Print is making a comeback, but not like you think ”Nieman Journalism Lab


A few months ago, I received the first box of community zines created by journalism students at the University of Southern California in collaboration with hyperlocal media LA Taco. It had been so long since I had smelled the smell of fresh printer paper. The excitement spread beyond that moment to the surrounding Los Angeles community, when LA Taco members began receiving their copies in the mail.

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

We wouldn’t be creating an expensive four-color glossy magazine. We were going to create more grainy 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. The stories featured street vendors, local markets, the best chilaquiles in Los Angeles, soggy ramen, local food banks, the San Pedro Fish Market, and more. Students also created interactive designs featuring crossword, die-cut stickers and mazes.

Our project was not just about printing. It was about doing something together. As part of the collaborative community zine project funded by the Online News Association and with support from LA Taco and the publisher Javier Cabral, we’ve hosted community engagement events on LA Taco’s Facebook Live page. We demand the community to participate and send content. We broadcast live events on Facebook that featured interviews with street vendors, cooking demonstrations, and community submitted content. Digital content has been integrated into our zines printed with QR codes.

The print and digital worlds have collided in the most beautiful way. Students learned how to create a magazine, work in community engagement, produce social media content, host a live show, plan community events, create calls for content, empower various communities and much more. This is what modern journalism is.

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 created this fall by reporters while ours was being distributed. Samanta Helou-Hernandez collaborated with a team to produce a community fanzine honor the people of the village of Virgil who died from Covid-19. Lexis olivier ray product a community zine featuring photographs documenting MacArthur Park.

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

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

Amara Aguilar is Associate Professor of Professional Practice at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC.


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