October 21, 2021 / Ask Mike / Copywriting / Coverage / Fall 2021

Closing the Door on 2021

Written by Mike Taylor, CJE

Rethinking Your Yearbook Post-COVID

Closing the door on the 2021 school year could not come soon enough for teachers across the country. It was a tough year, but if anyone made lemonade from lemons, it was classroom teachers. There was also good that came from one of the craziest school years ever, and I want to share some of those positives.

Stories About People

Prior to the pandemic, so many yearbook stories were simply a recap of the season, club function or classroom syllabus. Stories that start with “Our team,” “This season” or “This year’s” tend to lead to stories that change little from year to year. Since March of 2020, students have faced having no games, club meetings or events, yet they still had the school year to cover.

Yearbook journalists started to do what we have begged them to do from the get-go – they went to their peers and found real stories.

In the 2021 yearbooks, we discovered stories about team captains who tried to motivate their peers with unique challenges, student entrepreneurs, even parents who held individual proms for small groups of students and classroom teachers who used items within the home in order to teach classes. Books came to life and encapsulated the events surrounding the pandemic.

Florida State University Schools

To summarize: Let’s keep the stories about individuals and lose the season/club/event recaps. After all, we all already know, “Our team played basketball on the basketball court against our archrival basketball team this basketball season.”

Design Process

I am not sure how you all did it, but you trained your designers to tell great stories. They no longer used a pre-made template with plug and play picture boxes; they looked at the elements they had to work with, went to professional magazines for inspiration and created dynamite spreads. You also had talented and gifted editors that kept the book looking consistent by keeping fonts and graphics to a minimum.

To summarize: Let’s keep designing using the content as our main inspiration and looking to the pros for unique design ideas that could fit our storytelling.

Crowdsourcing

Another amazing accomplishment born out of necessity is crowdsourcing. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, journalism staffs often felt the need to limit the storytelling and photography to content created by the publication staff. The 2021 publication staffs relied on everyone in the school community to supply photos via Walsworth’s Yearbook Snap app. That app is not going away, and you may have an advantage now that parents and students know how to use it.

You can easily ask team managers to take a photo on a bus trip to an away game, ask parents to take photos from inside the concession stands looking out at the students and ask teachers or students to take some photos during field trips. Given the option, your staff should be taking pictures if possible – they probably have a better eye for photography and understanding of the types of photos that will be used, not to mention better cameras – but crowdsourced photography provides additional coverage opportunities that did not exist before.

Advisers and staff members also crowdsourced information and story idea via Google Forms.

St. Michael-Albertville High School

“Creating a Google Form students completed on picture day helped us gather info the staff referenced all year. That’s how they were able to find out about the students whose family members went to Aledo for some of those features in the people section. Sourcing and asking for leads/help with content is here to stay!” Aledo High School yearbook adviser Emily Pyeatt Arnold, CJE, said.

Yearbook staffs also looked to the newspaper, lit mag and broadcast students to help tell their stories. Why get rid of this? More help on a publication will only mean more buy-in from your student body.

To summarize: Crowdsource. Crowdsource. Crowdsource. Give your potential sources some guidelines and a little training, and the student body will take ownership of the publication.

Now, let’s also keep car parades, webinars, Canva, Procreate and Zoom … ok, I may be wrong about Zoom, but I will miss wearing pajama pants and a nice shirt to do Zoom sessions and webinars.

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Mike Taylor, CJE

Mike Taylor, CJE, sees things differently, and as a journalism specialist for Walsworth, he uses that creative edge to help yearbook staffs across the country put together the yearbook they dream about. A former award-winning yearbook adviser, Mike has been awarded the JEA Medal of Merit, CSPA Gold Key and Florida Scholastic Press Association Gold Medallion. Follow Mike on Pinterest at taylormjc.