Dear Friend of Spare Change News,
For the past 24 years, Spare Change News has produced a twice-a-month social justice newspaper sold by vendors seeking to raise themselves out of poverty. Twice a month, Spare Change News vendors crowd into the basement of Old Cambridge Baptist Church and pick up copies of the latest edition. Old and new faces enjoy a sense of community even as they discuss the often harsh realities of selling papers to a public that increasingly travels cash free or prefers to read media online. Sales are harder to make when your customers are mesmerized by smart phones. It’s a changing world.
Yet, a stubborn optimism fills the room when James Shearer, the last remaining co-founder of Spare Change News speaks. Newly strong after taking time to improve his health and housing situation, Shearer was re-elected to the position of board president during the September meeting of the Homeless Empowerment Project Board of of Trustees.
James explains, “Accepting the call to serve in a leadership position is something I do gladly. Spare Change News is reworking its business model to keep up with the reality that media has moved online, and I am here to make sure we continue to honor the original mission of building a bridge between the haves and the have nots. “
Alongside fellow vendor representatives Beatrice Bell, Marc Goldfinger and Michael Thistle, Shearer is determined to make Spare Change News’ 25 year its most important year to date. “People don’t understand that it’s very easy to become homeless in Boston right now because housing is so unaffordable,” explains Michael Thistle, vendor representative.
Spare Change News understands that print newspapers don’t have a monopoly on the news anymore. Social media, television and blogged content compete for public attention in a media landscape driven by the hunt for clickbait. We gratefully acknowledge that Spare Change News has survived because of loyal readers like you. Vendors speak with pride about customers who have become friends over the years.
In 2016, Spare Change News has been actively reckoning with necessary growing pains. We have come to understand that the 1992 model of selling a print newspaper must be re-calibrated to reflect the realities of journalism in 2016. News has moved online, and we also have a website, which we’re proud to publish so that our stories can be accessed online even as vendors need to have a physical product to sell in order to continue making a living.
Important changes have been made after a year spent seeking to implement practical steps to begin updating our business model.
#1- Vendors are recognized as the heart and soul of Spare Change News, and they were badly in need of a pay raise. In September 2016, the board voted to give the vendors a raise by increasing the cover price of the paper from $1 to $2 with the goal of more than doubling the profit made from each sale.
#2- A new computer lab was opened this summer to provide vendors with easy access to the digital world. Having the ability to utilize email and word-processing software and to facilitate side-by-side work with writing mentors on these new computers helps Spare Change News bring more vendor stories to life.
#3- We are seeking to develop our board of trustees by increasing the millennial voice to help Spare Change News navigate marketplace changes. We proudly welcome David Riche and J. Patrick Brown as the first millennial members to the Board of Trustees and appreciate their insights about growing an online audience by consistently providing strong investigative content alongside the often profound first-person stories told by our vendors.
#4- To grow our circulation, we have begun new partnerships with academic institutions and faith-based communities. We recognize that students learn best about what it means to be homeless by hearing firsthand stories that awaken their empathy. We welcome “ambassadors” who will connect us with their schools and churches so we can spread the vision of Spare Change News into a statewide organization that provides a platform for voices long silenced.
#5- We have just launched a second website that we are continuing to build: SpareChangeNewsVendorStories.com. The goal is to facilitate relationship building between readers and our vendors who work as independent contractors seeking a hand up, not a hand out.
We invite you to give generously this year. To survive a second 25 years, we cannot simply coast on the goodwill of the past and hope for the best. To bring these goals to fruition, we must invest in them by actively reaching out to communities in the Greater Boston area that want to support an alternative newspaper dedicated to social justice topics. We need funding to make outreach possible.
Thank you for all you have done for us already. Please continue to partner with us to build an even stronger bridge between the haves and have nots. With your help, Spare Change News aims to grow into a leading voice for social justice statewide with the goal of improving the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.
James Shearer, President and Katherine Bennett, Executive Director