themselves as lobbies, but often also as “social city magazines,” says Pütter. In the process, they have become increasingly professional in editorial terms. And while their focus was often strongly socio-political in the beginning, today they are more strongly oriented towards local journalism – even those papers that do not like the ““Zeitschrift der Straße” (ZdS) in Bremen rely on this concept from the start.

If the readers are constantly confronted with hardship and misery, that is too much for them in the long run, being bought out of pity alone is no longer a promising idea from an economic point of view. At the same time, a street magazine must not only be attractive for the often higher-earning and educated buyers, but above all for the sellers. “The worm not only has to taste good to the fish, but also to the angler,” said ZdS co-founder Michael Vogel, a business administration professor.

The sellers are not just bio-German, often addicted homeless people, they are also homeless people who don’t sleep on the street but don’t have their own apartment, pensioners from poverty, refugees and migrants from Eastern Europe who have no claims here at all on social benefits and are still often better off here than in the old home.

“No growing market”

But the increasing digitization of all media threatens the existence of street magazines – they live from the fact that the seller holds a printed copy in their hands; all digital experiments have so far had little success. And it is precisely about enabling the needy to earn a small income.

“It’s not a growing market,” says Pütter about the street newspapers, although poverty is more of a growth industry. And the paying audience is, as with other print media, “quite old”. Pütter speaks of the “exotic bonus” of the printed street magazines and of the “diversification” of the projects, which are always linked to social organizations, do social work, run cafés and bookstores, offer social city tours and are integrated into “Housing First” projects.

However, street papers could end up being discontinued due to lack of demand. And not because there are no more homeless people.

The author was Editor-in-Chief from 2016 to 2021 “Street magazine” in Bremen

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