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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Graduate Takes on Consumer Culture, Corporate Media With Home-Grown Zine

Your journalism teacher has got it all wrong. The only tools you need to get on your way to becoming your own mini-media mogul are paper, scissors, glue and a photocopier.

That's the philosophy Carrie McLaren lives by.

"I like cutting and pasting," said 31-year-old McLaren, creator, editor and designer of Stay Free! magazine. McLaren founded Stay Free!, which addresses issues of commercialism and American consumer culture, in Chapel Hill.

The magazine, with a circulation of about 6,500, is probably the most respected publication you've never heard of, winning praise from "NBC Nightly News," National Public Radio, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report and Business Week.

McLaren, a 1991 UNC grad, brings years of zine-making experience with her to her internationally circulated publication. Flipping through the pages of Stay Free! is like sitting through a media literacy class - a really cool media literacy class. Insightful articles, minimalist fonts and underground rock ads vie for page space.

This summer's issue focuses on "outdoor ad creep," the big-city phenomenon in which huge advertisements are plastered on buildings, trucks or any other available surface.

"One or two ads isn't bad, but it's the incessant day-after-day bombardment," McLaren said. "You don't realize `Gee, I can't see the sunlight on the street because billboards literally are everywhere.'"

The issue included a poster mapping these mega-ads in Manhattan. The map and magazine's intentionally sparse layout and cool graphics are professional, but retain the rebellious air of a high school punk-rock zine fresh from Kinko's.

It wasn't too long ago that McLaren herself was haunting Chapel Hill copy shops to put together Stay Free!, whose title was inspired by the well-known feminine napkin of the same name.

"It's making fun of the whole faux-feminist sentiment in the Stay Free commercials," McLaren said. "A lot of guys think it was named after the Clash song. That's fine, I like the Clash."

But even more than the Clash, Chapel Hill bands had a major influence on McLaren and her zine. In 1993, she released Archers of Loaf's first single, "Wrong," on 7-inch vinyl. Included in the record sleeve was the first issue of Stay Free!

"When Stay Free! was in Chapel Hill, it was a very community-oriented zine about bands and what was going on in town," she said.

She stayed in Chapel Hill for two more years, dividing her time between jobs at record stores, book shops and cafes and Stay Free!, which she published bimonthly and distributed for free at area stores and shows. "I would work like 30 hours a week and spend the rest of the time on Stay Free!," she said.

In 1995, McLaren got a job with Matador Records and moved to New York. There she started

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