By Christina Sanoudou
At the offices of Greek street magazine Schedia (Life Raft) there is never a dull day. Vendors come in to receive their pay and take a quick break before heading back out to the streets of Athens. They chat among themselves, or even with their “bosses” – at this office there are no formalities or dividing lines. The newcomers are familiar with the process and receive the first free editions before their first outing.
Prospective sellers – the homeless, the long-term unemployed, and low-income earners – visit the Metaxourgeio offices to state their interest in becoming a Schedia vendor. The waiting list is very long, but luckily the magazine’s readership is expanding: The 3,500-4,000 copies of the original issue gradually increased to reach 13,000 of the fourth, and have hovered above the 10,000 mark during the – more difficult – summer season. The office telephone rings nonstop. As well as general inquiries, people are calling to ask for medical and legal help.
The first large-scale Greek street magazine Dromologia (Schedules), which was released from 1999 to 2004, had less of an impact. Schedia is issued by the nonprofit Diogenis, which since 2010 has provided support to people from vulnerable social groups. The organization also created the National Homeless Team.
Discussions about Schedia began in 2007, but according to the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Christos Alefantis, the project faced several obstacles. Though vital technological support was provided by the International Network of Street Papers, Alefantis and his team had another even bigger problem to tackle: Who would finance this project?
The Niarchos Foundation agreed to cover the magazine’s expenses until the end of 2013. Following this deadline, Schedia is to take control of its own finances.
“We want to be financially independent. If the magazine has reason to exist, we will be able to determine this after the first year,” Alefantis told Kathimerini.
Although the magazine is primarily a social venture and secondarily editorial, the editorial team looks forward to building a fixed circle of loyal readers.
“We wanted to create a good magazine. As an act of solidarity, you’ll buy it once, twice... but if it’s a legitimately good magazine, you’ll buy it to read it.”
Covering a variety of issues including politics, the arts and environmental concerns, the magazine places an emphasis on reporting about the city and its people. Its articles strive to offer solutions, rather than simply condemn the wrongs of Greek society.
“We are anxious – mainly because of the fact that people have understandably become suspicious – to prove our independence and uniqueness. Solidarity is neither a virtue nor a characteristic of the left and right parties. I believe that this pertains to us all,” said Alefantis.
Every day, around 70 of the 100 or so salesmen – who range in age from 20 to 60 years old and all of whom wear bright red vests and carry stacks of magazines – convene in designated areas of the capital. Many were introduced to the magazine through organizations like the Center for the Homeless, while others approached the editors on their own. Fifty percent of sales revenue, or 1.50 euros, equate net profit.
For those who routinely maintain their sales post, it is possible to earn a small, steady income that can even reach 400 euros per month. Aside from the financial benefits, Schedia offers the vendors the opportunity for a new start.
“The difference between Schedia and other comparable publications is that here, people are not passive receivers of charity; rather, they are asked to actively participate in the process, by doing something very hard – working on the streets,” said Alefantis.
A next step for Schedia would be the sellers’ involvement in the magazine’s publishing – something which has happened already, albeit up to a point: Some have published their personal stories, others have pitched stories, and some have even expressed an interest in attending journalism school. However, according to Alefantis, those who wish to write for the magazine must also have the necessary talent.
“Their writing must be very good, without compromises.”
Until then, the vendors are informed in detail about the ins and outs of each issue, so that “they will be fully aware of the magazine,” how it’s put together, its editors and the issues it covers.
Schedia is released on the last Wednesday of every month.