The Homeless Talk newspaper featured a scantily clad ‘Homeless Babe’ in a seductive pose on its front page in November. Fienie Grobler asked its managing editor why — and learnt that the Page One girl is more than just a pretty face.
The “babe” on the street newspaper’s front page is wearing a black miniskirt and holding a black umbrella, sitting astride on what appears to be a wooden block.
She has shoulder-length hair and is staring straight at the reader. This is the picture that upset some Twitter users this week, drawing comments like: “Sooo wrong!”, “That is just so wrong on so many levels”, and “No words!”.
But Cindy Tshabalala, who is in charge of the Homeless Talk‘s design and distribution, said careful thinking went into the decision to feature a ‘Homeless Babe’ on the newspaper’s front page for the first time since its inception in 1994.
“The editorial team thought it would attract readers,” said Tshabalala.
She said most people seemed to buy the newspaper out of charity, without ever reading its contents.
“We are trying to get people to read the paper,” she told TheMediaOnline. Although she did not have any numbers of sales for this month yet, Tshabalala said they were receiving positive feedback.
“More people bought the paper… I know it is selling better than normal.”
Asked how the ‘Homeless Babe’ for November was recruited, Tshabalala replied that it was one of their own journalists, Musawenkosi Kumalo, who posed for the picture.
The picture also promoted her new column, which would start running in the newspaper from December, said Tshabalala.
“She is going to have a column about women, lifestyle… issues about women,” she said, adding that no decision had been made yet on whether another ‘Homeless Babe’ would be featured in December.
The Homeless Talk‘s circulation figure is between 8 000 and 10 000 per month.
Trudy Vlok, who is treasurer of the International Network of Street Papers, a global network working in support of the street paper movement, said she did not approve of the ‘Homeless Babe’ concept.
“I have seen the Homeless Talk front cover in question and I personally believe that it was extremely misguided and poorly considered,” said Vlok.
“That said, I don’t believe that there was any negative motivation on the part of Homeless Talk,” she added.
According to the Central Johannesburg Partnership’s website, the Homeless Talk provides employment and accommodation for about 400 homeless people.
It sells for R7 a copy.
Fienie Grobler is deputy news editor at the South African Press Association (Sapa).