15 ways to improve your 2015 yearbook

It’s time again to think about how to improve your yearbook for 2015. Building on the popularity of last year’s 14 things to think about (more than 2,500 views as of today), here is an updated version to inspire yearbook staffs and advisers for 2015 and beyond.

Why try?

Improve constantly. Build on what worked in the past and innovate.
What you do, and how you do it, should evolve over years. Figure out the best practices for this book, this year.
Great stories and images yield an engaged audience. You want both.

Try some new endeavors to improve your yearbook operation. Think about these 15 areas as guides to excellence for 2015.

1. Be excellent. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Strive for excellence. Excellence isn’t settling for pretty good. Good enough is not good enough. Demand the best from every photo, caption, story and design. Set goals to improve with each deadline.

2. Be the #1 source. Be serious about being the top information source and archive for all things about your school. If someone wants to know a fact, score, date, record, time or whatever — be the place they turn for that information. Own sports stats, especially JV and lower squads. No other source is recording this information in this way.

3. Go to the audience. Learn about your audience. Discover the diversity among your student body. Bring that diversity to your staff. Incorporate a range of voices and experiences, even if you have to modify the rules or traditions for contributors. The audience is also beyond your school/student body. Balance your responsibility to history with creating something people want.

4. Cover the year. Cover the required components but also things your audience likes.
Showcase the fabric of student lives outside school: recreation, leisure, hobbies, jobs and student views.
Demand enterprise. Dig around to find something newsworthy and interesting from this year. Write it in a compelling, interesting and useful way.

5. Capture this year. What’s popular? Why? What images, symbols, colors, phrases, songs and people are being talked about this year? Don’t have a rigid design. Build in flexibility to your ladder to cover topics that come up after plans are set. Set aside your own preferences in favor of capturing the look and feel of 2015. But don’t abandon classic looks.

6. Look for a new angle. Find a new way to present the routine. If new angles aren’t not obvious, keep asking questions until you find them. Do research to understand the topic. Know what you are talking about before approaching sources. Ask the people involved in the activity what they would want people to know about their activity. How are they misunderstood or stereotyped? What would people be surprised to learn about them?

7. Put a face on issues. Don’t just write about issues (or things, or ideas). 
Write about people. The most widely read and most liked stories are those that tell interesting stories about people. Your school and community are full of these stories. Localize national issues with the stories of people around you.

8. Meet sources in person. You can’t really get a story unless you get out and talk to people. In person! It’s obvious when a writer has observed and interviewed in person. Include the observations in your writing. Bring the details to the reader through your photographs. Email or chat interviews fill a need, but they are not as effective as being there.

9. Demand great images. Most of the yearbook is photography, which can make or break the book. Invest time in teaching each staff member to take usable photos that are…

  • In focus
  • Well composed
  • Candid

Leave every assignment with images that are wide (scene-setting), mid-range and close-up to give designers options.

10. Commit to captions. Spend as much time on captions as on copy. Most readers will read captions right away. The captions must be engaging, too. Each one should contain the basic identification information and a description of the action. Great photos deserve great captions. Great captions can’t save mediocre photos.

11. Get alternative. Are there better ways than text to tell the story?

  • Lists and the trendy “listicle”
  • Quizzes
  • Charts, tables and graphs
  • Maps and diagrams

Use these when the solution is more creative and more effective than traditional text. Don’t just get lazy.

12. Engage socially. Engage: Use Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram to interact. Post links to content and get tips from readers. Monitor: Listen to the conversation. Ask followers to let you know about events occurring outside school (or at school but not known). Or search by #hashtag. Solicit: Let readers submit photos and ideas to you through these platforms. Tease. Preview the book to build excitement (and sales.)

13. Do fewer…

superlatives that feature the same students as other sections. Find ways to showcase a variety of students.
cliché stories on topics not tied to a news event. Make sure you have a news peg to include the story. Then localize.
boring stories that aren’t about people. Feature your students and staff and what makes them interesting in 2015. Dig!

14. Follow the law. Obey copyright. Only use “fair use” images or get permission. Flickr and WikiCommons each allow searches for Creative Commons or public domain images. Know privacy rules. Know your rights.

15. Details matter. Your mistakes are forever. Grammar, spelling, punctuation. Spell every name correctly. Don’t mix up students with the same name. Have discipline when it comes to standards for style, design and color. Enforce the standards. If you’re doing it, do it right.

Remember: You must think about what the reader needs and use storytelling tools to meet those needs. Your role on campus is to inform your audience and record the events of the year. You have a responsibility — an obligation, even — to take that seriously and to do it well. Your audience needs you to tell the story in a truthful, authentic and teen-oriented way.

Go be great!

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