Anyone who wanders around an Australian capital city will be familiar with The Big Issue and its often charismatic and exuberant street vendors. The Big Issue is a social enterprise which aims to help marginalised and disadvantaged people by ‘providing creative solutions to the issues of homelessness’. The Big Issue offers a variety of opportunities to disadvantaged members of the Australian community.
With a circulation of over 30,000, The Big Issue also offers numerous opportunities to the Australian writing community. They are always on the lookout for quality writers of both fiction and non-fiction and accept pieces which range from short fiction to investigative journalism, satire to human interest. Because of the The Big Issue’s indie status and clear social agenda they are able to publish pieces that might make other publications hesitate. So, if you have a piece with a social conscience, a satire or critique, or a compelling story with a human face, then The Big Issue might just help provide a home for your work.
Among the various sections of The Big Issue is ‘Streetsheet’, a section of the magazine dedicated to the vendors and designed ‘to offer a voice [to] people from the margins’. The editorial staff also encourage anyone who has experienced homelessness, long-term unemployment, disability, or displacement to share their stories in ‘Streetsheet’.
For full details on how to contribute to the magazine or how to get involved in other ways, visit the website.
Speakeasy recently caught up with The Big Issue editorial team. Check out what they had to say.
Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about how The Big Issue came about and what its general goals are?
The Big Issue (BI): Originally founded in London in 1991 and launched in Melbourne in June 1996, The Big Issue is a fortnightly independent current affairs magazine with a sense of humour, which is sold on the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, and parts of regional Australia.
Authorised vendors who sell the magazine are marginalised and disadvantaged people who have seized the opportunity to positively change their lives. Vendors purchase copies of The Big Issue for $3.00 and sell it on the streets for $6, keeping the difference.
Speakeasy: The Big Issue guidelines state that the magazine looks for stories focused on street culture. Since street culture is a fairly broad concept can you talk a little about what that may mean to the magazine?
BI: Our core content is usually about current affairs and weighty social issues, but we also look for stories about street culture and quirky or humorous topics. Our aim is to sell as many magazines as we can; we therefore look for stories with a wide appeal. Stories don’t necessarily need to be about the issues that concern the people we are trying to help.
Speakeasy: The Big Issue emphasises providing a ‘compelling human perspective’ and ‘putting a human face’ on all the issues covered; can you talk a little about the importance of this in relation to The Big Issue’s social and community mission?
BI: We strive to avoid quoting ‘experts’ and encourage people to tell their own stories, including our own vendors. It’s all about putting human faces to social issues.
Speakeasy: Can you talk a little about ‘Streetsheet’: who is eligible to contribute, and what kind of work you are looking for?
BI: Essentially, it is a page for vendors’ contributions. Very seldom do pieces by other people get included.
Speakeasy: The Big Issue contributor guidelines state that because you are an independent publication you are able to do stories other magazines and papers are not able to. Can you elaborate on what this means for the magazine and for contributors?
BI: We have no concerns about offending proprietors, or issues regarding conflicts of interests.
Speakeasy: The Big Issue is branded as a ‘social enterprise’ with a strong community engagement and a focus on social conscience and ethics; what are some of the ways that submissions reflect this ethos?
BI: Best bet is for aspiring contributors to read several editions of the magazine. That will give them the idea of the sort of things we publish. This is the key bit of advice to ALL contributors: know the magazine.
Speakeasy: What are some of the other ways people can get involved with the magazine? Are there any upcoming opportunities, developments, or events you might like to mention to our readers?
BI: For both: read the magazine and consult the website.
Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.