Ask Mike: How do I take my yearbook from picture book to journalistic masterpiece?
Written by Sarah Scott
Four years ago, the yearbook program at Williamsville North High School in Williamsville, New York, was fine. They weren’t creating award-winning or journalistic yearbooks, but their yearbook club was creating image-based books that the community liked well enough.
“It was a big picture book,” said yearbook adviser Erin DeVantier.
This is fairly standard in their part of the country; most yearbooks in the Northeast are after-school clubs with little focus on journalism.
Three years ago, DeVantier had an epiphany. She was exposed to the journalistic yearbooks being created in other parts of the country, and wanted the same thing for her school. She brought in the school’s English teacher, Kate Curcio, and together they worked to create an award-winning journalistic yearbook.
In the new episode of the Ask Mike podcast, host Mike Taylor talks to DeVantier, Curcio, and this year’s editor-in-chief, Serena Leatherbarrow, about their journey.
Not to toot our own horn too much, but Walsworth played a big part in helping the Olympian staff make the journalistic leap.
“We really had no idea that it wasn’t supposed to be a picture book,” said DeVantier. “And so we went to Adviser Academy that first summer when we joined [Walsworth] and worked with a lot of … the different teachers that helped us and showed us examples of their books.”
They took those ideas about writing and coverage and got to work. DeVantier and Curcio used all the resources they could find – including yearbook rep Katie Smith – to teach themselves what they needed to know about yearbook journalism and design. Their theme that year was, fittingly, “Growth.”
The Dark Time
It wasn’t easy. The staff was initially reluctant to do the extra work, but they powered through. That’s why it broke their hearts when their first journalistic yearbook wasn’t as well-received as they’d hoped. There were tears on distribution day.
“We all kind of just cried, because a lot of kids gave us a lot of criticism for adding the writing to it and said, ‘Why? It looks more like a magazine.’ Instead of the photo books they were used to,” said DeVantier. Parents even asked her to resign over the changes.
The Bright Side
It took the school a year to accept the new yearbook style, but they eventually did.
“Now it just kind of comes naturally. I can’t imagine not having all the writing in the book,” said Leatherbarrow. “It would just be so boring and incomplete without it.”
The school principal supported the Olympian through the dark period. He fielded complaints and reminded the staff that change is hard, and sometimes difficult to accept, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. He wouldn’t let them go back to a picture book.
Their second year with Walsworth, the theme was “One North,” a play on the “One Buffalo” theme used around the nearby city. This was the book that allowed their staff to accomplish the extraordinary: they won a CSPA Crown. This is is a commendable achievement for any yearbook staff, but especially when it’s only their second journalistic yearbook.
They’ll find out whether they received a Gold Crown or Silver Crown at the CSPA Spring Convention March 20-22, 2019.
“Here and Now”
The 2019 theme, “Here and Now,” reflects how Williamsville North got to where they are today.
“We incorporate those words whenever we can throughout the text, but we also use that binary of the ‘here and now’ idea. We’ve done ‘this and that,’ ‘now and then,’ ‘girl and boy,’ ‘he and she,’” said Leatherbarrow.
It’s a 50th Anniversary Yearbook, but they aren’t letting the past overtake the yearbook. They’ve dedicated a gatefold to old photos, but kept most of the book modern. They were lucky enough to meet the school’s first homecoming queen, so they’ll feature a photo of her with the 2018/2019 homecoming queen.
Just because they’re now an award-winning yearbook doesn’t mean they’ve stopped learning and growing. Curcio explained that they’re playing around with modern design elements and learning to break boundaries.
“Before we were more concerned, I think, about having a layout that followed the rules. And the layouts were beautiful and gorgeous, so now we’re taking what we already know and just building upon it.”
DeVantier, Curcio and Leatherbarrow shared the experience with Ask Mike host Mike Taylor, CJE. All three have been part of the transformation since the very beginning – Leatherbarrow is a senior – and had valuable insights into making the leap from picture book to yearbook. All three agree that it was ultimately worth the effort and criticism. They have no desire to go back to the way things were.
Check out this episode of Ask Mike at walsworthyearbooks.com/podcasts, or find it wherever you get your podcasts, including iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher. You can ask Mike your questions. Find him on Twitter, @yrbkmiketaylor (and don’t forget to use #AskMike), or send them to email@example.com.