Photo by: Arianna Segura

November 6, 2020 / Coverage

Inclusion Must Be a Deliberate Choice

Written by Mike Taylor, CJE

This is a hard blog to write.

Why? It deals with something I care about, so that should be easy. After all yearbooks, yearbook students and yearbooking are my life.

The reason for the difficulty is that It deals with a subject that we sometimes shy away from as we just do not want to offend. The subject is diversity in our books.

It is about time we address this issue face-to-face. As a whole, yearbook staffs do a poor job covering the diversity of their school. I am not talking about just ethnic diversity; I am talking about religious, social and gender diversity as well.

How do we fix this issue?

The first step is inclusion.

Does your journalism program actively seek out and include students of all races and backgrounds? There must be a deliberate recruiting standard for your staff.

In order to get the true story of your students, you need to have a mix of students on staff. Once we fix this area, we can then move on to our coverage of the school community. The pub room should feel like a safe place for students of all races, religions and backgrounds. When the students and the publication staff feel respected and included, the book will showcase that, the coverage will expand and soon the school will tell their stories.

One thing I told my students when teaching is that they needed to cover more people than their friends. I would tell each kid to write down their five best friends, and I would not allow them to cover any of those friends.

Soon, deadlines would loom, and presto change-o, my kids would revert to a quote from a friend, or worse, the yearbook kid sitting next to them.

Bottom line: it is easy to say we are going to cover our school population. It is harder in reality. We must be deliberate about this.

Take action

This is a subject we can no longer ignore or glaze over. If our publications are going to generate change with tomorrow’s leaders, then we must be deliberate. So, where do we start?

Go directly to your community. When I say community, I mean the students, faculty members and all workers at your school. Then, branch out and go to the actual community; the businesses that support your school, the parents, the leaders of your temples, churches, synagogues. Sit down and talk. Actually, do less talking and more listening. This will be a difficult pill to swallow. They will tell you if your publication has been fair in coverage. Ask them how you as a storyteller can do a better job covering them and their stories.

Create a focus group

The yearbook should be about the community. It should cover the community and should fairly cover its community. How do we know what your community is?

Your community is the population of the school, the diverse population.

Look at ethnicity, look at gender, talk to the club sponsor or leaders of your religious organizations, your coaches, your entire school. Ask questions. Discuss how you as a publication can do a better job covering the entire population.

Some of you may attend schools that, by their nature, are less diverse. Maybe you attend a Christian school where most students are Christian, so there are not a lot of other religions to include. That doesn’t mean your book can’t still be diverse. Your job is to represent your school. Think about all the ways to you can do that. Do you have boys and girls on staff? Do you talk to students from a variety of churches? Are you including all ages in the yearbook and not just seniors? Are there students you could be talking to from different ethnic backgrounds or who speak a different language?

A focus group needs to be made up of all different types of people, from grade level to interest level. Be deliberate. Ask questions and let the attendees write their answers on cards. This way, there will be less possibilities of giving or creating excuses for past behaviors.

Train your staff

While teaching your newest students, tell them they must interview people they do not know. People who aren’t like them. This is difficult. As a society, we tend to group ourselves with people that look like us. Encourage your staff to aim directly at those of different cultural backgrounds, ethnic groups and belief systems. Again, we must make this a priority.

Be deliberate on your coverage

Aim to tell the stories of family traditions, special cultural birthday or coming-of-age stories. Continue to cover and talk. Find out typical fears, dreams and aspirations. Basically, listen. Cover club meetings and discuss diversity issues with those members. When clubs or organizations have leaders from the community speak, be there. Make the effort. This must be deliberate. The publication reports and photographers must make this effort.

If the staff says this is a priority, (and in reality, it should be a priority) scheduled focus groups should take place. Decide on a topic for each time you have a focus group, include some food, and listen. This will pay off for your staff. You will have a better working relationship with the diverse groups on campus, they will trust your publication for allowing their voice and you will gain staffers who soon will be covering their groups fairly. Heck, you’ll probably make more sales.

Do not just cover your student community with these focus groups, cover your actual community. You may bring in small business owners, religious leaders and mom and dad. Talk with them and listen.

Really, the entire community, the school and your publication will create trust in one another.

Photography plays an intrinsic part of all publications. When covering events, photographers need to make sure they look for and photograph all people. Do not aim at your best friends and photograph them. Aim at interactions and reactions. Show representation of your student body.

Make inclusion a deliberate choice. Change will not come by chance. The staff, publication and the school need to sit down and make these changes deliberate. Take this on as a challenge. The best part will come when your yearbook features the stories and emotions of not just the year, but of your school community as well.

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Mike Taylor, CJE
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.