March 25, 2015 / Coverage / Spring 2015

Cover it all with 
umbrella coverage

Written by Allison Staub

Traditional sectional coverage can get pretty boring after awhile. A chronological book wasn’t a good choice because I have no repeat staff, and we would miss too much of the year with training. Then I found umbrella coverage, which is beginning to challenge chronological coverage in popularity.

Umbrella coverage means the stories placed on each spread are not dictated by traditional topics, but by the theme concept. Stories are mixed together on the same spread, linked by the theme. The connections are endless, and with multiple events covered, the staff is not stuck making an entire spread on something that doesn’t have enough to fill it. My absolute favorite thing about umbrella coverage is that it forces staffers to have a specific angle.

How to use umbrella coverage

One of the easiest and most basic ways to use umbrella coverage is within a section. Sectional umbrella coverage enables you to join several sectional topics based on a common theme on one spread.

For example, a spread using the word “Assist” could cover clubs such as the National Honor Society, Student Organization for Service, Key Club and any other club that “assists” others.

However, I like to challenge my staffers to become super-creative with umbrella coverage, using it as a strategy for organizing the entire book.

The umbrella coverage style must fit with your theme. Concept-based themes work best because you eliminate all the traditional sections (except ads, index and people) and create new sections based on your theme. The spreads within each of these new sections are based on a word, phrase or concept that supports the section and the overall theme.

How to start

It starts with your theme and a lot of brainstorming!

For example, the theme for our 2014 book was “Breakthrough.”

To determine sections, we had to ask ourselves a lot of questions:

  • How do we make “breakthrough” relevant to our audience?
  • What does breakthrough mean?
  • What does it mean to have a breakthrough?

Which led us to: How do you have a breakthrough?

  • To have a breakthrough, you need to follow steps to break out of that comfort zone.
  • What are the steps one needs to take or what are the changes you need to make?

This led us to these ideas, which became our section names:

  • Don’t be Shy
  • Give it a Shot
  • Do Something. Anything.
  • Have a Cause
  • Go Exploring

To determine what goes in these new sections, we did more brainstorming and came up with spreads with the following titles.

  • Express
  • Rush
  • Analyze
  • Play
  • Develop
  • Support
  • Trek
  • Innovate
  • Battle
  • Dig
  • Launch
  • Focus

A lot of planning goes into determining what topics go under these words. The adviser and editors should determine what must be covered. For us this list included:

  • All sports teams
  • All clubs
  • All electives
  • Big school events
  • Anything big and new this year in student life
  • As many core classes as we could fit

Determine how many topics to have per spread. We decided on a minimum of three in order to fit all of the activities we wanted to feature. Then determine the topic categories, which we called primaries, secondaries and tertiaries.

  • Primaries are events/topics that were the big things, such as the main story and photo package on each spread.
  • All sports were primaries and then large topics such as the school play and dance, and some classes depending on number of students involved and amount of prep.
  • Secondaries and tertiaries were then determined based on that same formula, number of students involved, number of events that happened, relevance to students and the theme.

After more brainstorming exercises, staffers were given two of the topics that would be covered from each traditional section and then they brainstormed words related to that topic.

  • We created a master list of words that then became our spread words.
  • This process allowed students to see how all concepts could be tied together.

Beats were assigned; students had to find out what was happening or had happened already, with specific events and details, and add them to a shared document in Google Drive.

Assigning/picking spreads

Staffers had access to a list of optional words, the beat report document and sticky notes hanging in the front of the room.

  • The topics were organized by traditional section, one color per section (student life, clubs, sports, academics).
  • Each sticky note had a topic on it; anything slated to be a primary story had a star in the corner.

After going over the rules and some good and bad examples, staffers paired up and then began looking at the options and coming up with unique ways to tie together events/topics.

They were told to pick three topics/sticky notes, one of them a primary topic; sticky notes had to be different colors; and they had to be specific and have an angle.

  • They had to take the three sticky notes, come up with the connections, write it down on paper and present it to the editors.
  • Students were encouraged to use a word in as many ways as possible.
  • The more creative and specific the connection, the better!


  • 8th grade football: Rap battles the team held on the bus on the way to away games
  • Breast Cancer Awareness Day (Pink Day): Stories of students whose family members had battled breast cancer
  • Fitness Club: Battle of the Bulge, and students personal fitness battles


  • Choir: Expressing silent night in complete silence in sign language during the winter concert
  • Tennis: The team came up with fun cheers they would shout for each other at games
  • Fashion: Brands kids use to express themselves


  • Wrestling: How one girl joining the team shifted the gender balance
  • Math: Balancing money in math and combining social studies into math
  • Lunch: How students have to balance eating and socializing at lunch

Organization tips

  • You must have a very complete and organized ladder that is constantly updated. On top of the typical ladder information, it should track all individual topics, sectional coverage and angles. Ensure equitable coverage and that no topic or event is missed. If an event you were planning on including changes, it may change the content and focus of the entire spread.
  • Depending on deadlines, certain topics couldn’t be covered on the same spread. For example, Halloween and Swim Team could not be together since one occurs in October and the other in February.
  • Create a reader-friendly design. Since the content is “mixed up,” students need to be able to easily navigate throughout the book and the index. Folios are important. List all topics covered on that spread along with the name of the section. The index should include a topical index so students don’t have to dig to find what they are looking for. The spread word should be highlighted in some way so the reader can see the connection between all topics on the page.

Lessons learned

  • Start as early as possible. The more planning done ahead of time, the easier it will be.
  • Have a strong understanding of your theme concept, as it will help you figure out organization a lot faster.
  • We found that in some cases, it was easier to plan spreads after an event had happened rather than before. Cover all events that you know you will most likely include in your book and then decide how you will feature them on the spread.
  • We enjoyed it so much the first time, we decided to do umbrella coverage for our 2015 book as well.

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Allison Staub

Allison (Allie) Staub advises The Scrapbook yearbook at Westfield Middle School in Westfield, Ind., where she teaches art and yearbook. In January she received the 2015 JEA Rising Star award. The yearbook has earned numerous state and national honors, including being named a 2015 CSPA Crown Finalist and a 2014 NSPA Pacemaker Finalist for the 2014 yearbook described in this article. A self-proclaimed font snob, she teaches at local and national yearbook workshops.