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Teaching Yearbook: Staff Organization

written by: Jessica Cook • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 2/14/2012

For a yearbook adviser, having a good yearbook staff is the most important factor to producing a successful yearbook. Yearbook staffs come in all varieties, and organizing them well is the first step in a quality yearbook program.

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    Yearbook Staff: You Get What You Get

    My first year as a yearbook adviser, I had the yearbook staff of my dreams. I had an Editor-in-Chief and an editorial team composed of seasoned yearbook veterans, A-plus "alpha students" who were devoted to making a high-quality yearbook. Since I was essentially clueless about what to do in my new role, I basically let them lead the class, and followed along trying to absorb all I could. I learned a lot from that staff, and I was extremely fortunate to have them.

    Unfortunately, not all yearbook advisers have such a positive experience. In fact, my second year as a yearbook adviser, all those amazing kids had already graduated, and I was left with a very green staff full of students who were mostly strangers to me. Though I ended up finding some diamonds in the rough, it was a difficult year because of the inexperience and general apathy of the staff.

    It is a very rare, and very fortunate, yearbook adviser who has opportunity to hand-pick his or her staff entirely. I have met such people, and they have worked for years to fight for that right. For the rest of us, yearbook staffs tend to be a combination of kids we recruited and kids we received by default. For this reason, providing a clear and well-organized structure for the staff is essential.

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    Organizing by Sections

    In my first year with that wonder-kid yearbook crew, the staff was already set up in sections, so I left it that way. In a sectional organization, there is a structure something like this:

    Editor-in-Chief

    Section Editors

    Staffers in each section

    The sections in my yearbook were Student Life, Clubs/Organizations, People, Faculty/Staff, Academics, Sports, Advertisements, and Index. I combined a few of these, so I had editors for:

    • Student Life,
    • Clubs,
    • People/Staff/Academics (one section with 2 editors),
    • Sports, and
    • Ads/Index.

    Each editor had a group of students working under him or her; the size of each section staff depended on the size of the section.

    With section-based organization, every student is responsible for a certain number of yearbook spreads from start to finish. Student "Joe" might write three to five yearbook stories, design the pages for those stories, take pictures and place them on the spread, write captions, and put it all together.

    Pros: The positive side of this is that kids learn every step of the yearbook process, including writing, design, and photography. Section editors know their spreads well, and they keep tabs on the people in their sections. If your yearbook is already set up in sections anyway, this method can work well.

    Cons: The downside is that kids have to learn every step of the yearbook process (yes, I know I said that was a pro). While it can be great for kids to learn all of those skills, in reality some of them cannot handle that much. Yearbook staffers have different strengths; some are strong writers while others are better with computer work, some are handy with a camera and others are better at writing the captions. Assigning every kid every job may mean that the jobs will not get done very well, because the kids did not have a chance to learn everything as well as they should have.

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    Departmental Organization

    My second year of yearbook advising, I decided to change things up a little. Since I had a newer staff, I decided it would be better for the kids to get really good at one aspect of yearbook production each, rather than having to be masters of all trades. I still taught every skill to every kid, but only briefly; then I had them focus on really developing one particular skill.

    I set up my staff into departments instead of sections. This means I had an organization like this:

    Editor in Chief (In reality, I did not have one that year because no one was qualified; in theory, though, there should be.)

    Department Editors

    Department Staffs

    The departments were:

    • Copy,
    • Photography,
    • Design, and
    • Ads/Index.

    I had editors and staffers for each department. In this setup, there was a total of three students working on every yearbook spread: one to write the copy, one to take the photos, one to design the layout and place the elements on the page. These three students had to work collaboratively to make the spread cohesive.

    In a department setup, some kids become proficient at writing while others become proficient at photography and still others who become proficient working on the computer. Everyone pitches in when help is needed. Some days you may pull a writer to take photos, or ask a photographer to design a layout, or ask a designer to write captions, but on most days, they stick to their specialty.

    Pros: The plus side to this is that kids do not have to be proficient at each part of the process, and kids who are brand-new to yearbook only have one skill to master. The result is better writing, photos, and designs because the kids who create those elements have practiced one skill almost exclusively.

    Cons: The downside can be boredom for the staffers. Some kids get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, and find it hard to produce variety. Since they're only working on one part of a yearbook spread, they have more spreads overall to produce than they would in a section-based setup. So after a while, all their stories start to sound alike (sometimes), and so on.

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    Other Considerations

    Ultimately, a yearbook adviser does what works best for his or her staff. I made my organizational decisions based upon the staff in front of me; I might have switched back to sections another year based on the staff, who knows? (I left Ads/index as a section even in a department setup, because I feel it is a beast-of-its-own nature and it's best to only have a few quality kids working on that section, independent of the rest of the staff).

    When choosing yearbook staff organization, consider the following:

    - Staff Experience Levels. If you have a seasoned staff, let them choose their organizational preferences. or let some kids dabble in two areas instead of only one. If you have an entirely new staff, where no one knows anything, then you might literally proceed one skill at a time. ("Today we're going to learn how to write captions, and then everyone's going to write some captions for the yearbook.")

    - Staff Size. If your staff is very large, departments might work well; on the other hand, it might be easier not to try to coordinate a single spread between three kids. If your staff is very small, it might be better to have them work together, one spread at a time.

    - Other Options. You can also add a business staff, if you have enough students. This is a great group of kids to have, if you get the opportunity to work with them; they're in charge of helping to balance the budget, and to advertise, sell and distribute books. My second year, I also had a staff of 2 girls who were my "go-to girls" that year. I literally gave them that job because they weren't showing any proficiency in the yearbook skills, but they turned out to be very valuable to the project because they did whatever I needed every day (one day it was making copies, another day it was filing, and so on).

    - Yearbook Design Plan. Make the organization of staff work with the book organization. The thing I like about departments is that if I had changed my yearbook ladder (the page number order), I would have still had the same staff setup. For example, if you go to a chronological yearbook one year, a section-based organization may not make as much sense any more since your yearbook will not be divided sectionally.

    No matter the situation, flexibility is key. A writer may not be working out, so move her to the photography staff. If the photographers are all slackers, take away their hall passes and let other kids take photos instead. If no one is qualified to lead the staff, go a year without an editor-in-chief. You do what you have to do in order to produce a quality yearbook, and sometimes that means changing the plan mid-year.

Teaching Yearbook

Find ideas and inspiration for teaching yearbook students. Explore yearbook skills, lesson plans, and creative ideas for managing a yearbook staff and producing a publication you'll be proud to call your own.
  1. Teaching Yearbook Theme Development
  2. Teaching Yearbook: Staff Organization
  3. Yearbook Tips: Caption Writing Lesson Plan
  4. Managing a High School Yearbook Staff: Photographers