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The Big Issue [Media Studies, A Level, WJEC] Cheat Sheet by

The Big Issue is a set text for Media Studies A Level under the WJEC Exam Board.

Set Front Cover



The Big Issue LTD is an indepe­ndent magazine company and is not part of larger conglo­merate. They partner with Dennis Publishing to print the magazine. The magazine operates on a Not-Fo­r-P­rofit basis, using any excess revenue to support homeless people.
The magazine isn't sold through conven­tional means like shops, as you see most magazines do, but sold through vendors which are often homeless people or people living in poverty. Street vendors purchase copies of The Big Issue for £1.50 each and sell them on for £3 each. The street vendors are free to use that money to support themse­lves- the goal is to give homeless people a legal way of making money.

When setting up the magazine they needed to secure external funding and secured a front from The Body Shop- Gordon Roddick (one of the founders of The Big Issue) was married to Anita Roddick, who is the founder of The Body Shop. Handily, The Body Shop granted them £50,000 to start the magazine until it became a self-s­ust­ained module.

After the success of The Big Issue, they wanted to do more and more to help people in need, so they have divers­ified into other areas. In 1995, they divers­ified into more direct support with The Big Issue Founda­tion- providing homeless people with training, workshops, inform­ation on how to get support with various issues such as mental health, domestic abuse, housing.

In 2005, they divers­ified further by setting up The Big Issue Invest, which is a financial fund available for charities and small busine­sses, indivi­duals with ideas for businesses that perhaps have been turned away from other investors due to impove­rished backgr­ounds. TBII are able to provide funds to people with business plans.

In 2016 they divers­ified into retail with their own online shop, including a range of synergetic mercha­ndise. All of that money goes back to helping the needy.

So the Big Issue is an example of a product and company that is NOT all about profit and power, but instead giving back to the community, making it very different to most magazines in the market. Many brands with similar ABC1 audiences choose to place adverts in the print magazine and on the website and this increases the revenue for The Big Issue- they reserve a lot of space for adverts about charities and other community projects but do sometimes go into the more expensive areas for that ABC1 audience.

The producers collab­orate with celebr­ities for cover photos, interviews and even invite some to be guest editors for an issue. This draws in pre-sold fans of those celebs. This includes David Bowie, Robert Downey Jr.
Sometimes they even have collective editions, they work with celebs to create special editions of the magazine which makes it feel more exclusive. This encourages readers to buy multiple copies to try and collect them.

The Big Issue worked so well as a Not-Fo­r-P­rofit magazine in the UK that many intern­ational versions were created- Japan, Australian and Ireland are just a fraction of where they branched out.
So despite remaining an indepe­ndent niche magazine, it has become a globally recognised brand.

In general the magazine industry has suffered due to the decline in people buying print magazines, choosing instead to get inform­ation and entert­ainment online instead. They have moved into digital distri­bution, working with Zinio (a massive company that distri­butes thousands of magazines online). Zinio allows customers to purchase one digital copy of a magazine or subscribe to 12 months upfront. The option to "­try­" one edition of the magazine gives audiences a taste of the magazine without a long-term commit­ment.

Digital distri­bution also helps to target audiences who are online regularly, those who don't have a vendor locally, and those who are avoiding paper copies for enviro­nmental reasons. It also helps them to reach a global audience as Zinio distri­butes to over 174 countries.

The revenue from digital sales is used to support vendors.
At the height of their success in the early 2000s, their vendors were selling 300,000 a week- however, the magazine industry has suffered massively as more and more people are choosing online content instead of print content. As of 2011, they were "­onl­y" selling 125,000 copies a week and so they decided to redesign and relaunch The Big Issue in an attempt to boost sales. The magazine started to feature a lot more content about political and social reform. They also featured more celebr­ities including as regular column­ists.
The rebranded magazine had a slightly higher cover price in an attempt to help vendors make similar money from potent­ially reduced sales. In a world where other magazines' sales continued to plummet, the sales of The Big Issue did eventually pick back up.


The set page of The Big Issue clearly represent values and ideologies of magazine and publis­hers.
Their pages represent homeless people in a positive and sympat­hetic light because supporting the homeless is their main goal as a magazine.

- Homele­ssness -

The letters page features various letters. One titled "­cel­ebr­ating vendor­s" refers to homeless vendors of the magazine as "­ins­pir­ati­ona­l" and "­fri­end­ly". The use of personal stories and first-­person perspe­ctives helps readers to understand and sympat­hetic with homeless vendors. This page represents a typically underr­epr­esented social group.

The reference to the weather creates a repres­ent­ation of homeless people as being brave and strong. The repres­ent­ations aren't all positive though, they do include some more gritty details of homeless culture, like being included in drugs, alcohol, and even violence. This creates a seemingly realistic repres­ent­ation of homeless life for vendors and doesn't attempt to make the vendors seem perfect.
The repres­ent­ations of homele­ssness are not idealised.

Left-wing ideologies are clearly repres­ented on the pages, as they talk negatively about Margaret Thatcher, talk about the conser­vatives closing down libraries, the history of terrible unempl­oyment due to their laws and legisl­ation- it's clear that the magazine paints a reasonably negative picture of the Conser­vative govern­ment.
They talk about how the conser­vatives were planning to hold a memorial for Margaret Thatcher, the suggestion in the letters is that the funding for the memorial should be used to build libraries, clearly demons­trating an anti-T­hat­cher, and therefore anti-c­ons­erv­ative ideology. They also speak about Trump and negatively represent, which makes sense as Trump is the US version of Thatcher - ties into the magazine's left-wing ideolo­gies.

- Gender -

Looking specif­ically at the Sky Westworld advert, it represents men as powerful, successful and important, etc. This is a reasonably stereo­typical way of repres­enting men in the media.

There's an article called "­so... why don't the homeless just go home?", and they interview a variety of heads of different organi­sat­ions- every single person is male, which suggests that men are these ones that get the top jobs in the companies- the lack of inclusion of female bosses in the interview might reflect the context that women are less likely to be hired for managerial jobs. It continues to represent men in positions of power and status.

The A-Team advert for Blu-ray DVD is also male-d­omi­nated, and constructs a macho repres­ent­ation of men. All of the artwork is by male artists- all set pages are dominated by men. This could be because the writers of the big issue are primarily male, but may also reflect the fact that men are more likely to be made homeless than women, so their focus might be on creating more positive role models for men.

"We made history, didn't we?" spread looks at the two male founders of The Big Issue, also both male, from a low-angle perspe­ctive that makes them look more powerful. They use aggressive adjectives like "­har­d-n­ose­d" and "­tou­gh"- the use of masculine and powerful adjectives creates a macho image of the founders- obviously the magazine is going to create strong repres­ent­ations of its own founders.
**It adds to this stereotype that men aren't emotional people and are mentally tough, "no nonsen­se".
Multiple images of men in positions of power (e.g. the feature of film heroes and villains - Captain America & Termin­ator)**

There are other repres­ent­ations of men in positions of respect, such as The Dalai Lama with a halo past his head, suggesting something to be worshi­pped. John Lydon and Sir Alex Ferguson being referred to as "­Leg­end­s" and Paul Weller "The Modfat­her­" (play on Godfat­her), Andy Murray as "­Cha­mpi­on", Danial Radcliffe as "­Sta­r". The article creates the idea of these men being ultimate role models and the top in their field.

Joanna Lumley and Vicky McClure are just referred to as an "­Act­res­s", not "­Leg­end­" or "­Cha­mpi­on" or "­Sta­r" like the men repres­ented. It seems that women in this article are not described in such an idealised and revered way.

Whilst David Bowie was of course rich, successful and powerful, he also challenged tradit­ional ideas about mascul­inity in many ways. He was, alongside is music, known for his androg­ynous looks and for wearing makeup and not being afraid to experiment with clothes, costume, shoes, makeup, etc. He's very much someone who didn't care about gender norms, so there are some moments in The Big Issue, by featuring Bowie, that challenge gender stereo­types. This is further reinforced by featuring Grayson Perry, who like Bowie, wasn't afraid of defying gender norms. The repres­ent­ation of Grayson Perry is counter typical as it shows a man comfor­table with expressing his more feminine and creative side by wearing dresses and makeup. He talks about his experience and uses terms to express his sexuality such as "­tra­nsv­est­ite­", so this adds a more modern and diverse repres­ent­ation of mascul­inity that is often not seen in mainstream media products. However, he does talk about "­still watching war films" and expressing a wanting "to be a jet pilot" at 16, with a plan to join the army, so some aspects of him are presented in a more tradit­ionally masculine way. This makes the repres­ent­ation of mascul­inity quite complex and not one-di­men­sional.

There are some repres­ent­ations of women that challenge gender stereo­types, such as women in positions of leader­ship, especially in the political sphere, like Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. Some articles represent women as educated and respected in their fields, providing a counte­rtype to many mainstream repres­ent­ations of women. Repres­ent­ations of women being quite strong and powered, counter typical of what you'd see normally.

The woman on the Turn2Us charity advert stating "­money was tight when my husband became terminally ill" suggesting women can't cope financ­ially once their husband has passed away, a very stereo­typical repres­ent­ation of women relying on men financ­ially.
As an "­alt­ern­ati­ve" magazine it makes sense that they do include some articles that challenge tradit­ional stereo­types of gender, sexuality, etc.

Typical readers of The Big Issue are more likely to be left wing, have liberal, altern­ative points of view, so it makes sense for the magazine to include these repres­ent­ations on their pages.


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