Ginny Ordman, Adviser, Trojan Epic Yearbook, West High, Iowa City, Iowa

Photography, Design, Graphics

Ordman’s advice to stay on top of trends:

“Read the monthly magazines put out by the major yearbook companies. Study graphic design magazines. Purchase and look at current magazines that create visual trends. Take a class at a local university. Take graduate classes for advisers offered by state journalism education association,” she said.

Copy can be visual:

“Sidebars can be very informative and also look good. Teen magazines do this all the time. There is a place for copy that is more like a magazine article, not just a sidebar. Students may not read that copy the year they get the book but eventually they seem to. White space is very necessary. It’s always a friend at the outside of the page. I tell my classes ‘You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much white space,'” she said. I try to have my students incorporate alternatives-to-text in the form of infographs and anecdotal captions as much as possible. Photos and stories in my mind should be first and foremost when it comes to producing a good quality yearbook that the student body and the community want to purchase.

Use “natural photos that tell the story of high school. Don’t manipulate them in Photoshop unless there is a compelling reason to do so and then tell the readers you did it. Biased would be photographing all your friends, which should be discouraged in a big way,” Ordman said. This is a great point because as the yearbook, the entire staff should be devoted to capturing the entire student body because this is the only way to tell the whole and real story of the year and the high school experience.

Size does not matter when it comes to yearbook. “In the past I’ve listened as staff members admired a yearbook and said, ‘Oh we could never do that–look how big their staff is.’ My response is there are a lot of BAD yearbooks out there with big staffs. It’s jointly buying into the purpose of the yearbook AND to the time and energy required to produce quality journalism,” she said. You need a plan for coverage, how you’re going to capture the essence of the year for the students. Then divide and conquer. You do what you can do. It’s not perfect, but most of the time your audience will be very pleased with the results. You may not picture every student, but your staff can try to get as many as possible included. Ordman even recommends offering an introductory class to help with coverage. “I assign those students to get profiles or quotes. It’s important the students learn time management and not waste class time. The biggest reason why mistakes get in the yearbook is someone didn’t get started early enough and is rushed the job,” she said. I would agree, you need to help your students learn how to delegate tasks and take responsibility seriously. This is a area that requires a lot of responsibility, and if not handled correctly things could fall apart quickly. This is also when focus starts to fade from what it should be. If the entire staff knows exactly what is expected of them, they will be more likely to tackle the tasks at hand and work towards goals.

Yearbooks as viable candidates for digital formats

“Personally, I think people will still want to look through a yearbook like a scrapbook or photo album. Too many people seem to leave digital photos in a place that can’t be viewed easily, and a digital yearbook would end up in the same destination perhaps. If the idea is to capture the year and deliver it in a product that students have as a keepsake, I think you cover the year using new technologies and you produce a product that appeals to the audience and is not loaded with mistakes. The nicer it looks, the more appeal it has, especially if you cover your audience,” Ordman stated.

I still believe students want the actual book, but perhaps, as Morris stated in a previous interview, you could add a technological element to move the book into a more digitized direction to see how people respond. The cost of yearbooks is going up, and with this comes a slight decline in sales and Ordman recommends that to alleviate this you could: make more effective use of the space, solicit more advertising, and create interest in the product. “Teens spend so much money on a pair of shoes or a purse, they will buy a yearbook,” Ordman said. The yearbook serves as a reminder of a whole year in the life of a high schooler and I can’t imagine why students wouldn’t want to have a remnant from this big part of their lives. I do think that this population (teenagers that is) just don’t see the possible effects of what lies ahead, that is sometimes they aren’t able to see the consequences of their actions. I think they may not be able to see what a significant role that the yearbook plays, so as a staff you have to give students and the community a reason to purchase the yearbook, and it must be a reason that moves beyond the fact that the parents of a senior want to buy a book because their child is in it. It must be also because the book does an incredible job of telling the story of the entire school in a multitude of ways. The book needs to be accurate, visually pleasing, and relevant , and tell the story of the entire year through pictures and the voices of the students, staff,  and the community.

What does a 21st Century yearbook look like?

“It’s even more packed with photos, information, graphics and memories of the year,” Ordman said.


Jeff Morris, Adviser, City High Yearbook, Iowa City, Iowa

Digital Media & Social Networks

“I know of some schools that have a Facebook page for their yearbooks that lets students submit their own photos for the yearbook. They also use it as a means of communication for the student body. Some kids use it for interviewing though, [and] I frown on this because I still like face-to-face interviewing for all the little imagery details  that need to be included in the story,” Morris stated.

I must agree with him in this aspect. The whole idea of storytelling involves details and imagery that can only be included if the interview is done face-to-face. I do not thing that Facebook should be used as an interviewing platform because it takes away the beauty of what make an interview real. My favorite aspect of journalism is the interview, a time when you get the opportunity to meet others and discuss the role they play in the story you are covering. If this aspect was taken away, what would journalism become? I am starting to see a decline in communication between people. There is less and less personal communication because technology has made it easier for us to transfer information to one another, and a lot faster to boot. Instead of calling someone, people text. Instead of writing a letter, people email. Instead of having a conversation in person, it’s done on Facebook and instant messaging. Our individual voices, body language, and the immediacy of conversation is almost becoming obsolete. If this were to take place in a journalistic world, we would lose all of those idiosyncrasies that makes up an interview. I do, however, think that Facebook and other online arenas would be great places to preview yearbook material (coverage areas, content, interviews, and photos), without giving the final product away. My students are in the process of working on this right now, but time is of the essence. No one is going to pay attention to an online space that is never updated, and since Facebook cannot be accessed at school, students are having to update the page at home and in their “free time” and this is a struggle for some of them.

Jeff said that he has used digital media in the past with VHS and DVD that were included with the yearbooks. You can have a physical book part of the class and a video or photo slide show part as well. I also know that some schools get the rights to certain songs and include them with books. Usually songs that have been picked by the class and then are included on a CD.

“The technology may change and the digital media my become obsolete, but the physical book will still keep its pages turning,” he said. We really need to embrace cell phones-texting, computers-Facebook, twitter, more and more. Using ipads as text books has been proposed and looked into. “I guess I could envision a totally online yearbook that could be added to as the years passed. That also makes me think you have to remember the students who have and those who have not. Socioeconomic status is definitely a factor that affects the life of a yearbook,” Morris stated. I think socioeconomics is often ignored when it comes to technology and this is a major factor especially as it relates to our audience. You will always be leaving someone out no matter which way you go, whether students cannot afford the book or they do not have computers at home. How do we reach these students? I know that our school has discussed donating books to seniors who cannot afford the books, but it is also a lot cheaper to produce these items digitally.
Visual Communications/Visual Literacy

“I think most advisers stay on top of trends by just doing yearbook. Yearbooks reps and the students keep the adviser up to date on the technology and they trends. Conferences are also an important source of information for all the latest and greatest. Most advisers have an interest in the techno side of yearbook or else they wouldn’t stay doing it,” Morris stated.

“Design that uses sidebars is good design because it can tell the reader a story about something through little bits of copy” he said.

“I know we all strive to have every kid in the book at least twice but the truth is this doesn’t always happen. Some kids are just more involved while others strive to remain invisible-welcome to high school,” Morris said. I think this aspect is so important! My students’ goal this year is to include EVERYONE at least twice. My editors strive to include those students who aren’t as involved, but it’s not an easy task.

Read this New York Times article on inclusion:

If a teacher is going to teach writing then that person should know how to write. I know this should be true but not always so. The teacher also needs to be enthusiastic about the subject and material. I know nothing turns a student often quicker than a teacher who is not excited to be teaching what they are teaching. Cover as many of the basics as possible and then let the students start exploring what they are good at. I don’t like to have such a rigid curriculum that we can’t ever step out of it to try something new.

Using social networks to promote yearbooks

This is being done, you can send out postings on what yearbook is doing, to promote photography, assist advertising, run contests, set up interviews, preview the yearbook as well as use it as a researching tool.

“Online social tools are very dynamic not static” he stated, and if they are not being updated they are not going to work.

With secondary school newspapers, they have immediacy of sports scores that are online, and this is hard to align with the yearbook. I do, however, think that this could be an option at our school because we do not have a school newspaper. I think Facebook would be a great tool for our yearbook staffers to get involved and keep the student body updated in this capacity.

The future of yearbooks

Future of high school newspapers are online due to the urgency of news and lots of people have smart phones now. Even books are going digital, especially with items like the ipad, Nook, Sony Reader, and Kindle. Permanence is really key. If you have the opportunity to have it forever, “in the cloud,” then that will be more motivation to go digital, but access is still a factor. When every household has these things, from hard drives to the cloud, and if the data is safe and secure, yearbooks could be totally digital. But, people still want the physical yearbook because they know exactly where it is.

“During the 1950s not everyone had a TV. You moved into a house and the TV was already there. If you go digital, a receptor must be in place to view the yearbook and we are not close to this yet,” Morris said. Archives are not totally digital because everyone isn’t able to access them. “The book is the way to go, and perhaps you could add a digital aspect, like a movie or sideshow” Morris stated.

” We are getting more techy with each new decade, and this is the life of the students we teach,” Morris stated. “A 21st Century book will look like a 20th Century book, with more color, an added extra techy item like a DVD and/or online archive.” This is where we are now, according to Morris, “computing is down to the quantum level, server space infinite, and you can save a gazillion items and let it sit there and it’s safe.”

The Research Questions

Digital Media

1) In what ways can we include yearbook in the digital media trend that seems to be taking over every facet of communication?

2) Is it possible to be a yearbook that incorporates digital media? As for a definition of digital media, what I am thinking of is having a yearbook in a digital format (i.e. solely online or in DVD format). I just took over an adviser position this year, and one of the previous staff’s goals was to move towards a completely digital yearbook, a goal that the current staff wants to keep moving forward with. Do you think this is a viable option for any yearbook? What are the limitations, benefits, and/or drawbacks?

3) How can yearbooks incorporate digital media while also staying true to the nature of what it means to produce a yearbook?

4) How can yearbooks include digital media without rupturing what the yearbook stands for in terms of encapsulating a physical memory and history book?

5) Digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, and socialize. In what ways can we incorporate these changes in the yearbook?

6) What is the best, most effective way, to include alternatives to text, for example alternative storytelling, visual alternatives, sidebars, infographs, etc.?

Photography, Design & Graphics

Visual Communications and Visual Literacy

7) How can advisers stay on top of trends in photography, design, and graphics in yearbooks, while continuing to be on the cutting edge of change and innovation?

8) Is it better to have more writing/body copy, or more visuals in a yearbook? Or should the yearbook aim for a balance? When is white space a friend?

9) How do you tell stories with photography, design, and graphics in a yearbook?

10) What kinds of images should the yearbook produce for their audience? How can the yearbook be sure to keep images they produce fair, accurate and unbiased?

11) Writing can convey messages in multiple ways and formats using elements of design and production, and a variety of styles and symbols. What would you recommend as the three best teaching practices to teach our yearbook staffs these elements, so they cannot only master the skills, but also be able to take some creative license with the information you pass down to them?

12) Visual literacy includes the ability to interpret themes, understand perspectives, and develop an appreciation for multiple styles of communicating information. How can we ensure our yearbooks do all of these things through the visual information or visual literacy that we provide?

13) How can we use online spaces to promote the photography of our yearbook students without compromising the photos that will be in the yearbook end product?

14) How can students truly capture the “real” story of the year through photography and design? If the yearbook staff has 13 dedicated students covering a school of almost 600 students in order to capture 10 months of high school life, how is it possible to accurately and thoroughly cover the entire student body?

Using social networks to promote yearbooks

15)   How can yearbooks effectively use online social networking sites?

16)   In what ways can yearbooks use social networking sites to promote the sales of yearbooks?

17)   My yearbook students’ biggest issue is the general lack of enthusiasm of the entire student body with regard to yearbook. How can we use social networking sites to help create this enthusiasm and excitement about each book they produce?

18)   How can yearbooks connect with the student body and the rest of the yearbook audience by using online social tools?

19)   What could creating a website or twitter account do for a high school yearbook? Are there benefits, drawbacks?

Yearbooks as viable candidates for digital formats

20) What is the future/fate of high school yearbooks?

21) Are there benefits to going digital, while still maintaining that same feeling that a yearbook offers?

22) How can we keep the memories alive, while staying on top of trends as well as keeping up with technology and new innovations?

23) If a yearbook was to go fully digital, is it possible to keep that same connection with the audience that a physical yearbook has?

24) Is it possible to replicate everything that a yearbook is and represents in a digital world? Does permanence and personalization exist in a digital world?

25) Yearbook sales are dropping, so how can we compensate for the drop? Would a digital switch alleviate the burden of such high costs of producing a yearbook, as well as the high purchase cost?


26) What does a 21st Century yearbook look like?


Digital or not digital, that is the question

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for life as a yearbook adviser. It’s been a little over three months since I started my new career as an English teacher, reading strategist, and yearbook adviser and in that small amount of time I have fell in love with teaching, learning, and secondary journalism more than I had ever imagined. But when I say that nothing prepares you for the life of a journalism adviser, I am not lying.

I had thought that with my experiences as a long time writer and reporter, I  would have yearbook under control. Even with years of arts and entertainment reporting, and two years as an editor and publisher of a local arts and culture magazine, I truly had no idea what was in store for me with my new life as a teacher and adviser. This blog is designed as a resource for yearbook advisers to help walk us through modern issues, ideas, and techniques. I have interviewed a wonderful array of yearbook advisers who have opened my eyes to new way of thinking about the possibilities of what the yearbook can do and what it means to its audience. My hope with this blog is that it will help me define what makes a 21st Century yearbook. With the world becoming more and more technologically savvy, and with information flowing faster and faster, as advisers we have to keep the memories alive, while staying on top of trends as well as keeping up with technology and new innovations without compromising what the yearbook stands for. Here is my commentary, synopsis, bits and pieces of research, and parts of interviews that help me wrestle with issues in the following areas of yearbook and visual communication:

Digital Media

Visual Communication

Production of yearbooks

Using social networks to promote yearbooks

Are yearbooks viable candidates for digital formats?