Print makes a comeback, but not in the way you think

“We’ll see more community zines being produced as an effective way to make news more accessible, amplify diverse voices, and help us collaborate with communities to make news — together.”

A couple months ago, I received the first box of the community zines that journalism students at the University of Southern California created in collaboration with hyperlocal news outlet L.A. Taco. It had been so long since I had smelled the scent of fresh paper from a printer. The excitement spread beyond that moment to the surrounding community in Los Angeles, when L.A. Taco members started to receive their copies in the mail.

For me, print was back. And I loved every moment. I started my career in journalism as a print reporter and designer, and remember physically sending the newspaper to the printer as a student and the fresh smell of newsprint when our publications were delivered. So much of what we do has gone digital — websites, social media, apps. When I proposed a new magazine production class at USC Annenberg, I wasn’t sure what the enrollment would be like. The class filled quickly and student after student contacted me wanting to enroll. Print was back, but not in the way you think.

We wouldn’t be creating an expensive glossy, four-color magazine. We were going to create more gritty community zines. Inspired by a series of zines produced by the Los Angeles Times, my magazine production students worked with stories produced in classes taught by USC professors Laura Castaneda (magazine writing) and Heather John Fogarty (food journalism) to design two zines. Stories featured street vendors, local markets, the best chilaquiles in Los Angeles, dipping ramen, local food banks, the San Pedro Fish Market and so much more. Students also created interactive designs featuring crossword puzzles, cutout stickers, and mazes.

Our project wasn’t just about print. It was about making something together. As part of the collaborative community zine project funded by the Online News Association and with the support of L.A. Taco and editor Javier Cabral, we had community engagement events on L.A. Taco’s Facebook Live page. We asked the community to participate and send in content. We streamed live events on Facebook that featured interviews with street vendors, cooking demonstrations, and community-submitted content. The digital content was integrated into our print zines with QR codes.

Print and digital worlds collided in the most beautiful way. Students learned how to create a magazine, work in community engagement, produce social media content, run a live show, plan community events, create callouts for content, empower diverse communities, and so much more. This is what modern journalism is all about.

The result was two community zines, called Taco Life Volume 1 and Taco Life Volume 2. In Los Angeles, I saw other community zine projects being created this fall by journalists as ours were being distributed. Samanta Helou-Hernandez collaborated with a team to produce a community zine honoring people in Virgil Village who’ve died of Covid-19. Lexis Olivier-Ray produced a community zine featuring photographs documenting MacArthur Park.

For decades, zines have been an important part of communities. From exploring science fiction and other niche genres, to expression in the areas of arts, culture, politics, activism and more, zines have been a way that communities take ownership of their own stories in both how they are told and how they are visually presented and distributed. Zines have created journalism that is accessible, serves diverse communities, creative, collaborative and experimental. They can also drive membership and contribute to sustainability in newsrooms. (Hint: Buy the L.A. Taco zines here.)

In 2022, print is back and we’ll see more community zines being produced as an effective way to make news more accessible, amplify diverse voices, and help us collaborate with communities to make news — together.

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

A couple months ago, I received the first box of the community zines that journalism students at the University of Southern California created in collaboration with hyperlocal news outlet L.A. Taco. It had been so long since I had smelled the scent of fresh paper from a printer. The excitement spread beyond that moment to the surrounding community in Los Angeles, when L.A. Taco members started to receive their copies in the mail.

For me, print was back. And I loved every moment. I started my career in journalism as a print reporter and designer, and remember physically sending the newspaper to the printer as a student and the fresh smell of newsprint when our publications were delivered. So much of what we do has gone digital — websites, social media, apps. When I proposed a new magazine production class at USC Annenberg, I wasn’t sure what the enrollment would be like. The class filled quickly and student after student contacted me wanting to enroll. Print was back, but not in the way you think.

We wouldn’t be creating an expensive glossy, four-color magazine. We were going to create more gritty community zines. Inspired by a series of zines produced by the Los Angeles Times, my magazine production students worked with stories produced in classes taught by USC professors Laura Castaneda (magazine writing) and Heather John Fogarty (food journalism) to design two zines. Stories featured street vendors, local markets, the best chilaquiles in Los Angeles, dipping ramen, local food banks, the San Pedro Fish Market and so much more. Students also created interactive designs featuring crossword puzzles, cutout stickers, and mazes.

Our project wasn’t just about print. It was about making something together. As part of the collaborative community zine project funded by the Online News Association and with the support of L.A. Taco and editor Javier Cabral, we had community engagement events on L.A. Taco’s Facebook Live page. We asked the community to participate and send in content. We streamed live events on Facebook that featured interviews with street vendors, cooking demonstrations, and community-submitted content. The digital content was integrated into our print zines with QR codes.

Print and digital worlds collided in the most beautiful way. Students learned how to create a magazine, work in community engagement, produce social media content, run a live show, plan community events, create callouts for content, empower diverse communities, and so much more. This is what modern journalism is all about.

The result was two community zines, called Taco Life Volume 1 and Taco Life Volume 2. In Los Angeles, I saw other community zine projects being created this fall by journalists as ours were being distributed. Samanta Helou-Hernandez collaborated with a team to produce a community zine honoring people in Virgil Village who’ve died of Covid-19. Lexis Olivier-Ray produced a community zine featuring photographs documenting MacArthur Park.

For decades, zines have been an important part of communities. From exploring science fiction and other niche genres, to expression in the areas of arts, culture, politics, activism and more, zines have been a way that communities take ownership of their own stories in both how they are told and how they are visually presented and distributed. Zines have created journalism that is accessible, serves diverse communities, creative, collaborative and experimental. They can also drive membership and contribute to sustainability in newsrooms. (Hint: Buy the L.A. Taco zines here.)

In 2022, print is back and we’ll see more community zines being produced as an effective way to make news more accessible, amplify diverse voices, and help us collaborate with communities to make news — together.

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

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