The Megaphone Model

Megaphone founder Sean Condon.

A look at Vancouver’s street magazine in the Downtown Eastside

By Tierney Grattan

For over a decade, Megaphone magazine has been occupying a space that once felt unsafe for many marginalized communities: the old police station on Main Street in the Downtown Eastside.

Since 2006, it has been a place for these people to feel empowered, with Megaphone just one of several non-profits sharing office space in the community hub.

“There were a lot of our vendors who didn’t even want to come into the space because of all the bad things that happened in the police station,” says Paula Carlson, Megaphone’s managing editor. “We had Aboriginal elders come in and bless the space.”

Megaphone—a magazine focused on stories of social justice, culture, politics and independent arts—was relaunched, in its current form, by Sean Condon in 2005.

At the time, Condon was working as a freelance journalist and noticed, through his reporting, that homelessness numbers were rising rapidly. “I found it increasingly difficult,” says Condon, about reporting on the issue, “because the problem just seemed to be getting worse.”

Condon learned about a street paper that had been operating in Vancouver since the 1990s, but which was struggling financially Condon—who served as executive director of Megaphone from 2006 to 2016—put together a group of journalists to help make it succeed.

Today, the magazine is run entirely by volunteers, with its purpose being to create economic opportunities for those who can’t find it elsewhere. Each month the volunteers put together Megaphone’s stories, publish the magazine, then contract homeless and low-income vendors to sell it on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria.

The vendors—each of whom go through an hour-long training session on how to be a vendor—buy copies of the magazine for 75 cents and sell it for $2, keeping proceeds from every sale.

As the magazine has grown, the editorial team has evolved to include not just trained journalists, like Condon and Carlson, but also community members.

Megaphone has teamed up with the Portland Hotel Society to create a writing workshop for people who were going through treatment with the society. The work-shop provides opportunities for community members to express themselves and gives them a sense of ownership over the magazine.

Carlson notes that a lot of “parachute journalism” happens in the Downtown Eastside—with journalists coming in, getting quotes, snapping photos and leaving. It has made community members resistant to talk—which is part of why a magazine like Megaphone exists, she says: “We need to starting thinking about whose story this is and actually listen.”

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