“Y” is for Yearbook Staff

Post #25 in the Blogging A to Z Challenge.

Oh my, I can’t believe we are almost done with this challenge! Wow!

So yearbooks. 🙂  I was on the yearbook staff junior and senior year in high school. It’s something I’d always wanted to do!

This post got long. It became a memory dump for my time on the yearbook staff. 🙂

Getting on the staff

To get on the staff initially, we had to write a sample article but not sign it with our names (to avoid potential biases). I was so excited when a member of the staff called me to let me know I’d been accepted!

My junior year, they assigned me to the sports section as a staff writer. I was disappointed. I had no interest in sports back then and didn’t want to have to go to games. I also felt that the sports section was the most boring (to me). Usually I only skimmed it. But I had no choice, because which section you were assigned to depended largely on your class schedule. To be on any other section I would’ve had to make too many changes to my schedule.

It worked out just fine in the end. One of my friends outside of yearbook was also on sports, so we had fun working together. We didn’t have to go to every game (only one or two to get a feel for it). I got over my fear of calling people for quotes. We also had a dedicated sports photographer the first half of the year. In the spring, we had to go out and get our own shots since our photographer was on the softball team and that limited her availability. 🙂 I was able to get an action shot during a women’s lacrosse game that I was particularly proud of.

Technology in the Late ’90s / early ’00s

This was back in the ’99-’00 and ’00-’01 school years. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no smart phones (although basic cell phones were starting to get popular), no fancy digital cameras, no WordPress, no texting, no GPS in your pocket, no “i” devices, no “there’s an app for that”, no YouTube, no InDesign…the concept of those things didn’t even exist in our minds. How fascinating. We used primarily film cameras, with some newer digital models (but nothing like what we have today). We had to scan all the pictures from the film cameras, and we used card readers to import pictures from the digital cameras. We stored everything on ZIP disks. We used Adobe Pagemaker to lay out the pages, and Adobe Photoshop for all image editing (that’s one program that did exist back then). Our computers were Macs of the good ole Power PC variety. Bluetooth mice and keyboards? Intel Macs? Get outta here!

Marathon, Not a Sprint

Putting together a yearbook is a full-year process that doesn’t bring instant gratification. This was something the editors-in-chief loved to stress. They’d say, “it’s not always going to be fun. You’re going to call people up and they’re not always going to want to give you quotes or be cooperative.  That’s OK, just move on. Keep thinking ahead to that magical day in May where we get to see the finished product for the first time.” It was my first lesson in, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. Calling folks to get quotes was quite a challenge for my shy high school self, but I always managed to do it. I did run into some cases where the parents were super protective of their kids and wouldn’t let them come to the phone to provide a quote. Other times, kids just seemed bored on the phone. I wanted to shout, dude…wake up. This is your YEARBOOK we’re talking about. Doh!

Yearbook staff structure

Our yearbook staff was structured as follows: each section of the book had its own team. There was “Class”, “Academics”, “Student Life”, “Sports”, and “Ads”. (During my junior year, there was an additional section called the “2000 Section”, in honor of the school’s 75th anniversary. For that section, they interviewed two alumni from the school for every year starting from the year with the oldest living alumni until the present, which at that time was 1998). Each section had one or two editors (second-year staff members), and staff writers. The section editors were responsible for: 1) designing templates for their section’s spreads; 2) coming up with topics and a page ladder for their section; 3) assigning the topics to their staff writers; 4) proofing the writers’ articles; 6) coordinating the photos; 5) helping the writers put together their spreads; 6) proofing the spreads before handing the spreads off to the editors-in-chief; 7) serve as the representative for their section in planning meetings.

Junior Year – Staff Writer

I was a staff writer my junior year, so I received assignments from the section editor. I still remember my assignments — Varsity Field Hockey, Women’s Varsity Tennis, Men’s J.V. Basketball, Women’s Varsity Swimming, Men’s Lacrosse (J.V. and Varsity), Women’s Lacrosse (Varsity and J.V.), and Golf.

Senior Year – Section Co-Editor

Many people return to yearbook staff for a second year, and become section editors for the section they’d been a staff writer for the previous year. I was originally supposed to be a co-editor for the sports section. But due to scheduling conflicts, I was instead co-editor of the Student Life section. I was annoyed at first, since I’d already spent the summer coming up with ideas for the sports section with the person who was supposed to be my co-editor. Student Life was completely new! My co-editor, Autumn, also didn’t have much experience with Student Life. It was a fun learning experience. Student Life turned out to be the most fun section, since it chronicles students’ lives both inside and outside of school. We poured through old yearbooks for topic ideas and came up with a long list. We then assigned the topics to specific pages, in an order that made sense. For example, we included the fall-related stories early on, followed by Halloween, winter holidays, and spring break. Then we threw in non-seasonal topics in between to mix things up. In some cases, we left spreads blank so that the writer could come up with their own topic and design. We called these “Free Spreads”. Finally, we determined which spreads would be full-color, which ones would be spot color, and which would be black and white. Each section was given a specific number of color and spot-color pages to work with, and they had to appear in a specific sequence if I remember correctly. That took some thought, but we learned a lot in the process.

We assigned articles to our staff writers and then we had to proof them. I did most of my article proofing during English class. Ha. Autumn and I read every article and we used different color pens to make corrections and suggestions. My writing has gotten so bad these days. I was a MUCH better writer in high school when I was practicing regularly. The idea of me proofing someone’s writing now makes me laugh.

The best part of being a section editor was designing the spreads. To keep things interesting, we used one design for about six spreads before switching to a new design. Autumn and I each came up with three spread designs. The student life section also included a magazine with local, state, and national news (we ordered the photos from the AP, but our writers wrote up all the stories). I had so much fun designing the cover for the magazine, and Autumn designed a really cool wave effect out of students’ photos for the back cover.

I remember being super pissed when the magazine ended up being full size pages rather than the half-size pages used in previous years. I’d designed a photo collage for the cover, with the half-size in mind, but for some reason, at the last minute they were unable to use the smaller page size. We didn’t have enough pictures for me to make the collage fill the large size pages, so I just filled the extra space with text instead. To this day, I cringe when I see that cover because it doesn’t look as good as it would have if we’d just stuck with the smaller size. Gah!! At least the interior pages of the magazine looked decent. Since it was the turn of the century, we had a neat section in the magazine with predictions from students about technology, inventions, and life in the 21st century. My brother’s prediction was spot on: “There will be less face-to-face communication because of the new technologies.” My brother was a sophomore that year and I worked hard to get him quoted and pictured in the book beyond his usual class photo (besides the quote about technology, I also managed to get picture of him feeding our cat, Collar, on the spread about Pets).

Bringing in New Yearbook Staff Members

When I was on staff junior and senior years, we had a period of time where everyone had to read article submissions from prospective new staff members. The articles were of course unsigned, and we had to rate them using a criteria sheet. It was interesting to see this process from the other side.

Tour of the Yearbook Press and Pre-Press Work

One thing our yearbook advisor loved to brag about is that we did all of our pre-press work ourselves. So we designed all of the layouts, processed all the pictures, and put together all the spreads. We sent the spreads in batches to the press (Hreff Jones). They’d send proofs back to us, and every so often we’d have what we called “proof week”, where we’d proof each other’s spreads — check for typos, photo issues, correct captions, everything.

During the spring of junior year, we went on a tour of the Hreff-Jones yearbook plant. Apparently, many schools opted to send Hreff-Jones their copy and photos, and have the plant put together the spreads. It does save time, but adds to the cost, plus there’s less control over the end result. By doing all the pre-press work ourselves, we were able to sell the books at a lower price, include more color pages, and have fine-grained control over our spreads.


It was always a happy moment when we finished the yearbook and sent off the final spreads to the press! The final print took a couple of weeks, so we used that time to plan out Yearbook Day — the day we distributed our hard work to the school! On Yearbook Day, students first watched a slideshow in the auditorium. Then they picked up their books in the gym afterward. Seniors got to receive their books on Saturday afternoon followed by the slideshow. For the rest of the school, this took place the following Monday. Juniors (and seniors who missed the Saturday showing) watched the slideshow first. Then while they received their books in the gym, Freshmen and Sophomores watched the slideshow. Then the Freshmen and Sophomores ascended on the gym to pick up their books.

We spent at least three weeks putting together the slideshow. It’s basically hundreds of photos (some from the yearbook, some that didn’t make the book, and some taken specifically for the show). We worked in teams, and each team got assigned 3 minutes of the show to work on. We did a school-wide poll to determine which songs to include. We used a program called Adobe Premier to build the slideshow. We got pretty elaborate — the opening was always dramatic (my junior year, the opening song ended in our yearbook advisor driving a real car onto the stage). My senior year, we did a Survivor opening (it was 2001, OK?), culminating with a few staff members going up on the catwalk above the auditorium and squirting water onto folks with super soakers. We even had a fake “slideshow meltdown” halfway through — making it look like the slideshow failed in a dramatic way. Yep, it was a blast to explore our creativity that way, and the kids always seemed to love it.

Seeing the Books For the First Time

This was like Christmas morning (if you celebrate Christmas) for the yearbook staff. Once the press was done printing the books, they shipped them to us in dozens of boxes. We spent an entire week unloading the boxes and storing them on the roof of the school. Yes, the roof. I’m not even kidding. They had to put them in a location that was out of the way so no one would be tempted to steal them. I remember us hauling those heavy boxes up on a ladder in a passageway that led to the roof. It’s a wonder no one fell. This was pure torture, not because of the physical labor, but because we weren’t allowed to open the boxes and see the books! We could smell them, could feel them moving inside the boxes, but we couldn’t see them! No, we had to wait until that Friday after school. So, unload boxes Monday-Thursday, see books on Friday.

Getting through the day Friday was like Christmas Eve! The entire staff gathered in the Yearbook classroom once school ended. We had to wait for everyone. Finally the Editors-in-Chief cut open the box, and held up the book for us to see. OMG it was such a magical moment! All of our work, suddenly reality. A tangible reality. Books were quickly distributed among the staff, and we immediately flipped through to see all of our spreads! Sometimes there were odd errors, but most of the time it was beautiful.

Yearbook Day

Distributing the yearbooks was always handled by the new staff members (people who’d be joining the staff the following fall). The current staff was given the day off to revel in seeing everyone enjoying what we’d worked so hard on all year. This was the moment of gratification we’d been waiting for. 10 months of hard work, for this glorious day. Let me tell you, it was absolutely amazing to see people flipping excitedly through the pages, laughing when they saw themselves on spreads we’d designed. We created something that they’ll have for many many years to come. A piece of their history.

Drawbacks – Not So Good Things

I loved being on Yearbook. But the one thing I struggled with was feeling like my personality was not fully accepted by the yearbook staff and advisors. The advisors favored outgoing, extraverted personality types. I was quiet, and they didn’t like that. It’s too bad, because I feel like teachers should be accepting of all personality types. That’s what I’d do. Because the advisors always found fault with us quiet people, the rest of the staff members did too. Teachers do set examples for the students. I feel like if the teachers had been more accepting, so would the students. My friend and I were both quiet on the staff, and we were constantly chastised and criticized for it. Back then I didn’t have the insights that I do now to deal with it in a healthy manner. I took it all to heart and believed that something was seriously wrong with me.

Lessons Learned / Takeaways – The Good Stuff

Aside from the drawbacks, being on yearbook is what got me interested in graphic design. Prior to that, I was going to major in English in college (wut?!!! Again, my writing has deteriorated so badly these days that I can no longer imagine myself as an English major). Because of yearbook however, I decided to study graphic design. Ultimately I ended up switching my major to Multimedia Journalism (since my love for web design triumphed). Still, I stuck with print design for some time after college, and had a hard time deciding which direction to go in, print or web. I chose the web route, and I think it was the right decision for me (although I do have to say that I think it would be fun to design book covers). In college I didn’t join the yearbook staff, but I did join the staff of two print magazines as a designer.

So there you have it. My behemoth post on the yearbook staff. I don’t have any pictures of the yearbooks I worked on since both books are at my childhood home. I would love to visit my high school and see what their process is like today. How are they utilizing newer technologies to put together the book? Are they still doing pre-press work themselves? Are their student life topics similar to ours? Do they incorporate social media? Texting? Blogging? How has the concept of yearbooks changed since students have so much more information about each other now thanks to social media? Photos aren’t even as special anymore, since anyone with a smart phone can post dozens of pictures on Instagram with fancy filters in less than an hour. Maybe there’s still some appeal in the fact that yearbooks are at least tangible. It might be time to do some research and Googling to see what I can find!

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