September 30, 2004 / Fall 2004 / Staff Management

You Spelled My Name Wrong

Written by Karen Ray

Now is the time to head off common complaints heard at distribution.

Not too long after the first heavy boxes are sliced open and the new yearbooks distributed, it begins.

Despite countless hours of hard work, the agony of getting just the right photos, the arguments about coverage and design, the computer and/or network problems, even the best yearbook staffs suffer it – criticism of the yearbook.

While some complaints are valid, many stem from simple differences in taste and should not be taken personally. Also, remember that for every complaint that is heard, there are probably five compliments that are not. Even so, yearbook staffs need to take stock of what went wrong, what went right, and what can be done better this year.

Many criticisms of the yearbook crop up year after year. We have compiled a list of common delivery-day complaints and tips to use early in production to keep from hearing them next spring or fall when your 2005 yearbook comes in.

COMPLAINT: “You spelled my name wrong.”
One of the easiest ways to lose credibility as a yearbook staff is to misspell the names of students, staff and administrators. We all need validation, and the quiet little freshman in your band may have a vocal mom who will attack your staff with a vengeance when the name of her baby, Sean, is spelled “Shawn” in the yearbook.

Get lists of student names in the office and make each staff member use those lists to produce each and every spread. Some schools import their school data into spell-check and then spell-check everything. This is a good idea. Having each staffer keep a copy of school lists in their notebook and having name-check as one of the last steps to page preparation is vital. Many names are misspelled by well-meaning staffers who assume they know how to spell a name. Make them accountable for this part of their work.

COMPLAINT: “The starters aren’t in any of the pictures.”
Photographers need to get good sports shots, but they also need to know the subtle nuances of the sports they are shooting. Who are the main players? Get pictures of a cross-section of athletes and their contributions to the sport. Make sure team scores and records are included, as well as coverage of athletes who garner post-season honors. Be aware that sometimes there is jealousy of star athletes; do not get caught in the petty game of excluding them.

COMPLAINT:My school picture is missing.”
This is one of the toughest parts of producing a yearbook because other people and factors are involved. Picture companies make mistakes, students do not get their pictures taken and things get lost. Even so, much care has to be taken to make sure every student is pictured. When school pictures come in, contact each student and teacher who does not have a photo and make sure they show up for re-take day. After re-takes come in, contact those you still lack photos for and find out how you can get them. For seniors, it is essential that you have a contract from the parents stating that they realize there will be no school picture of their student in the book. Many times you will find that someone fell down on the job during this process and you should already have the photo. Then it is your job to track it down. Simply placing a “not pictured” list at the end of the class is not acceptable if you have not tried very hard to get those pictures.

COMPLAINT: “They misspelled so many words. Don’t they use spell-check?”
Spell-check is included in programs for a reason. Use it on every headline, caption and piece of copy. Even the best spellers miss typos that will invariably make someone angry. Misspelled words make the entire book look sloppy and unprofessional no matter how much care and thought goes into the design and photos. Strangely enough, headline typos are sometimes the easiest to overlook. Spell-check everything when the pages are submitted. The more perfect the pages are when you send them, the less likely you are to miss a typo at the proof stage. Use proofs as a last-ditch effort to find errors.

COMPLAINT: “It’s always the same people in the yearbook.”
Whole articles have been devoted to this subject. Bottom line is that staffs have to be vigilant to make sure they are not using their friends to the exclusion of the rest of the student body. Make a list of students who were not in the book much last year. Make a rule that staffers include two people they have never met on every spread. Make a “first-used” chart for each deadline and have reporters write their lists of sources and photos on a wipe-off board. Once a name is on the board, no one else may use that person in that deadline. This also encourages staffers to get their work done early so they can post their lists. Have one person manage the list of how many times each person is used in the book and keep the staff informed. Make sure photographers understand the process, too, as they tend to take photos of the people they know.

COMPLAINT: “Why is there no color in the book?”
Budgets are tight, but staffs have two easy ways to generate more income: sell more books and sell more ads. Plan for extras in the book, such as color and/or spot color, to add zing to your designs and then work hard to raise the money to pay for them. Too many staffs cut items without even trying to fund them and then get criticized for the book being plain. Brainstorm for creative marketing strategies, set goals, make a wish list with costs involved and then follow through to make sure you do not disappoint your readership.

COMPLAINT: “There’s too much/not enough writing.”
Remember that the yearbook is a history book that keeps records of the year. Stories and captions are vital ways to recapture the events. While it is true that many students do not read the stories now, they will at some time in the future. The trend now is to combine body copy and captions into longer storytelling captions dubbed “boptions.” Too much writing makes the yearbook hard to get through, yet too little writing is worse because the history is lost.

COMPLAINT: “The cover is terrible. Why don’t they use school colors?
This common complaint is both valid yet stifling. Many schools have a policy of using predominantly school color covers every two or three years so that every other year they can use other colors that align with their theme concept. Make sure your cover is neither too masculine nor too feminine, looks professional with cues from media around you, and conveys your theme clearly. As always in yearbook production, know your audience and their tastes. If your readership demands school colors on the cover, then by all means, use them.

COMPLAINT: “The group pictures are too small.”
This is a tough one because parents today remember the old yearbook rule that faces in group photos should be dime-sized. Today, schools have too many groups and clubs to do that without having the entire book become group pictures. The current trend of running tiny group photos is not perfect, either. Find a balance in size for group shots and keep that size consistent throughout the book. If you run a large photo for one group and a tiny one for others, you will get criticism when the book comes in. Also, make sure you either use a professional to take your group shots or take care with proper lighting to keep some faces from being shaded.

COMPLAINT: “Why are the pictures fuzzy?”
While photography is an art form and it takes skill to get a really outstanding shot, the new generation of digital cameras makes photography much easier for the average or beginning student. Delete out-of-focus, too dark or too light shots before they can be used. Make sure the camera has enough resolution for clear photos. Some of the new cameras have a “burst” mode that allows six to eight shots per second. These are great for sports because poor shots can be deleted. Again, budgets are tight, but digital cameras that are three to five years old will not produce the quality of photos required in the yearbook. Do not destroy them, but use them instead for tiny head shots in question-and-answer columns. Invest in the best cameras you can afford and learn to use them effectively. Have a professional from the community come in and demonstrate the best use of digital cameras.

COMPLAINT: “You left ____________ out of the book.”
The ladder is your blueprint for the book. A builder would never build a house without a blueprint. Neither should you produce a book without a thorough and complete ladder. Brainstorm with the entire staff for coverage. Look at past books to make sure you have covered everything. Ask the office for lists of new groups or events that are happening this year. Do not just keep things the same as they were last year.

COMPLAINT: “I hate all the black backgrounds.”
Black is effective as a background or highlight, but avoid using large areas of reversed type on black – it is too difficult to read. Black attracts fingerprints and can detract from design. Students also complain about black backgrounds because it limits places for autographs from their friends.

COMPLAINT: “The academic section is boring. Why do we even have it?”
Too many yearbook staffs rely on last-minute forays around the school to get photos of classes and end up with a book full of teachers pointing at a blackboards, students sitting at desks and administrators talking on the phone. Academics are the reason the schools exist. Showcase the best of dissections in biology, a debate team in a heated discussion, the beloved history teacher dressed as Alexander the Great, and the choir gargling with lemon water. Be in constant contact with the teachers. Ask them to tell you when something photo-worthy is happening in their classes. Make this a fun and interesting part of the book, not something you have to do and the students fail to look at.

A perfect yearbook has never been printed, and people who complain will continue to do so. With a little extra effort and knowledge, though, yearbook staffs do not have to hear the same complaints year after year. It is so much more fun when the boxes are opened to hear laughter and see memories recreated for all time. After all, that is what producing a yearbook is all about.

  • Ron KOFFMAN

    My year was 1945, not 1943.

Karen Ray