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!

Blaze a trail and try something new

In January, I came across a remembrance in The New York Times of a pioneering photographer who had died recently. I read with interest about Louise Serpa and how she came to love both photography and rodeo. She was a pioneer in both. I grew up in a rodeo town, and one of my mentors in college was a rodeo photographer, so I have always had an interest in this area. Growing up, I knew a lot of people who were tough and classy like Serpa.

Though I have never been an arena photographer, it is easy to see how it can be both exhilarating and exceptionally dangerous. Other sports photographers may contend with thrown bats or a stumbling running back, but in Serpa’s profession, she had to keep shooting while avoiding bulls, broncs or bucked-off cowboys.

While reading the article, it occurred to me that Serpa was a true traiblazer — the lone woman in a field where men dominated, and she didn’t let that stop her. Serpa become famous — at least in the rodeo world — because she had a passion for arena photography and because she was good at it.

So I wondered whether there are there any trails left to be blazed today. For students working in media today, the answer is apparent. There has never been a more exciting time to be working in media. There have never been more tools for use in creating, more methods to research and gather information, or more platforms on which to tell a story. In short, there’s a wide-open frontier ready to be explored.

The take-aways from the article about Serpa are simple: Motivation, ingenuity, passion and willingness to work hard will get you what you want in life. Be open to exploration. Be curious. Seek solutions. And find a passion.

These aren’t new concepts. They’ve been shared by teachers, graduation speakers and parents for generations. What is new is that there are ways to start doing this in your student media right now. Pursue an ambitious story that needs telling, and show it to your readers. Experiment with new online tools like Tumblr or Storify. Dip your toes in the pond of a new area of digital media, and you’ll discover the water’s not so bad.

Just like Louise Serpa, you might have to dodge some obstacles. You might be the only person like you in a world of people who are different. But, don’t let that stop you. Breathe in the exhilaration. Blend your interests with your assignments. Blaze a new trail.

Find the article at:

Robert Redford’s words of encouragement to journalists

Robert Redford likes the work of student journalists, and he said it is as important as ever in this age of democratization of news.

Last weekend, the Associated Collegiate Press held its 27th annual Midwinter National College Journalism Convention in Los Angeles, Hollywood to be exact. Redford appeared at a press conference before approximately 300 students to promote his new movie, “The Conspirator.” Students questioned him about his creative process for that film as well as others. His work for “All the President’s Men” came up about a half hour into the presser. He said that’s where he learned the importance of accuracy and getting every fact exactly right.
ACP is the college program of National Scholastic Press Association.
The students got over the star power and really asked thoughtful questions. It should be noted that the best-attended single session of the convention was the one where journalists were actually doing real journalism.
Here’s a clip of the last minute of the talk, where Redford appreciates the work of journalists.
Yes, I got to meet and introduce Redford, and in our 15-second chat, I thanked him for making that great movie in 1976 and shared how much my students enjoyed it even years later.

The legacy of one California newspaper adviser

From a post to the JEA email discussion list:
I did not have the good fortune to meet and know Ted Tajima, but it appears we have lost a giant in our field. The occasion of his death led me to revisit some of scholastic journalism’s history and learn more about this man and his school. Takima had been the adviser for many years to The Moor newspaper at Alhambra High School. Here’s his obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Last week, I spoke with a reporter for the Los Angeles Times about The Moor and its adviser and accomplishments. The reporter’s beat was obituaries, though another reporter wrote this piece. The reporter I spoke with happened to be one of Takima’s former students and a member of The Moor staff that earned a NSPA Pacemaker in 1972. It should be noted there were only five or six newspaper National Pacemakers each year from 1961 through 1978. The Moor earned that honor twice for its weekly editions.

The reporter with I spoke shared with me an article, from the Los Angeles Times morgue, printed in 1983 when Tajima retired from teaching. The lengthy piece covers his personality and career but also changes in society and Alhambra High School, in education and in professional and scholastic journalism. This passage from the article demonstrates his teaching style and how some issues remain unresolved today:

And, he said, there have been changes in the type of reporting done in the school paper as students became more aware of the world around them.

“It used to be, back in the ’50s, that we’d report one week that the Spanish Club would meet, and then the next week report that the Spanish Club had met,” he said.

But in the ’50s and ’60s, Tajima said, his students seemed to become more aware of what was going on outside the school, and started to report on it, sometimes even in the colorful language that was then becoming acceptable.

“Our rule has been that a four-letter word may be used once in a while, but only if it is in context of the story, and not just for exploitation, just to attract attention,” he said.

“One of the principles I’ve always taught is that the newspaper is an educator as well as the schools, and that the newspaper must set standards for the community.

“I’ve told them: You know who your readers are, but it doesn’t mean you have to get down in the dirt with them.”

In the NSPA archives, I found a note Tajima submitted with the 1981-82 critique for The Moor: “Admittedly, THE MOOR in its makeup appears more traditional than the many biweekly and monthly publications we see in exchanges and in journalism conventions. It is our feeling, however, that we publish a weekly newspaper, 37 times a year, and we are able, because of a Monday deadline for a Wednesday publication day, to emphasize news more than features. So we stick more to a newspaper format instead of a magazine format. Yet, we are criticized for the fact that we prize frequency and news emphasis over less news-worthy magazine styles.”

Even 29 years later the debate about frequency continues, as does the evolving discussion about newspapers vs. newsmagazines.

Clearly Ted Tajima’s legacy includes the many former students who are now professionals in a variety of fields, including some notable journalists.

Headline: 8 Things to Think About in 2010-11

You still have time to make 2010-11 the best year on record and to try some new endeavors to improve your media operation. Here are 8 things you can try. That’s one a month for the rest of the school year.

1. Be excellent. Excellence isn’t settling for pretty good. Good enough is not good enough. Set goals to improve with each edition or deadline.
2. Put yourself in a position to be tell stories in the most-appropriate format. There’s really no excuse today for not having at least a basic website where you can post a PDF version of the printed paper. Ideally you update news throughout the school day. An online presence opens up a new universe of multimedia opportunities.
3. Get into social networking. Facebook andMySpace accounts are free. Connect with readers (and alumni, parents and community members) by asking for tips, photos, and letters. Expand your printed coverage with social bookmarking by posting links at a site like Delicious.com. Share photos via a site like Flikr.com.
4. Add multimedia. Sometimes, the most appropriate format to tell a story is with videos, slide shows, still images audio or text. Add these tools to your toolbox, so when you have a good story, you have multiple ways to cover it.
5. Start Tweeting. The microblogging site Twitter.com allows 140-character messages to be posted. These are great for simple updates and links to stories online. You can also follow people to get trend or news ideas and dearth by using a hashtag (a # and a word/phrase).
6. Follow the law. Obey copyright for images and audio. Search the Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr to see what is available for no charge, just the photo credit. Know privacy laws. Know your rights, especially if you live in a state that grants rights to student journalists.
7. Be the #1 source. Be serious about being the top information source for all things about your school. If someone wants to know a fact, score, date, time — whatever — be the place they turn to for that information. You can own sports stats, especially for non-varsity teams. Find out how good it feels to scoop the local paper.
8. Remember your role on campus. Regardless of the type of media you work with, your role on campus is to inform and enlighten your audience. You have a responsibility — an obligation, even — to take that seriously and to do it well. Your audience needs you to tell them the things no one else will tell them.

When you’re too close, there can be a conflict of interest

A posting to the e-mail distribution list for the Journalism Education Association posed a question about whether it was all right for two of the newspaper staff’s best writers to cover the volleyball team’s recent district championship. They know the sport and saw that game. They should — they’re also on the team.

So is it OK for these two athlete-journalists to write the story for the newspaper? Nope.
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