Great Expectations – Advising Yearbooks vs. Advising Newspapers
Written by Idea File Staff
High school yearbooks and newspapers provide students with real-world training and an opportunity to create and showcase their work. Despite these similarities, viewpoints on the roles for the yearbook and the newspaper are usually vastly different. However, with each passing year, the line of distinction seems to be getting blurry.
Rod Satterthwaite, both the newspaper and yearbook adviser at Dexter High School in Dexter, Mich., does an exercise with his journalism class each year that provides a pretty clear window into the different perceptions of high school yearbooks and newspapers.
While discussing journalism ethics with the class, Satterthwaite always brings up a hypothetical controversial subject. He asks the students whether it should be covered in the school’s newspaper and/or yearbook. The opinions almost always tend to reflect the traditional roles of the two publications.
“If you bring up something like, for example, a drug bust at your school, you can ask the kids if they would cover that in the newspaper and almost all of them say yes,” said Satterthwaite. “Then you ask if they would cover that in the yearbook, and they say no. There’s a sentiment out there that the yearbook should primarily cover the positive aspects of the school.”
Satterthwaite makes no bones about the fact that he can be counted among those advisers who do not adhere to that strict theory.
“I disagree with that,” said Satterthwaite, when explaining his views on the traditional role of a yearbook. “I always let it be the decision of the yearbook staff, but I believe there are sometimes going to be touchy events or issues that the yearbook has a responsibility to cover if they made a significant impact on that school year.”
Amy Morgan, the yearbook and newspaper adviser for Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kan., said yearbook staffs sometimes find themselves carefully considering the topics they cover due to several external factors, such as the importance of book sales or how the principal might view the content.
“First of all, the kids pay for the yearbook, so that’s part of it,” said Morgan. “There’s an impression that the newspaper is a little more temporary. The yearbook is more permanent, and kids want to look back years from now and remember the positive things about their school. I think the administration sees it as a little bit more of a public relations tool as well.”
Shawnee Mission West’s 2004 yearbook was a prime example of journalistic-style yearbooks. The book had an entire section on youth social issues, and it included articles on teen pregnancy, teenage drinking and an inter-racial relationship between two of the school’s students.
“The two publications are fulfilling different roles, but we’re always going to have the yearbook be an accurate reflection of the year,” said Morgan. “We’re going to be as journalistic as possible.”
Other schools have made strides toward a journalistic style with their yearbook, but still strongly believe there are lines that the yearbook should never cross. Terry McCoy has been the yearbook adviser at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia, S.C., for the past 30 years. There are some taboo subjects that his school’s yearbook has never covered, and has no plans to cover in the near future.
“A few years ago one of our staffers came back from a workshop, and the teacher had suggested that, ‘you need to do a story on teen pregnancy.’ We decided that we didn’t,” said McCoy. “In the south, we tend to be more conservative. Stories like that might work in some places, but won’t work here.”
McCoy agreed that administrators and students view the yearbook as more of a PR tool than the newspaper, but said the Richland Northeast yearbook has certainly grown more journalistic with its content during the past 30 years.
“We cover all those things that are recurring events, or anything that’s a traditional activity. That’s a given,” said McCoy. “What has changed is how we cover it. We try to cover different angles each year.”
Next year at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., yearbook students will be required for the first time to take the school’s beginning journalism class as a prerequisite for yearbook, said Barbara Thill, the yearbook and newspaper adviser. The same class has always been a requirement for the newspaper staff.
“The yearbook is always going to take a look at what was unique about that school year. It’s going to always be more featurish, dealing with personalities. Since it publishes more frequently, the newspaper is going to stay on top of things and be a bit more hard-hitting,” said Thill. “It’s just two different kinds of storytelling.”
Expectations of that storytelling result in divergent voices and student makeup of yearbook and newspaper staffs.
“The typical yearbook kid is more interested in featurish stuff. The newspaper kids lean more toward doing the hard-hitting stories,” Thill said.
Thill has noticed that difference even more since coming to Stevenson two years ago. The last time she had advised yearbook was 1990. She brought a journalism-heavy focus to the Stevenson yearbook, and the adjustments have taken time.
“Before I came here, the yearbook wasn’t really a journalistic endeavor. It was a creative endeavor,” said Thill. “It’s been hard, because we have changed so much. We’re still in the middle of training our readers in what a good journalistic yearbook is.”
Different publications, same adviser
The similarities of yearbook and newspaper staffs include practical matters: often, the work of both gets done in the same room of the school. In smaller schools, the staffs overlap. In many cases, one journalism teacher serves as the adviser for both, creating unique challenges.
The most obvious stressor for these advisers is handling the workload. Some advisers at larger schools find they do not have the time to efficiently run both. Others would not have it any other way.
“It’s manageable, but sometimes I wonder why I’m doing both,” said Rod Satterthwaite, the newspaper and yearbook adviser at Dexter High School in Dexter, Mich. “The stress level can get high, especially if you have a newspaper deadline and a yearbook deadline in the same week, which unfortunately has happened a couple times.”
Overlapping deadlines are inevitable on many occasions. However, even without overlaps, advisers will be called upon to put in several nights of after-hours work throughout the school year because of the demands of the two publications.
According to some advisers, the key to getting the job done is building a staff of journalism students that comes ready to work.
“You can’t do it without student editors that are willing to lead,” said Barbara Thill, the newspaper and yearbook adviser at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill. “You’ve got to find kids who have proven they can handle responsibility and make sound decisions to be your editors.”
Advisers with a tendency to be more hands on, and take on part of the editing and creating load, or advisers dealing with unmotivated staffs, will likely struggle with juggling yearbook and newspaper.
“I tend to delegate a lot. My students are really in charge,” said Satterthwaite. “It’s my philosophy anyway, but in order to survive when you’re advising both publications, it’s a necessity.”