Street papers onstage with game changers of the magazine industry at Magfest 2019

At Magfest, the central event of last week’s Edinburgh International Magazine Festival, major voices from the street paper network appeared onstage alongside individuals from some of the most innovative publications in the magazine industry.

Nikoleta Kosovac, co-founder and program coordinator of Serbian street paper Liceulice, spoke on a panel, chaired by Big Issue editor Paul McNamee, about how magazines in different forms can shape society and shift perceptions, with a social mission at their heart.

Kosovac was joined by three other individuals whose publications see themselves as more than just sources of entertainment for readers and vehicles for journalism: Prashant Rao, global editor of The Atlantic; Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, head of editorial at gal-dem, and Sonny Dhamu, art director of Inside Housing.

Magfest, which brings together the leading lights and rising stars of magazines and publishing from the UK and beyond, is an annual conference which, this year, for the first time, was fleshed out into a week-long celebration of print media and all its branches, with a series of events comprising the festival held in the Scottish capital.

INSP was invited as a representative of the street paper network to showcase the journalism and design work of street papers, as well as the unique social good carried out by its members. Kosovac, an INSP board member, spoke about how street papers use words and images to lift up unheard voices.

“In our magazine, we give space to people who don’t have space in other media,” she said. “In Serbia, you can’t find the word ‘homelessness’ in any law or official document, so we have a hard job making the public care about this issue. But just because there isn’t a word for it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. So it’s about putting new perspectives and topics in front of our audience. We are trying to present our own ‘heroes of the street’.”

Each of the individuals on the panel, or their organisations, are doing something to stand out within the magazine industry, in different ways, to make the world a better place.

As an integral figure in American magazine The Atlantic’s global coverage, Rao is giving readers across the actual Atlantic valuable insight on issues like Brexit, the rise of populism and China’s influence on the world. As the impetus in changing Inside Housing’s design and layout when covering the Grenfell tower fire, and other cladding and housing safety dangers, Dhamu was integral in turning the magazine from a run-of-the-mill business-to-business publication, to one with heart and a spirit for campaigning for what’s right within the industry it speaks to.

(L-R): Nikoleta Kosovac (Co-founder and program coordinator, Lieulice); Prashant Rao (Global editor, The Atlantic); Sonny Dhamu (Art director, Inside Housing); Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (Head of editorial, gal-dem); Paul McNamee (Editor, The Big Issue). [Credit: PPA Scotland / Lewis Houghton]

Brinkhurst-Cuff is part of an inspiring group of women and non-binary people of colour at magazine gal-dem, trying to change the face of the very old, very white, very male industry they are a part of. Asked if gal-dem’s approach to giving a platform to minorities within the journalism landscape has already worked, Brinkhurst-Cuff pointed to her team’s takeover of The Guardian Weekend last August, saying: “We have made journalists at media organisations far more conscious of the biases at play in their coverage and their hiring.”

Asked if street papers have contributed to change, Kosovac replied: “I want to believe that we have already made big changes in the ten years that [Liceulice] has been around. We are influential – we are one of the only independent magazines in our region. We have raised awareness of homelessness, of people with disabilities, and, most importantly, shown that they are present and visible, and want to and can work. As we always say, by buying Liceulice, you are helping others, and by reading it you are helping yourself.”

The conversation turned to the changing media landscape, and how emphasis changing from print to digital has made making a difference even more difficult.

“We need to think more about a magazine way of thinking, not what a magazine actually is, because obviously that is changing,” said Rao. “The news continuum us warped. We need to bring access, depth and nuance to stories.”

Credit: PPA Scotland / Lewis Houghton

This is especially challenging, as McNamee points out, for street papers, who rely on physical interaction as part of their model.

“We are more than just commercial entertainment,” said Kosovac. “We are necessary for the proper functioning of democracy. We are trying to educate the populous and be stewards of something bigger.”

Placed centrally within the conference itself, and as the crux of its ‘Game Changers’ theme, street papers having a voice at such a large scale and influential event is vital to getting the word of their work spread far and wide.