Literally Being Hope of Disadvantaged Groups in Norway

Can you
tell us about yourself and your background before you started working for the
magazine? What made you want to work for =Oslo?


I studied various subjects at the University of Oslo, but more importantly I
wrote for the student newspaper Samfunnsvitern’n. There I learned about
journalism in practice. I also wrote for a magazine called Flux, which
eventually grew into a publishing house (Flux forlag). I worked there part-time
as an editor when I noticed =Oslo in
2005. I immediately knew what it was, as I had seen The Big Issue on visits to London. I loved the idea and wanted to
participate, just writing for free. I never thought I would get paid. When I
got in touch with =Oslo the next
year, they had too much to do and I immediately got a job. Now I’m working
full-time at =Oslo and some freelance
for Flux. This magazine is much easier to sell than books! I have never
experienced drug abuse in my close surroundings, but I have always been
interested in the human psyche and been curious about the subject. I wrote a
little bit about drug addiction in my novel
«Inniverset» which was published in
2001.

How does working for
such an important project complement your journalism and life?

It is a lot more meaningful
than working for a newspaper, which I tried for one summer. Very few people say
no to an interview, even the king wanted to talk to us. I have much freedom to
do what I want, and my interests and values fits in to this project. I could
never work in a strictly hierarchical place, or write about meaningless things.
My work is an important part of my life. Therefore I don’t have to spend a lot
of energy or money seeking meaning elsewhere. 

As far as I know
your magazine is sold mainly by homeless individuals and drug addicts. Is
homelessness/ drug addiction a big issue in Norway?

Drug
addiction is a bigger issue than homelessness, but almost all homeless
Norwegians are drug addicts. Many institutions are trying to help them, but
there is often too much bureaucracy. Our vendors are street smart people who
tend to have different manners and skills from the people trying to help them.
They are required to fill out forms and do a lot of things that are difficult
for them, instead of doing what they are good at and developing from there.
Many have had a difficult childhood and are used to feeling hopeless. Some say
they feel even worse when they can’t benefit from the help they are getting. In
many cases, sleeping outside gives them more freedom and privacy than sleeping
in a shelter with lots of drugs, noise and theft. Norway has a big drug-problem
relative to the population, and we don’t seem to learn from our failed attempts
at helping. We just continue doing the same things that don’t work. Maybe
because these
«things» employ a lot of people
that would otherwise lose their job.

How do
you reach the people who sell the magazine, and what do you wish to accomplish
through =Oslo?

In the
beginning, a group of friends decided to start a magazine. They walked around
the city talking to beggars, asking them if they wanted to sell such a product
instead. They got a very positive response. On the first sales day,
drug-addicted people came running to the sales office. There has never been any
need to advertise for vendors; they spread the good news on the street. But we
have to take good care of them. =Oslo
has three social workers plus some volunteers in the sales office. The vendors
come there to pick up the magazine, which they buy for 25 kroner and sell for
50. They also socialize and drink coffee there. We have no bureaucracy, just
simple rules for behavior and cash payment. They show up when they want to
work, as long as our office is open. Our experience is that they like to work,
when their health allows for it. We want to raise their self-esteem and make
them more independent. We also want to make society less judgmental of them,
both through our journalism and through the social contact between vendors and
customers on the street.  


Who writes for you?
Do the homeless people also get involved in the writing process?

I am the only employed journalist in =Oslo,
besides the editor. We have also started magazines in other Norwegian cities.
The editor of =Østfold is writing for us as well, because 3/4 of the magazine
is the same. We have had many freelancers over the years, and many
contributions from our vendors. For the Christmas book, we make an effort to
involve the vendors as much as possible.

 Who usually buys =Oslo? How strong is young people’s awareness about your magazine?

Women seem to buy it more than
men. Almost every week a young person is blogging about us, so I think we have
reached them. The vendors would know much more about this than me. Some say
that men in suits rarely buy the magazine, but every vendor has a different
experience. Fortunately, we don’t need expensive market research to reach out.
Therefore we don’t know exactly who our customers are.


How many circulation does =Oslo have?

About 25 000 each month, and 60 000 for the Christmas book.

How is your magazine
financed?

We finance ourselves, through the sale. But over the years many have wanted to
support us with money, and we don’t turn them down. In the beginning we needed
money from the government to print the magazine, as none of our entrepreneurs
were wealthy. Three years ago we got the same tax deduction (momsfritak) as the
daily press, which helped us much more than anything else.

What kind of
Challenges and difficulties do you have?

I don’t have any difficulties, but our social workers face a lot of challenges
with the vendors. They have many health issues, both physical and
psychological. It was more difficult when we lacked professional people to
interact with them. The economy was a challenge in the first few years, but it
is much better now. In the beginning there was also more prejudice towards our
vendors.

In what ways can
people support =Oslo?


First and foremost by buying the magazine, and our other magazines in Norway
(=Østfold, =Drammen, =Vestfold and =Innlandet) and of course by being nice to
our vendors. We also appreciate our
«fans» on Facebook, and we tell
them if we need anything. Sometimes our vendors need warm socks, shoes, caps
and mittens in the winter. Other clothes are usually provided by kind persons
or firms.

FACTS About =Oslo

=Oslo (also known as Erlik Oslo) is the first street magazine of Norway. The
magazine, launched on 28 June 2005, is published monthly and aims to give a
voice, in their community, for socially and economically deprived people, drug
addicts and other disadvantaged groups. It is member of The International
Network of Street Papers (INSP), an organization of street papers all over the
world.

The publisher is
Stiftelsen Erlik, which also publishes street magazines =Fredrikstad, =Drammen
& Buskerud and =Vestfold.

The idea behind the
magazine is that the disadvantaged people sell the magazine, and half of the
retail price is retained by the sellers.

The magazine has
almost 1000 registered sellers, and 7 employees in distribution, editorial and
administration. At = Oslo, the Editor
is Anlov P. Mathiesen, culture editor is Kari Bu and photographer / creative
director is Dimitri Koutsomytis .

History

=Oslo was founded by Per Kristian Lomsdalen , Stian Olderkjær , Anlov P.
Mathiesen and Vibeke Omberg in 2005 modeled on similar magazines in other
countries, especially The Big Issue in the UK .

The business model
is based on a concept developed in the United States and England in the late
80’s. After = Oslo’s immediate
success, the street magazines started across the country. Today there are
similar magazines in most major cities: Megafon (Bergen), Virkelig (Tromsø),
Sorgenfri (Trondheim), Klar (Kristiansand), Asfalt (Rogaland) and Ekko (Bodø).

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