L’itinérant, Sans-abri, Macadam, they are the equivalents of The Big Issue in the French capital. These street papers have different contents and ways of functioning, but all of them share the same mission: fighting poverty by helping their sellers earn a living and stay connected to society.
The temperature outside may be close to 0°C but Gregorio is there as usual, stationed in front of the local Casino supermarket in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. Rubbing his hands together, he waits for the passerby who will buy his street paper, L’Itinérant. “I have been doing this since 2009. Every week I go down to the head office in the Belleville area and buy the papers for 60 cents each. Then I sell them 2 Euros, so I earn 1,40 on every newspaper” Gregorio comes from Romania and being in his fifties, he has had a hard time finding a job in France. As people come and go in front of the supermarket, they often say hi to him, and sometime buy the paper, or offer him a coffee. With his salt and pepper hair and his thick mustache, Gregorio always seems jovial, in spite of his laborious task. “Selling the paper is a good thing for me as it gives me a regular income, but it is not enough to survive, I do other jobs on the side, in construction mainly. They allow me to pay my rent and my bills.”
An additional income
“Contrary to what people think, street papers are not usually sold by homeless people,” explains Gabriel Gaudillat, President of the Macadam Craftsmen association. In order to sell street papers, the seller needs to be living below the poverty line, which in France is set at 964 Euros a month, 60% of the median income. Today’s economic situation implies that more and more French people live under this threshold and need financial help. “Many people live below the poverty line, and even if they have a place of their own, they often need to make extra money on top of the benefits they get from the state.” Gabriel Gaudillat adds. Indeed, selling street papers is rarely the sole activity of their vendors. While Gregorio works from time to time on construction sites, Philippe, a long-time seller of Macadam, also sells gloves and jewelry at markets. “In December, I stopped selling Macadam for a month because I was working at a Christmas Market” he explains. For Gabriel Gaudillat, who sold Macadam himself when he was in a precarious situation in the 1990s, selling a street paper is a way for people to keep a professional activity even when society makes it hard for them to do so: “Many of our vendors are in their fifties and would have trouble finding a job through traditional networks,” he analyzes. This is the case of Roseline, who has come to the Macadam headquarters to buy her copies for the week. “I have a very small pension, that is why I need to sell Macadam,” she says. For most people, selling street newspapers is a temporary job they take until they find something that pays more. Manuel and Adrian are two young men from Romania, and for them, selling a street paper is an auxiliary income. Being young and not speaking French fluently, they are both struggling to find a job in Paris.
“Quality not charity”
Stéphanie Caron is the manager in charge of L’Itinérant. She insists that the goal of the organization is to make a real newspaper for people to sell: “L’itinérant is not a phony newspaper, it is made by professional journalists who are paid for their work.” The small company employs two freelance journalists to provide the content of the newspaper, which is published weekly. It also displays several pages of classified ads, a non-negligible source of income for the company. If Macadam has a different organization (it is an association and not a company), it is committed to making a quality paper too. « Quality not charity » is the motto for the Macadam journal’s creators, who, over the years, have modified the appearance of the newspaper in order to make it look more attractive for buyers. In their Parisian headquarters, located in a small courtyard near the Seine River, is a collection of the latest front pages of Macadam, which always depict a celebrity. Eric Cantona, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Justin Bieber, Prince William… The editorial policy is to have the largest possible target and to provide quality content through an attractive medium. This is why Macadam is printed in color and on quality white paper, unlike many other street papers. Inside this month’s issue, readers can find an interview of former footballer Christian Karembeu, an article about an expedition to Kilimanjaro, examples of successful aid projects, etc. Most importantly for its President, the newspaper is not a pamphlet: “the sellers already know about precariousness, as they are living it. The last thing we wanted was to make a newspaper complaining about poverty. Instead we try to talk about organizations really involving those who need help.” At Macadam, all the articles are also written by professional journalists, but they work for free.
Keeping connected to society
For Anne-Marie Thomazeau, a journalist who has written for Macadam in the past, street press is a more efficient way of fighting poverty than charity: “It really is a team work; everyone rolls up their sleeves and works together. It is gratifying for the volunteers as well as the sellers, and it brings people together. Through Macadam, I met people that I would never have encountered normally,” she says. Indeed, street papers do not simply sell paper, they often train their sellers, thus putting them in a professional environment. They also provide them with information about their rights and redirect them towards the relevant organizations, for health and housing for example. The sellers can also give their opinion or customer feedback on the newspapers, thus involving them intellectually in the creation process. Macadam even went further with its “first hours” programme launched in 2012. This initiative allowed people estranged from the workplace to be trained, and proved successful as half of the people involved have since signed a work contract, explains Sedera Ranaivoarinosy, in charge of Public Relations at Macadam. Moreover, street papers give their sellers a voice, often allowing them space in the newspaper, through creative writing workshops for instance. “selling Macadam is a way for unemployed people to stay in touch with society” Gabriel Gaudillat argues.
In France, street papers do not have as much success as in England, but their sellers are no less motivated, each with their own techniques. Philippe, who has had experience as a salesman in the past, has his own secret plan on how to sell more.
Philippe, in his Macadam-seller jacket
“I tend to change places all the time, but I prefer pedestrian streets and markets. Sometimes I give a very short 30 seconds speech to grab people’s attention, but sometimes I even speak in verses!” And it seems to be quite efficient as Philippe says on a good day he can sell up to 6 newspapers per hour. Different sellers have different techniques: Roseline stays in the 6th arrondissement of Paris where she has her regular customers: “I know everybody in my area, so when I’m not there everyone is asking after me!” she says with a laugh. For Gregorio, who has opted for the static strategy, regular customers are also important: “But I try to move every few month so that people do not get tired of seeing me.” Each with their own marketing technique, street papers sellers are out there, working long hours whatever the weather. In the words of Anne-Marie Thomazeau the strength of street press is that “beyond solidarity, it simply is economy.”