Written by Isabel McLaughlin
Newsletter helps adviser and staff revitalize yearbook program
After a rough year in yearbook, with a staff that wanted to make their own rules; that wanted to break long-standing traditions; that did not want to take responsibility for their own actions; that did not have a lot of confidence; with parents that did not understand that yearbook is not like a “real” class, that it is more like a “real” business; and so on and so forth. Well, let us just say, after all that I knew I needed help in revamping and reorganizing my yearbook journalism class. So, what did I do? As crazy as it may sound, I went to the schoolÕs dance teacher for help.
My belief is that there is no corner on the idea market. Seek help from those who have already been where you may be now. There are activity advisers or sponsors out there who probably have already paved the road for you.
For me, Kelly Meiring was one of those trailblazers. As sponsor of New Smyrna Beach High School’s Showdolls Dance Corps for 13 years, Meiring had once been in my situation. She took the Showdolls through years of being made fun of and, frankly, not getting much respect. She dealt with students who wanted to do things their way; who did not understand what it took to get the most out of themselves; who did not have a lot of confidence; and with parents who did not understand the dedication being part of team meant. She took the Showdolls from nothing to seven-time national champions.
The more I watched how she ran the Showdolls, the more I was amazed at how, in so many ways, their organization was so much like yearbook. I knew she could help me. My editor and I sat down with Meiring the following summer and laid all the trials and tribulations of the year before out on the table. We learned a lot and made some decisions on how we could improve our staff. Among other things, we determined we needed to do something to help bring the staff together. We decided to create a newsletter similar to the Showdoll newsletter, The Jazzline. We took their ideas and adapted them to suit our needs, launching the Smyrnan’s new staff newsletter, The Deadline, in the fall.
Realizing we had to crawl before we could walk, the first three issues of The Deadline were only two pages front and back. The November issue was six pages. The more ideas and columns we establish will ultimately determine the length of The Deadline in the future. Presently, we are using Microsoft Publisher, which basically designs the layouts for you. I am certain when we get more comfortable with a one-hour class that produces a monthly newsletter, as well as a yearbook, we may design our own layouts using PageMaker, which will give us more freedom in our design and give the students more practice using the software. In any case, they are still getting experience in desktop publishing.
We currently pass the newsletter out during class on the first day of each month. In November, we gave a copy of The Deadline to the English teachers and asked them to call attention to it during each of their classes. This is a very simple way to keep the student body aware of the staff’s progress and to let them know what we do in yearbook class. A long-term goal is to mail the newsletter to, at the very least, staff members’ parents and eventually to the entire student body.
There are several advantages to creating a monthly newsletter for the yearbook staff. It creates fellowship, communication, good spirits and inspiration among the staff. Beyond that, it provides professional credibility to the organization, creates a tool to inform the administration of the progress of the yearbook, promotes a feeling of ownership, and helps inform the parents of the accomplishments of their students.
Making the decision to publish a monthly newsletter was meant to increase camaraderie among the staff. It was not a secret that our staff really needed some positive reinforcement and a way to foster more of a “family” environment.
“I liked the newsletter idea from the beginning,” Lauren Burkhalter, editor of the Smyrnan, said. “It is a great way for the staff to share thoughts and ideas, and tell the rest of the class what goes on in their section. Six independent sections come together for a few minutes every month. It makes them feel more like a family.”
Taking the lead from The Jazzline, we decided to add a special feature to our newsletter by nominating and selecting a “Staff Member of the Month” from the yearbook staff. Likewise, we have incorporated an “Editor of the Month” to be highlighted in the newsletter. Another feature we have adapted from the Showdolls newsletter is our “Copy-Grams” column. Staff members pay 10 cents to put a special message to a fellow staffer in the monthly newsletter. The messages can be a note of thanks, good luck or congratulations.
“I think that the Copy-Grams are a really great idea,” Jessica Sapp, senior section editor, said. “It’s not only a fun way for us to express our gratitude to other members of the staff, but it also allows us to just say something nice or funny to a friend. It’s a good way to bring us all together.”
Playing off the idea that yearbook is not just a class, but also a business, was the impetus for requiring each section editor to either write or delegate someone to write a monthly business report for the newsletter. This includes the ad section as well. These section reports are informal, but in the future we plan to make them more in-depth.
A copy of The Deadline goes to our principal each month to ensure she knows the kind of work we are doing. Overall, the newsletter serves as a great public relations tool.
“The newsletter gives the yearbook staff a chance to show our peers, the faculty and administration the quality and amount of work we do,” Jenny Sanford, managing editor, said.
Promoting a sense of ownership in the yearbook is one of the most vital components of the newsletter. It is important for students to be empowered and to know their roles in producing the yearbook. All stories, columns and photos for the newsletter are produced by staff members. The ultimate goal is to have a staff within a staff.
Many copies of our first couple of newsletters ended up left behind in the yearbook classroom, but the November issue of The Deadline was well received. We stood at the door to give the newsletter to each student as they walked in and, for the first time, there was silence in the room for more than 10 minutes as each student perused every page. It was very exciting and the silence was golden!
For staff members to claim ownership in a newsletter, it needs to be done by the staff for the staff. It needs to result from their ideas with stories written by the staff and as many photos as possible. In addition, a staff newsletter needs to be personal, as well as professional. It needs to be fun, yet caring. It needs to be something that helps staff members cherish their yearbook memories now and forever.