April 30, 2004 / Coverage / Spring 2004

A New Story Each Year

Written by Idea File Staff

Homecoming. There is a football game. Sometimes it is warm, sometimes it is cold, and sometimes it rains. A king and queen are crowned. The queen always cannot believe she has been chosen. Then there is a dance, and students — well, they dance.

Each year, yearbook staffs must find new angles to report annual events. Advisers and editors must keep the writers thinking, before and after such events, to explore all possible angles and find the one that represents this school year.

Sometimes when looking at the same old stories, such as homecoming and prom, the new twist on the story is easy to spot. How does a new high school handle homecoming? How about a school that always had prom at the local hotel but this year will use the gym? These are easy questions with which to begin the search for the new story ideas.

“Sometimes we make it different by the use of our theme,” said Peggy Evans, adviser at Flanagan High School, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

She said the staff of the Talon will approach new story ideas and angles by considering the theme and ask the question, “What is new about the topic?”

For the most part, the writers on Evans’ staff volunteer or are matched to the stories. Then Evans gives them an assignment.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t come back until you find two new things in that program,’” she said.

When the students return to class, there is a debriefing to determine the best way to tell the stories this year.

“We want consensus on things that are done in the book,” Evans said.

For example, last year the school dedicated a new football stadium, and the yearbook included a gatefold on the story. This year, there are new lights at the stadium. So Evans said the question is, how important is this, especially in relation to the coverage already dedicated to it. Her staff was told to go ask a lot of people to find out the answer so they could determine how to handle the story.

Evans usually starts her staff thinking about new story ideas when they start their discussion about theme — in the spring. They try to anticipate changes that will occur during the next school year. For example, at Flanagan, the freshmen had been at a separate campus, and this year they returned to the high school campus.

Evans wants the students to come up with their own ideas, but it helps that she is on many committees and knows what is going on, she said.

“I try to make sure they don’t leave anything out,” she said.

Bill Briggs, Herscher High School, Herscher, Ill., likes to discuss new story angles with his reporters after the fact.

“What we try to do, on an event that occurs every year, is to brainstorm after the event to see what was different.”

He said a classic example appeared this year with the homecoming story for the yearbook, Tiger Memories. The student who wrote the story waited until the last paragraph to include the information about the big screen TVs that were set up in the study hall so the students, mostly boys, could run between the dance and the televisions to watch the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs. Herscher is near Chicago, and many students are fans of the team.

The Cubs do not make the playoffs very often. Some students had dates for the dance, then learned their parents had secured tickets for the game that night. This is a story that does not happen every year, and Briggs sent the student back to rewrite the story.

He said determining where to place a story in the book and whether it will be in color also will help determine story angles.

Briggs serves as a critique judge, and one thing he does not do that he sees other judges do is tell a staff they needed to find a new angle for a story. How does a judge know that is not a new story angle for that school?

Post-event story discussions take place in a small group setting, sometimes with the students handling that section of the yearbook. Sometimes Briggs will listen in and ask pertinent questions to prod the students mentally.

Evans also uses this approach because sometimes angles change. She will explain that what the students wanted to do is not the best approach, and the story needs to be redirected.

At Mt. Vernon High School, Mt. Vernon, Ind., adviser Jo Hamm uses brainstorming and discussion, but she also has her students write in journals to work on their writing skills. Those journals have come in handy, as she has found story ideas and gone to the students to develop them.

One student on the newspaper staff wrote journal entries on dating, which became a first-person story for the yearbook. She said her students are writing more first-person accounts in the yearbook, the Hoop-Pole, breaking the rules of yearbook journalism.

“I think it makes for more interesting reading,” she said.

While the staffs at Flanagan, Herscher and Mt. Vernon look at current magazines and yearbooks to get new ideas, Evans’ students also have access to many older yearbooks.

“Yearbooks really do come back to haunt you,” Evans said. “The students really started looking at their parents’ books and asking, ‘what do we want to remember?’”

Evans said another good place to start is to look at last year’s book when it is distributed and determine what was left out. Last year the staff omitted mentioning the Media Center, a hub of the school. The omission angered the staff in that department. This year the staff is planning to use six pages for stories, including articles on technology in the Media Center and use of the area before, during and after school.

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.