Street paper on screen

In Massachusetts, USA, the country’s oldest street paper is turning to a new platform to attract younger audiences.

Airing online and on public access TV channel CCTV each Monday evening at 5.30pm, Spare Change News TV (SCN-TV) is hard-hitting and entertaining weekly TV show.

It reveals the behind-the-scenes story of the paper and prominently features vendors and staff from the paper, alongside well-known figures.

Sam Baltrusis, editor-in-chief of Spare Change, came up with the idea after the paper’s executive director, Vincent Flanagan, tasked him with finding “a way to reach out to Boston’s younger, collegiate demographic.”

Inspired by his background at MTV and VH1 in New York, Sam thought a public access TV show (recognisable to non-Americans from Wayne’s World) would be the right way forward.

“We are trying to gear the content towards a younger demographic and, because it’s a TV show, it’s very shareable on social media, which is also reaching out to that younger group,” says Sam.

Since the show started airing in February, Spare Change has seen the strategy begin to work.

The response on social media has been strong from the demographic they were aiming to reach, Sam says, “and I’m also seeing a lot of younger writers wanting to be involved with the paper, after seeing the show. My current intern got in touch after seeing the show and he’s doing a great job as a reporter with Spare Change.”

Meanwhile, on the street, Spare Change has seen an increase in sales, which the team link to the excitement generated by SCN-TV.

At CCTV, they have also been impressed by the show. Sean Effel, CCTV’s associate director of operations says: “Spare Change News is using CCTV’s community television resource as a true extension of its mission. They’ve done a masterful job of hosting reporters, vendors, and community members to bring your content out to a whole new audience – one that may not have been buying the paper on the street.”

In addition to bringing in new readers, the TV show has helped the team source stories for the paper – and has even recently inspired two students to launch their own project to help homeless people in the area.

Debbie Perez and Kati Moran, students with Boston University’s School of Public Health, contacted Sam after seeing SCN-TV to talk about bringing mobile showers to Boston.

If their project is successful it will provide a safe space for homeless people in the area to get washed.

“It’s like the Lava Mae model in San Francisco,” says Sam. “They’re still in the process of making it happen but the fact that they were able to talk about it so early on the show helped them to get funding from their school to do the initial research. So we’re kind of becoming a vehicle to allow groups to let people of importance know what they’re working on.”

Spare Change has now covered the students’ story in the paper.

“I don’t want the show to compete with the paper,” says Sam. “Like the students behind the mobile showers – they came in first to the show and then that became a story. So it’s working both ways – the paper generates content for the show, and the show generates content for the paper.”

In the future Sam aims to integrate stories from across the INSP network into his show.

“I’ve already reached out to Street Sense in Washington because they are doing something similar with Cinema from the Streets [their project that trains vendors to become filmmakers],” Sam adds. “We are talking about running some of their segments within our 30 minute show. I’d like to collaborate with other INSP papers to share video content. We’d love to show clips from around the world.”

For now, the Spare Change team hope that the TV show will help them with a more pressing issue. With Vincent Flanagan, soon to step down from his role they are using the TV station to help with the recruitment process by promoting the opening for a new executive director.

“Hopefully we’ll get someone really good,” says Sam.

Watch the latest Spare Change News TV show below.