Best Grassroots Media Outlet

People, Politics, and Media

Not so long ago, Real Change was but a monthly paper sold by the homeless on street corners around Seattle. Customers saw it principally as a way to help some poor man or woman standing in front of the QFC or PCC by giving the vendor a dollar—and not reading the paper's contents.

"We were seen as a 'homeless paper,'" says Tim Harris, the paper's longtime executive director. Which is to say, customers figured the paper was about little more than the homeless and their plight.

That's changed in impressive fashion in recent months. The paper went to a weekly format, underwent a redesign, and hired two journalists part time. Now Real Change looks great and is filled with real news about what's going on in Seattle—news that other publications sometimes miss. Though it's not just a homeless paper anymore, its mission of promoting social justice and its advocacy for the homeless remains unchanged.

The change is good for readers, of course, but it's even better for the vendors, who now sell hundreds of copies a week (and keep 65 cents a copy), as opposed to the old days when they sold maybe a few hundred a month. Real Change now circulates 11,000 copies a week, which makes it tops in the nation among "street papers," as such papers are known.

The business side of Real Change has grown as well, and it now has a budget of $450,000 a year. About 40 percent of that comes from sales and advertising, says Harris, with the rest coming from donations and grants from the likes of the Allen Foundation and United Way.

Whatever Real Change is up to, people seem to like it. In a recent appeal to readers, the paper raised $60,000 in donations, which will enable it to stay weekly (originally, the move to weekly status was an experiment) and keep the new reporters on board.

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