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MEDIA-PHILIPPINES: ‘Jeepney’ Street Paper Delivers Jobs Too

Lynette Corporal - Asia Media Forum*

MANILA, Nov 17 2008 (IPS) - “We share with people our stories, rich stories that can be found in the streets,” Cheran Banaria says of her work selling ‘The Jeepney Magazine’, the Philippines’ first street paper. “Before, I was really shy in facing and talking to rich people. I felt like an ant before them. But now, I can say I am a bit confident facing them.”

The 28-year-old mother of three is one of the vendors of the newspaper named after one of this South-east Asian country’s most ubiquitous symbols, the jeepney – that noisy, powerful and colourful monster of the roads.

“Street papers are published to educate the curious, wake up the apathetic, generate emotion and promote compassion. . . It is also like the other street papers in the world, trying to provide a job with dignity,” William Shaw, editor-in-chief of ‘The Jeepney Magazine’, wrote in its second issue.

Like other street papers, it has two main aims; to be an avenue for information by covering interesting local everyday stories, and equally important, to provide a dignified livelihood to those who sell it, which include some of the people it writes about, including street people, the homeless and other marginalised groups.

Unlike the common perception by many, a street paper is different from free papers given out in many cities and their mass transportation systems.

At the moment, ‘The Jeepney’ introduces readers to the lives of its vendors and the community they belong to. There is a section on missing children, a chilling reminder of a bigger and more serious issue of kidnapping, child labour and trafficking. Lighter but still somber is the poetry page. The magazine has glossy pages, an appealing layout, and a reader-friendly style.

“We are making some transitions, such as adding a food and fashion sections that (still) highlight the poor but also provide some variety. The bottom line is that we want to be an alternative media voice, but we want to employ impoverished people too,” said Shaw.

‘The Jeepney’, along with 89 other street papers from 37 countries in six continents, is a member of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) a global independent media movement established in 1994 in Scotland.

“The street paper aims to provide the poor and homeless with employment and, at the same time, give voice to the voiceless and disadvantaged members of the society,” Maree Aldam, INSP network development officer, told Asia Media Forum. Some 32 million readers are reported to have access to street papers each year.

Like its counterparts elsewhere, ‘The Jeepney Magazine’ aims to give its vendors half of its original selling price, making it a source of livelihood for them. In this case, a vendor takes home 50 pesos (a little over one U.S. dollar) for each magazine sold.

The other half is divided equally to pay for printing and production costs, as well as vendor training and oversight. If a vendor sells at least 10 copies per day, he or she earns 500 pesos (10.63 dollars), almost double the minimum daily wage in the country’s capital city.

Shaw and his photojournalist wife Deborah moved to the Philippines from Michigan, the United States, about three years ago and established the Urban Opportunities for Change Foundation, which publishes ‘The Jeepney Magazine’. The magazine, which has not have a regular publication frequency so far, has published three issues since its maiden issue in March 2008.

Because the magazine is still in its infancy, it is quite vulnerable to economic trends. It prints some 5,000 copies, and its fourth issue is due out in December. A Tagalog-language translation is also in the works.

“We have considered doing a 30 to 40 peso (.60 to .80 cent) publication in Tagalog and increasing the places our vendors can sell. It makes sense but we do not have the staff or the funding for it yet,” said Shaw.

“The Jeepney is published to give jobs. If vendors don’t sell, then we have had no viable alternative to generate funding,” said Shaw.

Visibility is certainly a problem for ‘The Jeepney’ staff. This is a problem that even INSP is trying to solve in European countries by stepping up its marketing and communication plans.

Says Aldam: “People don’t fully understand the concept and we still have to explain to them that this is about employment and offering a quality paper rather than a doleout.

Filipino journalist Em P Guevara was impressed by ‘The Jeepney’. “A street paper as well-made as ‘The Jeepney’ certainly has a place in a Third World country such as ours. It should not be treated as just another publication – it is an advocacy. It should be promoted through mainstream media,” she said.

Among the magazine’s biggest headaches is where vendors can safely and securely sell the paper, especially since the metropolitan authority has a drive to clear the city of illegal street vendors. “The properties in the Makati business district for example are controlled and policed by security men, so that all vendors are being pushed to the fringes,” Aldam said.

“Most of the poor have dealt with the aggressive stance taken by some in government and business that make being a street vendor a risky proposition. They want to sell the magazine; they want a place where they can be legal and safe,” Shaw explained.

One alternative is to offer the magazine door-to-door in residential areas. ‘The Jeepney Magazine’ has about 30 vendors spread all over Metro Manila.

Content-wise, Guevara wondered whether the magazine will be able to attract readers. “It is hard enough to get people buy publications for their entertainment or information, what more something like this, which tends to be, in these parts anyway, given away for free,” she asked.

But Shaw added that advertisers and companies are wont to support “positive, uplifting stories that speaks of success”.

For him too, ‘The Jeepney’s’ target audience includes readers that are socially conscious and care about key issues. They need to be able to “afford a cup of Starbucks and once a month to give it up, to give a job and buy the ‘Jeepney’ “.

Being a publication that is both “dignifying and celebratory” is definitely good news for Banaria and her fellow vendors. But, as Shaw said, it is a question of trust.

“It will take time for people to trust what we are doing. We need a track record and a history. I believe the care is there. In addition, we need to present the beauty of the country even in poverty,” Shaw pointed out. “No one really beautifies the poor. They are used, but not empowered.

(*This story was written for the Asia Media Forum coordinated by IPS-Asia Pacific)

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