Homeless people who sell The Big Issue magazine are to be equipped with smartphones so that they can act as news gatherers in their communities, the charity announced, according to Press Gazette. The vendors will be encouraged to blog and use social networking sites to upload images and videos. "Producing digital content will enable them to engage with a new and wider customer base, as well as equipping them with a number of key skills," the charity said.
John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, said that the magazine's vendors have a unique connection to their local area, thanks to their presence on the streets. "We want them to become the eyes and ears of their neighbourhoods, offering a unique perspective and simultaneously developing the skills which will get them off the streets," he said.
The Big Issue is a weekly magazine, published by The Big Issue Company, which vendors buy for £1 and sell for £2. This offers homeless and and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. There are over 2900 vendors around the UK, and over 670 000 people read the magazine every week, according to the charity.
The Big Issue's announcement said that the decision is in line with current policies in other media outlets, referring to the recent decision by the BBC to provide its journalists smartphones to help them work in the field.
The move can also be regarded as reflecting the growing trend of citizen journalism. Speaking to Journalism.co.uk at Media140 conference in Barcelona, Pat Kane, a writer and activist, called for charities, NGOs and art funds to take a more active role in supporting citizen journalism financially.
"I think journalism as being about shedding light on dark corners - - is something that is a ubiquitous possibility for people with the platforms and devices available," Kane said. "I do think there are some people who could pull their weight a wee bit more, in the wider society in terms of funding journalism."
Kane stressed that supporting investigative journalism is an excellent way to work for the benefit of society. "It's an appeal I would send out to the organisations that would sponsor the Tate Modern or that would be involved in the Big Society, I think they should be looking at these types of issues too."