November 17, 2009 / Fall 2009 / Staff Management

The future of yearbook

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Many influences will affect yearbook in the future, but its intrinsic value to its readers will determine its staying power.

panelToday it may be difficult to determine how technology and events in publishing, education and culture will influence yearbooks 20 years from now, but the signs of change are posted everywhere. Some of those signs concern seven yearbook advisers who sat down to talk about the future of yearbook one day this summer.

Several times during the 100-minute discussion, the future of yearbook came back to value – how to increase the publication’s value to students by using a variety of ways to include its readers in the yearbook creation process.

Among the topics they discussed, they concluded that printed yearbooks will not go away, at least not in the near future; ways that the yearbook can and should attract readers; skills that should be taught and where online capabilities fit in; and the future of scholastic journalism.

A paperless society?

Computer hardware and software and the Internet have been recent significant forces in the creation and submission of yearbooks. However, that technology has prompted the phrase, “paperless society,” in which the future of print materials is being questioned.

As newspapers silence their presses, and Amazon’s sales of Kindle, its hand-held book buying and reading device, increases, you have to wonder. Both Robert Haar, adviser at Thousand Oaks High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Nate Fincher, adviser at Atlantic High School in Port Orange, Fla., brought up that in the future, a yearbook staff could create a 300-page book, but students could print the 10 pages they want, or custom-order small books created with images, captions and copy that they submit to the yearbook publisher. This also might work if the book is in PDF format and put online for students to print the pages they want.

Anne Whitt, a retired adviser from Orlando, Fla., mentioned a book titled, “Expressive Processing,” by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, in which one of the things mentioned was kiosks at bookstores where you could search for a book and print it to order.

“The quality is poor but you have the book,” Whitt said.

So is the future of textbooks, and yearbooks, in a hand-held device, or online where a student can download the PDF version of just the yearbook pages they want? The advisers agreed that the future of yearbook is not on CD or DVD.

Renee Burke, adviser at William R. Boone High School in Orlando, Fla., said her students created a CD-Rom book in 1998, but the technology is too old to play it on all computers.

As for the DVD yearbook, Haar said his staff once won an NSPA Pacemaker for its DVD yearbook in 2002, but they only produced one for a few years. Haar said his staff faced many challenges in producing both the yearbook and the DVD.

“Our level of dedication and quality started to drop in our production, and (reader) interest was not growing. Without a ‘dedicated only’ staff to the DVD I decided to stop doing it,” Haar said. “There was not a single person who came to me and mentioned, ‘where is the DVD?’ No one missed it.”

That does not mean students disliked DVDs, but the advisers agreed there was something enjoyable about holding a book and looking at pictures and reading stories.

“The tactile aspect of the yearbook is so important,” said Kristin Campbell, adviser at Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas. “I think there is something to be said for cracking open the book, smelling the ink and feeling the paper.”

Jim Jordan, adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Calif., asked whether tactile was an old way of thinking about yearbooks, but did not completely convince himself that the thought was outdated.

“It will be interesting to see what happens to printed yearbooks,” Jordan said. “I don’t think yearbook will ever go away.”

“The act of holding the book, which offers pleasure and enlightenment, is a big part of what has made books become so important in our lives,” Whitt said.

Attract readers by collaboration

Whether to print yearbooks is not an issue, as far as these advisers were concerned. But Fincher said, “This isn’t about the book. This is about journalism.”

Fincher said the old way of journalism is under attack, and a new approach should be to try to get more students to collaborate with the creation of the yearbook.

“Yearbook needs to be relevant,” Campbell said. “Value – that’s where quality will stand the test of time.”

The advisers generally agreed that one way to get more students to buy the book is to customize the content. Personalizing the last 10-15 pages was discussed as an option, allowing students, as mentioned earlier, to submit their own pictures and copy.

Jordan and Fincher also pointed to ClassScene by Walsworth and its capabilities for allowing students and others to upload images that the yearbook staff can use in the yearbook, and even help with broadening coverage through images, opinions and allowing the staff insight into the interests of students.

“When different types of media provide the means for more input from more of the students, the yearbook can expose more of what is going on in the school, and actually celebrate the year a little more,” Fincher said.

Increasing yearbook sales is about more than attracting students. Parents in the United States have been buying yearbooks for their children for a century. Fewer adult immigrants, who were never raised with the truly American phenomenon of yearbooks, buy them for their children than people raised in the U.S.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t think of one school that didn’t publish a yearbook. But now, some schools in my area are not, and it’s a cultural thing,” said Jordan, whose suburban Sacramento high school is located in an area in which the Hispanic population – not yet first-generation Americans – is increasing.

“The early immigrants don’t value it. They don’t regard it the way the kids whose parents have yearbooks regard it,” Whitt said. “This is where technology will help.”

Technology can help increase interest in yearbook ownership by advertising book sales and allowing students to participate in its creation by uploading photos. Technology can possibly help in the future by allowing more personalized books.

Selling a yearbook, like selling any other product, is a matter of creating value to the buyer. Staffs will need to continue to show the value of the book to its buyers, whether they are first-generation students from other countries, students who are not involved in school activities or students who do not believe they will be included.

Online is where it’s at

So many things that used to be done in person are available in the virtual world nowadays: pay your bills, make purchases, visit with friends. As Whitt pointed out, plenty of Florida students are going to school online; that also is occurring nationally.

Online tools exist inside and outside the yearbook world, available to assist staffs. Within the yearbook world, the newest programs are online creation tools, such as Walsworth’s Online Design. Using it, an adviser and staff can plan their yearbook with a ladder, make assignments and communicate tasks to be done. Layout features are available to create pages. Images from staff photographers and students can be stored and uploaded for placement. And, a proofreading system holds pages until they are cleared for online submission.

Online applications may be great for teen staffs in high schools, but are the professionals using it?

“I want to train my kids with what they use in the real world,” said Jordan, whose staff uses Adobe’s InDesign for that reason. “Maybe online applications will be the real world in the future.”

“If Adobe moves online, it will move that way. We will follow what the industry does,” Campbell said.

Haar agreed that he wants his students to create their yearbook like the pros, but with online applications, students are not limited by what they must get done in the classroom, that they can work from home or anywhere there is an Internet connection.

While Michael Frazier’s school, Hanover-Central High School, a school of about 600 students in Cedar Lake in northwest Indiana, just invested in the newest version of InDesign, he recognized the need for schools to use web-based technology for efficiency and cost savings.

“We have to offer small schools very economical options,” Frazier said. “I guarantee my school won’t want to invest that kind of money (in software) again.”

Even if they create their book using desktop publishing software, staffs have been working online for several years. They have had the ability to submit yearbook covers and pages online in PDF format. Yearbooks and ads can be sold online.

A recent Walsworth item that Campbell said she likes is Live Yearbook, an online yearbook that enables the staff to flip the pages of the yearbook they are creating so they can see it cover to cover. Haar said Live Yearbook helps the staff maintain consistency in the book.

“It’s difficult getting students to understand that yearbook is a year-long project. They are so into instant results. With Live Yearbook, they get some of that as well as the ability to make sure they are keeping all of their elements the same on one spread as the next, even though they are made months apart,” Haar said.

Outside of the yearbook world, online tools and sites, some of them free, are attracting advisers and staffs. Haar said his staff is in the early stages of looking at Facebook as an informational and promotional tool, for example, to advertise price changes, senior ad due dates, and possibly letting people know they are in a certain spread or have a photo in the book to encourage sales.

Burke said her staff at Boone has just set up a yearbook Facebook page, and had 150 friends in early September. They are still working out the details about how to use the page, such as for sales updates, she said.

Fincher said this year, his staff is communicating using a website called Ning that lets you set up a private social network.

“Because we have two separate yearbook classes, all of our class discussions now take place online. It is really helping us assure that everyone is on the same page as we solidify our mission statement and develop our theme. We are also looking forward to using other features on Ning like “events” that allow us to post and track coverage opportunities,” Fincher said.

“This site really seems to be building unity between the two classes, so far,” he said.

Copy counts

The future of scholastic journalism appeared questionable in the context of new advisers entering the classroom as new technology becomes available to aid in production.

Anyone can buy software and create printed materials, Campbell said. But they cannot learn excellent journalism, design or writing on their own.

Frazier, who is retiring after 30 years, wondered about the teachers who will be following other retiring veteran advisers.

Jordan picked up on that thought. While the outgoing adviser would want to help groom the new adviser, the inclination of the administration is to let the new teacher have the yearbook, he said.

And when you have an inexperienced teacher, and online creation products, there is a fear of losing the journalism drive in yearbook, he said.

“We’ve lost the essence of what yearbook can be,” Jordan said. “Tell the story with words, photos and contemporary design, and if we’ve lost the word, we’ve lost a big part.”

Jordan said what’s needed are great teachers, great advisers and great yearbook representatives.

Haar said he understood that yearbook representatives are facing pressure to learn and stay up to date with technology, as well as meet the company and customers’ business expectations. Journalism, therefore, becomes tertiary in their assistance to their customers.

Fincher said this is an opportunity for Walsworth to support advisers and help them focus on developing the journalism side of yearbook.

Its own wonderful medium

The yearbook has its place, just as other technology does, and these advisers want a secure future for the printed yearbook.

“I can hardly believe the speed in emergence of new technologies. I believe the biggest effect they will have on the future of yearbooks is in the creation, not in the final product.” Whitt said. “Yearbook is its own wonderful medium. Books may be forced to be better, but technology can help with that aspect.

“The yearbook highlights everything, (depicting) ‘this is what school was like when I was there,’” Renee Burke said. “There is value in tradition.”

“Facebook allows you to continually update,” Frazier said. “Yearbook is one shot. They have different purposes.”

As long as the yearbook continues in its printed form, it does not have to take on the roles of new technology, Jordan said.

“Yearbook will be a tradition rather than morphing into something different.” Jordan said.

Elizabeth Braden, CJE
Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.