Contributor street newspaper faces financial crisis

Associated Press


A Nashville street newspaper that rose from a shoestring operation helping the homeless to the biggest-circulation publication of its kind in North America now finds itself seeking a helping hand in hard times. And the staff of The Contributor hopes readers will pitch in with donations to help the paper survive.

Fundraising hasn’t kept pace with growth at the paper, an institution of sorts in a city of landmarks such as the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame.

Now the street paper that has morphed from an all-volunteer effort to a nonprofit with a paid staff helping to turn out 110,000 papers a month says it has just enough money for one more press run.

“Final Issue?” reads the latest headline of The Contributor, which has aided hundreds of poor and homeless since its 2007 start.

Co-founders Tom Wills and Tasha French Lemley hope the thousands who buy the newspaper each month will heed their wake-up call and donate to the nonprofit that produces The Contributor — not just buy a paper off the street.

“Most of our supporters consider buying a paper a donation,” Wills said.

But actually, most of the $1 price of a copy goes to the vendors, the homeless or formerly homeless who hawk the paper around Nashville and beyond.

Vendors receive 15 free papers the first time they sell and after that, they buy the papers at 25 cents each.

The Contributor has a $1 cover price, but most people give vendors $2 and occasionally much more.

While those sales bring in about $300,000 a year to The Contributor and advertisements less than $20,000, the nonprofit needs about twice that amount to stay afloat, Wills said.

The paper is hoping to raise $375,000 in donations to break even for the year and put some money aside in a rainy-day fund.

The paper has changed rapidly since its inception, going from an all-volunteer structure to a paid staff.

It also has the largest vendor force of any street paper in North America, with between 300 and 400 people selling each issue.

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