[Editor’s Note]: In the aftermath of Spare Change’s 18th Anniversary Gala, I’ve been reflecting upon the history of our publication, the street newspaper industry generally, and the future of both. What started as pondering the role of Spare Change in the Greater Boston community ended with extrapolation to consideration of the paper’s role in the national street newspaper scene. I sought the expertise of Andy Freeze, Executive Director of the North American Street Newspaper Association, to satisfy my curiosity.
David: Could you outline any trends you have noticed in the street newspaper movement, either since its beginning or since you have become involved? How do these trends relate to larger societal phenomena?
Andy: The trend I have seen is that interest in street papers continues to grow. People are really interested in helping their neighbors/brothers/sisters and people are looking at street papers as a way to help. From my view of the street paper movement in North America, those papers who produce consistent quality journalism around community topics and work day in and day out to improve the lives of their vendors have the most successful organizations and circulation continues to grow. People are interested in quality journalism around issues of homelessness and poverty; there is a place in each community for a street paper.
D: Why are street papers still relevant in a world of electronic media communication? Aside from the opportunity for empowerment that these organizations provide, why is the street newspaper product viable and competitive?
A: Street papers are still relevant because people care. People care enough about their unhoused neighbors to support those working to improve their lives. Plus there is some really great quality journalism coming out of street papers across North America. Just as people still go to Starbucks to get their coffee even though they could make it home, people are interested in human interaction and the idea that you can educate yourself about an issue and take action at the same time (supporting the vendor you bought the paper from) is a great selling point.
D: What do you see for the future of the street newspaper movement, especially in relation to changes surrounding homelessness policy (e.g., Housing First)?
A: The future for street newspapers is bright. Each day people contact me about starting a street newspaper in their community. The more people that interact with our vendors and area able to put a face on homelessness, the more advocates we have and the more public will we have to create the affordable housing and other programs that we know work.