May 27, 2009 / Spring 2009 / Staff Management

When errors spark agony

Written by Idea File Staff

The yearbook is printed and distributed, and someone has been hurt by an error. Now what?

Distribution is an exciting time as students, faculty, parents and others look at the final product that the yearbook staff has worked so hard on all year. Yet, yearbook staffs dread a reader pointing out something in the book they do not like, or worse – errors. Like every other phase of yearbook production, plans need to be in place to handle customer concerns and complaints.

Errors and reactions

Most errors fall into the general categories of misspellings, incorrect identification, omissions and inappropriate content. Errors such as these create an almost physical pain to staff members and advisers. That pain is intensified by the varying reactions to these errors – from mild to threatening. Since the yearbook audience makes up a wide variety of people, staffs should have several options to placate readers.

Consider what happened last year at two schools across the country from each other.

Sue Farlow, adviser at Asheboro High School High School in Asheboro, N.C., said the toughest complaint she and her staff ever faced was an error of omission.

“We left a senior out of the book. She wasn’t in it anywhere. I don’t know why she was not in the senior pages. There is no record of her anywhere in the yearbook,” Farlow said.

“She was nice about it, but we really felt bad. It was a hard lesson to learn. I hope that never happens again. We are checking and double-checking,” Farlow said.

The parent of a student at Sinaloa Middle School in Simi Valley, Calif., was a little less forgiving.

“Somehow four students were missing mugs for the eighth grade section of the yearbook. Of course, since we are a middle school and eighth grade is their last year, one student was particularly upset by this error. However, this student had other images in the yearbook as well. This was not enough to appease the parent, who was quite irate and threatening to sue us,” Ryan Rosuck, Sinaloa’s adviser, said.

Solutions

In the case of Asheboro High, where a senior was completely left out of the book, Farlow gave the student a free yearbook and wrote a letter of apology.

At Sinaloa Middle, where four eighth graders were omitted in the portrait section, the four missing pictures were printed on an adhesive strip with the custom background that appeared in that section of Sinaloa’s yearbook. The strips were distributed to all students who had purchased yearbooks, Rosuck said.

Adhesive strips have helped many staffs when errors appear. Lauren Grelecki, adviser at Mt. Pleasant High School in Mt.Pleasant, N.C., tries to use them before the book is distributed.

She thoroughly reads the yearbook before it is distributed, to divert any possible problems.

“We have used photo stickers to replace pictures that were incorrectly placed, full-page photo stickers for ads that were printed in black and white but were supposed to be color, and crack-and-peel strips when the first page of the freshman class’ names were repeated on the third and fifth page under the wrong pictures,” Grelecki said.

“I try to correct whatever the issue may be,” Grelecki said. “Usually, if I can correct the problem, the parent doesn’t even ask for a refund. If the problem is on an ad page, though, I will usually provide at least a partial refund.”

When people have a legitimate complaint, their money is refunded and the editors write a letter of apology, Farlow said.

Grelecki has used letters of apology, too.

“The toughest complaint was probably over a statement in a ‘Senior Last Will and Testament.’ A student had written something insulting about another student and we failed to catch it in editing. The student who wrote the statement had to write an apology to the other student. I wrote one as well,” Grelecki said.

“The reason I consider this one of the toughest complaints is that it was an error that could have been avoided through better editing. The most difficult problems to address are those for which there is no excuse except carelessness,” Grelecki said.

The way to reduce complaints at distribution is to carefully write, edit and proofread all pages. And these advisers talk to their staff early about how to approach their yearbook work.

“On the very first day of school, I stress the importance of proofing their work,” Grelecki said. “I talk about how the work they do in yearbook is seen by literally thousands of people and is therefore different than assignments they do for other classes. They are representing not only themselves, but also the school and the community.”

Both Grelecki and Farlow said they tell their students that even though they may think they know how to spell someone’s name, it still needs to be double-checked. They point to Jessica, Jessyca, Jessika and Amy, Aimee and Ami as examples.

Rosuck divides her students into section teams by grade. These grade teams are responsible for triple-checking the names and ensuring that each student is represented in the yearbook. Diligent proofing also occurs when they receive their proofs.

“When I tell them I am taking one point off for every misspelled word, it gets their attention,” Farlow said.

“I also stress that yearbooks, and specifically parent ads, are expensive and people have particularly high expectations. Nobody is paying more than $50 to read their essays for English,” Grelecki said.

Taking questions and complaints

The advisers are available during distribution to talk to students who have a question or complaint, and after to take parent calls and emails.

“On distribution day, I stay in the office with my laptop. I get a substitute to cover my classes that day,” Grelecki said.

“On distribution day, the most common problem is that students, and sometimes parents, think that they have paid for a book when one has not been paid for,” she said.

Grelecki said that using Walsworth’s book sales program, SalesXpress, she can easily look up orders online and show exactly how much has or has not been paid. She said she also requires proof of purchase – a cancelled check, credit statement or printed receipt.

Rosuck said the office usually directs any inquiries to her via email. She takes complaints with an open mind, and responds “as best I am able.”

“My administration is extremely supportive and usually takes complaints of this type,” she said, referring to the angry parents whose child was omitted from the yearbook.

Farlow said she is present during distribution day, which occurs during Aloha Day, an afternoon in which students receive their books in homeroom, then they are dismissed to lunch outside. Student Council provides a disc jockey. Students listen to music and sign yearbooks.

It still hurts

Errors affect the students differently.

“It depends on the complaint. When the freshman class had the wrong names, the staff was disappointed, but they knew that it was nothing they had done wrong,” Grelecki said.

“I try to explain that you can’t possibly please everyone. Someone will not like the cover or the way the band is covered,” Grelecki said. “It always hurts, though, since they put so much of themselves into the book, and if a complaint is due to an error that a student made, that person always feels particularly bad.”

Farlow said, “Complaints usually are very demoralizing for the staff. They pour their heart and soul into the yearbook and take great pride in doing so. When it is a careless mistake (a misspelled name) they feel bad.”

“It’s hard when you work on something all year long to have a mistake that major,” Rosuck said, referring to the four missing eighth grade portraits. “That’s why it’s important to bring in another set of eyes to proof and edit, so that these mistakes that we may have skipped over get resolved and fixed.”

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.