As a news outlet, the el Don team is ever-changing. At a two-year institution, it’s almost impossible to maintain the same staff and every semester brings new topics and concerns to cover. Because of this, engagement with our audience it’s an afterthought, it’s a necessity.
In the first weeks of the semester, everyone on staff is required to do an information needs assessment to begin the process of engaging with our fellow students on campus. We set up el Don tables at on-campus events and interview students who walk by. Other students go into their neighborhoods and talk to neighbors instead.
Pulling from the design-thinking process, the information that we gather from our interviews is used to make reporting assignments and plan platform strategy for the semester.
In the fall – our first semester back on campus after learning online for 17 months — we decided to turn that reporting into something physical and tactile: a back to school zine that works like a cheat sheet for students. Inside we answered questions and concerns that were frequently asked by the students who were interviewed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To engage with any of the zines we created this semester, click the article cards embedded (like the one below) and print the zine PDFs included in each post!
We printed, folded and hand-distributed 500 copies at key hot spots on campus, talking to students we met along the way. It was a hit. Many of the locations where our zines were placed were completely empty. We also had librarians and other staff members across campus asking us if we could print out more of our back-to-school zine.
That launched what we have been calling “the year of the zine,” in which our small print products allowed our staff to interact in-person with our community and give our audience a new means to physically engage with their student media outlet.
Staff members were creatively inspired by the engagement factor of zines and were given the opportunity to create print products out of any reporting they’ve done – as long as they distributed copies directly to people they think would want to know more about that topic.
In all, el Don staff over the last two semesters created two Back to School zines, three editions of a newsmagazine, one 16-page mental health zine and no less than five 4-page single-topic zines. Some topical zines we have produced include how to buy a record player, how to transfer, and a guide to house plants.
Inside each of these zines was not only useful information presented in clear, engaging ways (often delivered by hand by a staff writer or editor) but also QR codes to further engage our audience with our online and audio content. Some of our codes gave students additional information about Covid testing on campus, making appointments with counselors and vaccination sites across Orange County. Each QR code received dozens of clicks – with some receiving hundreds — from students who would otherwise never have been informed.
This accessible method of handing out information resulted in campus and community-wide engagement with el Don and this format has received the most positive feedback among newcomers, returning students, and faculty across our campus. A pocket-sized booklet full of information is a lot easier for everyone to carry around than a traditional newspaper, ensuring all copies of each were quickly scooped up from our drop off spots and at our promotional tables where we engaged further with our audience at events on campus.
Our zine-inspired engagement with our community has also gone beyond our campus and directly into the community. Editor in Chief Kate Bustamante and Social Media Editor Miranda Navarro held a Community Storytelling Zine Workshop during our local literary festival in March to interact with our Santa Ana community on how to make zines.
This event was hosted at a local venue and brought people of different ages together to create the “Santa Ana Stories” zine, a physical collaboration which told everyone’s own community story and was put together into one booklet. Everyone left the workshop with a physical copy of the zine to take home.
In an era where social media is thriving and daily newspapers are dying, zines might not seem the most effective medium. But we are learning that when you meet your audience where they’re at and engage with them there, print can be an inviting and less intimidating way to share information in an ever-changing world. Students have told us that they access a child-like feeling when they pick up our zines and have the info in an easy-to-read way.
Zines bring a uniqueness to the print production, from the art to the writing, there is nothing that can replicate the experience of creating or reading one. One thing is common among all of them: the creators combined their creativity, research, and effort to provide information to their audience and engage with them in a way that creates impact.
At the end of the day, zines seem simple and easy, but they have the power to go beyond our reach. We are proving how a tactic used for centuries is still effective in an era of social media.
In our city and among our community, it can be hard to make students interested in the news when so many are focused on simply surviving. We take pride in always attempting new more accessible and interactive ways to spread information and engage with our audience.