It’s been a rough year for the economy and an even rougher year for Philadelphia papers. The most recent unemployment rates hover around 10 percent, and Philadelphia Newspapers, the group that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, filed for bankruptcy in February, leading to a string of legal battles that most recently resulted in a trip to the U.S. Court of Appeals. But in one of the most unlikely places during one of the most unlikely times, something strange happened. On Tuesday, people were reading a new newspaper on the streets of this nearly newspaper-less city.
The 16-page One Step Away, produced entirely by homeless residents, launched yesterday and sells for $1, with 25 cents going towards covering printing costs. The rest goes directly to the vendors, who are from two Philadelphia homeless shelters.
Though the launch seems to buck almost every trend, it also sheds light on an interesting sector of the newspaper industry: one that is doing well. Homeless papers nationwide (it’s unclear, but officials quoted in the AP article about the launch estimate there are “more than two dozen street newspapers in cities across North America), are thriving. Street Sense, a homeless paper in Washington, D.C., reported record circulation of over 30,000 issues per month this year and an 18-percent increase in donations. And in Nashville, the Contributor printed a record 7,000 issues in November. Two years ago, the Contributor was selling 1,000 copies per month (also for $1).
This upward swing in readership could be a result of the tepid financial climate and its effect on homelessness — according to the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released last July, there were about 700,000 people living on the streets at any point during the year. But maybe it shouldn’t take losing a home to realize that newspapers can still make a community.