May 27, 2009 / Spring 2009 / Staff Management

Building yearbook programs with ClassScene

Written by Idea File Staff

Let your student body help build your yearbook as your staff is creating it.

In the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, follows the directions of a mysterious voice to construct a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray builds the baseball diamond, and the greatest heroes of his past come to play.

Similar to Ray, many yearbook advisers and their staffs create a yearbook in the hopes that students and parents will come to buy and appreciate the end result. Yet, it may be time to realize that the digital age provides the means for yearbook advisers to consider a new approach: “If they (students) build it, they will come.”

ClassScene, Walsworth’s media-sharing website, is embarking on an expedition in “crowdsourcing” with Atlantic High School in Port Orange, Fla. The premise: involve more students and parents in the creation and selection of yearbook photos, and they will be more invested in, and excited about, the resulting publication.

Dubbed “YBK,” the venture has set some lofty goals: achieve substantial participation by every student in the school and increase yearbook sales.

Crowdsourcing is a fairly new concept for yearbook creation, but the notion of creating an environment that allows people to have an active hand in the creation of a product for a company or organization is catching on quickly, as evidenced by CNN’s iReport and The New York Times’ TimesPeople.

When Nate Fincher, the Atlantic High School yearbook adviser, took over the yearbook four years ago, he was told sales were fairly good – about 30% of the 1,100 students.

“Over time, as I really started to realize what the yearbook stands for, that number seemed really low,” Fincher said.

He wondered how to get more students interested in the yearbook.

“Our job has always been to find and employ any proven or new strategy for increasing the amount of students who feel connected to the book with quotes and spotlights, but it’s an uphill battle and in the end you are generally left with what you hope is a representative slice of the student body. Realistically, that leaves a lot of individuals out as you are limited by your organizational skills and the size and experience level of your staff,” he said.

So Fincher came up with the idea of a website where every student in the school could share images that face peer review with top vote getters being published in the yearbook. He ran the idea past Missy Green, his yearbook sales representative, who introduced him to ClassScene.

“I quickly realized ClassScene has all the things I was thinking about and more,” Fincher said.

Because ClassScene was built as a media platform that enables a school to collect photos from members of its community and archive them within a secure, web-based environment, it was a natural extension to use it to encourage students to submit and vote on yearbook images.

In Fincher’s concept of YBK, the yearbook staff is in charge of the yearbook and makes the editorial decisions. But with ClassScene, students would be able to vote on which images they like the best from those submitted by the student body.

For YBK, students could upload photos, either of generic subjects or on a topic the yearbook staff requests. The images are posted two at a time, and students can vote on their preferences.

With YBK, the students collect points every time they upload, vote for or recommend images. Those points are redeemable for items in their school’s ClassScene School Store – a feature of ClassScene where users can purchase personalized print items directly from a school’s media gallery, apparel emblazoned with their school’s name or logo, and the school’s own merchandise – all while generating revenue for their school.

Fincher believes the interactive, online experience will draw students to YBK, and more students will purchase yearbooks to see whether their images, or images they voted for, will appear. While authorship and voting is anonymous, the photographer will still get credit and a sense of accomplishment, knowing that their peers were directly involved in the selection of their work.

“If you participate in something, you are a stakeholder,” Fincher said. “When a community knows as a group, we did this, it draws more interest. Our ultimate goal is to create a yearbook where 100% of the content is crowdsourced.”

Fincher sees some interesting developments from this concept. It could help with staff recruiting, and it could evolve the jobs of reporter and photographer into “ambassador” and “curator.”

On Fincher’s staff, his students are assigned spreads, and each student is responsible for all of the content on their spreads – copy, images and captions. Fincher sees each of his staff members going out as reporters and photographers to collect information and images for a spread, being ambassadors by spreading the word that they are looking for images for that topic and being curators by collecting the images on ClassScene and using the votes of the student body to help determine the best ones to use.

For example, for homecoming, the ambassador might put out the word to various groups that he is looking for images: of students building floats, the parade, the bonfire, girls at the hair salon, boys buying corsages, dinners before the dance. Students, parents, faculty or others could take and upload these images. But it is the responsibility of the staff member to make sure the school community knows images are being sought, and to collect those images on ClassScene.

Story ideas can come from the images once they are collected. Some students may send in photos of activities they did instead of going to homecoming, or after the football game, or after the dance. The point is, your staff cannot have cameras everywhere, so you have created an army of photographers to cover your school year.

“If you allow students to drive the content, your school should have a yearbook that is more connected to the entire student body,” Fincher said. “I believe that by letting go of the process a little bit we can tell a better story of the school year and create a much broader, diverse, and hopefully more beautiful perspective for our community.”

Today’s youth are used to online social networking – communicating with friends and sharing their opinions. With this in mind, Fincher sees YBK as an opportunity for the yearbook to be on the leading edge of new media by creating a new kind of book that is a tangible expression of the entire school’s shared memories from the year.

“ClassScene is going to give our students an opportunity to connect and when students feel more connected at school, everyone benefits,” said Fincher. “When you start to see school pride and involvement increase, that is a good thing for the yearbook staff because the yearbook is one of those things that should be at the heart of school pride in student’s minds. Now the yearbook becomes a must-have for students rather than a wait-and-see.”

Idea File Staff

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