Learning the yearbook ropes

Written by Andrew Plonsky

When I first started working at Trinity School in New York City in 2006, someone handed me a copy of the yearbook so I could familiarize myself with my colleagues and students. I remember thinking, “The yearbook – I hope nobody ever asks me to do that!”

Fast forward three years, when the Dean of Student Life asked me to take the job. In thinking about it, I realized that yearbook would be a great way to become more involved in the life of the school, to really get to know the place inside and out. I would also get to work with a different group of students, the editors and staff of the yearbook. But I had never done anything like this before. How and where was I supposed to start?

I had no background in publishing, photography, graphics, design, English or journalism. What did I need to know? What did I have to do to stay on top of everything? How was I going to be responsible for overseeing and leading 20-30 staffers, making sure the yearbook got done, done well and on time?

With 376 pages, thousands of pictures and words, and all the critical eyes of students, parents, administration and colleagues, the opportunities to err seemed infinite. The 2013 yearbook was my fourth, and although I still feel like I have a lot to learn, I think I finally got the basics down. Here are some of the areas I initially concentrated on with my first yearbook.

Organization

Although I am not always perfectly organized, I admit things would have been a lot harder had I not maintained a certain level of order. While putting a yearbook together, many unknowns and surprises can jump out at you, sidetracking your progress. However, if you have all the knowns in order you can deal with crises and surprises much more successfully. For example: you know who and what needs to be photographed. Create a roster of these events and the dates. Make weekly to-do lists of things to accomplish and discuss with your editors each week.

Things always take longer than you think

I drive this point home to the staff every year: be careful not to fantasize about time, that is to say, thinking a task will only take an hour, or that you can fit an unreasonable amount of work into a given segment of time. Be ambitious, but be fair to yourself and your editors. Always start earlier than you think.

Go and see people face-to-face

Email is passive and easy to ignore. It is a lot harder for someone to ignore you if you are standing in front of them in their classroom or office. I encourage students to seek out information on their own, especially from teachers. Do not just send an email or Facebook message and assume that will get the job done – persist.

Student Life

My first thought was to make sure we did not miss anything. I went through the printed school calendar and the complete list of student events on the school website. I also looked at a few recent yearbooks to become familiar with the kinds of events we covered. I then plotted these events chronologically. I now rely more on the section editors to be responsible for gathering this information, but during the first year or two I wanted to personally make sure we had a photographer at every event covering all the important happenings in the life of our students.

Sports

Year one I met with the athletic director to introduce myself and make sure my list of every athletic teams was accurate. Then I made a checklist for the sports section editor detailing items we needed: team pictures; action photos of games; rosters of all players’ names; final won/loss records and conference standings; and any new team or personal records set. And like everything else, it is best to get an early start: hit the games, matches, and meets early on.

Faculty, staff and students

I especially wanted to make sure everyone was represented accurately. I tell my yearbooks staffs to make sure everyone is included. With about 960 students in grades K-12 plus 300 adults working in dozens of departments and areas, this is no small feat! And, check and double-check that everyone’s name needs to be spelled correctly. I really do not relish the idea of having co-workers and students come up to me after yearbook distribution and tell me their name was misspelled.

  • Joe Plonsky

    Excellent article, cousin! They are lucky to have you on their staff!

    Joe

  • Ani

    Thank you for the great words of advice. This is my first time teaching the yearbook class and reading your article was helpful.

Andrew Plonsky