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Press Fest ATX Showcases the Power of Zines

Press Fest ATX Showcases the Power of Zines

How zines bring diversity to the media industry.

Camille Simonelema believes a zine can be really anything, as long as it’s self-published. Camille is a co-founder of Free Rent ATX, the local Austin art collective behind Press Fest Austin at The Vortex on November 11th.

The event was an exhibition for independent publishers, zine makers, comics and more. With no single definition of what a zine can be, Camille said while drinking a Kombucha at the 2nd rendition of Press Fest Austin, the medium attracts a mixed bag of publishers.

“That’s the cool part of this community. There are literally all different kinds of people with different backgrounds and interests,” Simonelema said. “We all have one thing in common, though, and that’s loving to share our expression with others through self-publishing.”

Simonelema had the idea to start Press Fest Austin after the city lost its only other zine festival, Austin Zine Fest, in 2015. Her goal was to create an outlet for independent publishers in Austin so they could come together to meet other independent creators and celebrate their art.

On a gloomy Saturday afternoon, exhibitors traded Instagram handles, art, and love as they displayed their work over a soundtrack of Velvet Underground and Radiohead gently playing in the background.

Beth Comics was stationed across the Vortex’s brown rubble courtyard from POMEgranate Magazine, two exhibitors who were a microcosm of the wide range of minority communities represented at the event.

On Press Fest Austin’s website, Beth Comics is self-described as “super queer, super witchy, super horny comics” and POMEgranate Magazine as a feminist publication for “thoughtful and sensitive weirdos.”

Simonelema said she realized this kind of diversity is central to zine culture after attending Denver Zine Fest last year.

“The Denver Zine Fest was mostly queer comics and zines,” she said. “Going to that zine fest showed me that zine culture is for everyone, any person, from people of color to queer, to transgender, to straight.”

Tolerance and inclusion are not so prominent in the larger print and news industry, however. Minorities make up just over 12 percent of the newspaper workforce, according to a 2015 study by The American Society of News Editors. The census also showed that Women made up just 35 percent of newspaper staff in 2015, a percentage that hasn’t increased past 35 since the turn of the century.

This issue originates from the difficulties minority journalists face after graduating college. Minorities are 17 percentage points less likely than non-minorities to find a full-time journalism position within their year of graduation, according to a 2013 study by the University of Georgia.

Associate journalism Professor George Sylvie studies media diversity at the University of Texas at Austin. He diagnosed this discrepancy as a multifaceted issue but stressed embedded media racism, a lack of opportunities, and the meager entry-level salary of journalists as its main symptoms.

“People of color often don’t want to be journalists because journalist’s don’t get paid nearly as much as public school teachers or doctors,” he said. “Also, in this country, we still have substantial amounts of racism in various walks of life and that extends to media hiring.”

After being turned away by the industry, minorities have historically responded by building their own publications autonomously, Sylvie said.

“Minority press has gone back as far as the late 1800’s,” he said. “Freedom’s Journal and publications of that kind sprang up to give people of color a voice so they could cover issues that they were actually interested in.”

This history reflects the power and importance of independent publications such as zines in any media landscape. They play an important role in developing young writers’ voices so they can inform their community about important issues otherwise lost in the homogenous shuffle of mainstream media.

But how wide an audience can these independent publications really reach? Professor Sylvie questioned how much space if any, zines take up within a regular person’s daily news consumption routine.

“That’s part of the problem of zines and independent publications,” he said when asked about the reach of zines. “News is still dominated by mainstream publications because there’s still that notion for what news is that hasn’t changed,” he said.

While this highlights the small informing power of independent publications, Sylvie went on to discuss the important role zines still play in diversifying the news cycle.

“They are the ones mainly involved in civil rights areas of news,” he said. “They’re going to be the one that covers police brutality or they’re going to cover whether the poor neighborhood has good streets.”

This optimism for the importance of independent publications was shared by many on hand at Press Fest Austin who felt they play an important role in the media landscape.

“I like to think of zines as a platform for un-capitalized voices to reach wider audiences,” Jess Hogan, owner of Neither Nor Zine Distro, said behind her table at the event. “Instead of just staying in your journal, by self-publishing these people get noticed who would otherwise be left behind by history.”

With the potential demise of net neutrality looming, internet regulation is imminent. Although it’s tough to call this a win for media, it is possible that it could spark an even greater resurgence of zines and magazines. They could become one of the only platforms for independent publishers to write and share, and if that’s the case, those like the creators on hand at Press Fest Austin will transition from media outcast to media pioneers.

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