Putting Together a Can of Beans
In a hypercritical world where every mistake can be magnified, analyzed, tweeted, Facebooked and Instagramed sometimes it’s nice to do something just because.
To throw yourself into something impossible to screw up — where all you have to do is try.
That’s what a small and mighty group of us did at the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s newsroom on Saturday.
We had a zine party. The goal? To come together and put out a zine in a day. We did it during a major football game, the weekend before Halloween, right after a giant controversy.
Nine people contributed. Is that only a tiny, tiny fraction of our newsroom? Yep. In fact one person who came isn’t even currently employed with us.
But I don’t think at the end of the day it really mattered how many people showed up. What mattered was that we put in effort. It didn’t matter if that effort was spent dumping glitter on an entire page. What mattered was what we felt like doing in that moment.
Journalism is so rarely is about living in the moment. It’s about putting out tomorrow’s paper or writing about something that already happened. Journalists’ brains can be so busy trying to think in inverted pyramid, nut grafs, characters and sound bites that sometimes there is little room to actually just think.
Having a zine party let our brains take a breath and actually work.
So how’d it work?
We started with an informal budget meeting where we shared ideas and named the zine. It was admittedly a little awkward at first. But everyone just went for it.
We called it Can of Beans because of a long-running office joke that refers to the Can of Beans Test. It basically goes like this:
“Would running a can of beans be better than printing this article?”
Since nothing in the zine would pass the Can of Beans Test, the title seemed fitting.
One person (who will go unnamed because I think she would kill me), who I kind of think came late in part because she was anxious about this, had a lot of questions leading up to this adventure. She was worried it would look like throw up and that we wouldn’t know if we had made something good or not.
I told her that her page didn’t have to look like throw up. Then she was worried that if her page didn’t look like throw up she would stick out.
She did eventually show up on what I think had been a pretty awful, busy day for her. She scoured the office for colored pens and got to work. She spent about an hour and half working quietly and intently.
When she was done she told me she put her headline on the bottom of the page and was sorry she couldn’t stay longer.
What do college journalists think of this much press freedom?
I took this idea from the Society of Professional Journalists’ South Florida chapter. I think they had some concerns about whether or not college students could handle this much freedom and so little structure.
I think we more than handled it. We embraced it.
One person who showed up isn’t even a paper guy. He’s written one article in his life. He didn’t even think he would get to come and if he did I think he thought he would film it, not work on it. But we were still there when he came back from filming the football game so he grabbed some cardstock, flipped through some magazines and approached it with the same enthusiasm, humor and seriousness that he approaches the videos he makes for the Wildcat.
Most people described the party as cathartic.
While we probably didn’t have it on the best day, I think we had it on the day we needed to. Now it’s so easy to say you’ll do something without having to follow through. As some lamented during the party: It’s just the nature of a Facebook event world.
But what I did learn is that despite all odds, people came and we created something. And just creating something is pretty damn cool.
In fact, a few people said they want have another one at the end of the year. I guess we’ll see.
— Bethany Barnes, Arizona Daily Wildcat managing editor
Check out the zine!