Herd Media

It is more than a paper

A $2 newspaper assists in the transformation of someone’s life positively forever. The Contributor is a street newspaper located here in Nashville. It is designed to aid those experiencing homelessness by providing a continuous income stream, confidence, dignity, and a clear path toward finding a home. The paper functions as a bridge between the vendors and its consumers.

The Contributor Newspaper has been around since 2007. It began as a simple street paper, not for seeing the immense success, growth, and impact that it would generate. With over 70 percent of vendors able to obtain housing after just six months, The Contributor has made a considerable difference in the lives of many, and it is not going unnoticed. Tennessee Labor and Workforce Development reached out to The Contributor and expressed appreciation for the paper’s success. They explained that The Contributor was filling a gap in the employment spectrum that no one else was doing.

People experiencing homelessness here in Nashville have the opportunity to become a vendor. They go through proper training and receive gear, support, and incentives that encourage them to continue to grow their own micro business. In the last 9 years, vendors have earned over $15,000,000, and it has rapidly grown into the globe’s most successful street newspaper.

The paper prints bi-weekly and contains publications on various topics such as social justice, homelessness, and vendor spotlights. Cathy Jennings, the current Director of The Contributor, explained that the paper is “empowering people to make an immediate income and become their own boss for their micro business. They are encouraged and paid cash to write for the newspaper. This fosters their autonomy and strengthens their sense of accomplishment.

The Contributor team works to find vendors’ housing along with helping them obtain proper identification such as birth certificates, government ids, and social security cards. The Contributor is working toward being a one-stop shop for vendors. This is to avoid vendors falling through the cracks and having to go through multiple organizations to find housing.

Why a paper? Jennings explains that the paper connects vendors to Nashville. It brings people together by establishing a human connection, empathy, and change. Jennings said, “the newspaper is a vehicle for change in the community.” Vendors can connect with those buying the papers and thereby knock down the barriers that lie between them. Instead of prejudging, assuming, and stigmatizing, the paper connects the seller to the buyer. Forcing those to engage in conversations that establish common ground and empathy. Jennings says, “If we can see those stories as a community, we can better intercept people before they become homeless, and that’s the miracle of The Contributor.

Before Jennings was the Director, she was a volunteer. Being an active volunteer at The Contributor, she quickly realized that it is incredibly rigorous for people to break through the cycle of poverty and oppression. Jennings said, “There is no way anyone who is experiencing homelessness can do this alone.” She has seen what The Contributor has done for the community and its vendors. The Contributor is more than a paper. It is a family, a support system, a community, a meeting place, and a shepherd for those experiencing homelessness.