Written by Crystal Kazmierski
Alternative Methods of Storytelling Help Break Mold of Yearbook Standards
My mind was firmly entrenched in the third paragraph when my name was called. “Not now,” I whined as I scurried to finish an article in People magazine before having my teeth checked. Of all the days for my dentist to be on schedule! I had just found the ultimate story – an intriguing topic covered from an unusual angle and including a smattering of opinion, as well as multiple methods of reporting the facts.
Imagine what it would it be like if yearbooks had the same grasp on readers that magazines do on patients held captive in waiting rooms! What is stopping them? The key is in the coverage of people, places and events, in choosing what to include and finding the best way to present it so that the reader is hooked early and determined to go on.
Magazines are great teachers. Through dynamic coverage, they grab the reader’s attention and hold it. One is hard-pressed to open a magazine without being tempted to explore a topic they have seen a thousand times before. The ordinary becomes interesting. The interesting becomes irresistible. Why? It can be attributed to a smart mixture of information, intrigue and art packaged in a manner that cuts to the chase. There are no assumptions that the reader owes the magazine any of their time or attention. This is earned through clever combinations of magnetic headlines, innovative designs, eye-catching photos, enlightening stories, pulled quotes, lists, infographics, timelines, sidebars, question and answers – all of which are elements that inform, provoke, tease, or entertain readers and ultimately get them to absorb the whole story.
Borrowing ideas from magazines is certainly nothing new to yearbooks. Adventurous staff members will acknowledge that the quickest way to stay on top of the latest trends is to scope the racks at the nearest bookstore. It can be inspiring, and, amazingly, students will soak up ideas like sponges, wanting to try new angles, points of view and alternative ways of telling the same old stories.
These options also add opinion, the one thing that traditional journalism cautiously sidesteps. But in yearbooks, opinion works. Surveys, quote boxes and interviews personalize yearbook coverage, a right formerly reserved for quotes within the main copy. Students love to see what their peers, and even their teachers, think about issues, how they respond in situations or react to events. All of this helps in covering more people, which should be a goal of every yearbook staff.
If the magazine industry can peddle a billion rags a week with different and unique articles on weight loss or beauty tips (how many of those can there be?), surely a student journalist can tell the football story or prom highlights from a new point of view. The standard article on teen drivers becomes extraordinary when given a clever approach. For example, a first-person narrative by a National Merit Scholar who flunked the driver’s test. It becomes personal when supplemented with answers to questions such as, “How do you deal with parents as back-seat drivers?” or when it includes some quirky facts such as, “excuses to avoid getting tickets that have actually worked!” Then, ultimately, the coverage is both informative and entertaining.
Thematic approaches, design concepts and individual topics will influence the methods of coverage. Gone are the days of cookie-cutter sections with indistinguishable coverage styles from spread to spread. What was once thought to be consistent is now considered repetitious and boring. Student journalists are answering their readers’ pleas for variety by offering coverage that reflects the nature of the topic or reinforces the book’s theme. A yearbook with a theme focusing on personalities, for instance, is sure to use lots of interviews, profiles and first-person stories. An anniversary theme creates opportunities for historical accounts, comparisons and contrasts of current and past events. A theme that centers on the little things or specifics that make up the year is going to be heavy on photos and have multiple levels of coverage, including sidebars, infographics and other alternative methods of coverage to provide essential details.
Individual topics will have different coverage requirements. A single photograph isolated by generous white space, and a solitary copy block beneath a simple headline may be the most effective way to present a thoughtful interview or a story on loneliness. On the other hand, a busy, versatile approach with extensive secondary coverage might be better suited to a feature on fads and fashions or a spread on teaching and learning styles.
The goal, of course, is to package information in a way that is not only informative and entertaining, but appropriate to the topic as well. With so many options for coverage, there is no reason a yearbook should be predictable or dull. Tailoring the style of coverage to the topic – not limiting it to a predetermined section plan – will give student journalists the freedom to create a book with a refreshing edge. It is these yearbooks that will have lasting effects on their readers as they explore the diversity of contemporary journalism.