Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rocking out in KC (Thursday)


There are moments in our lives that we are blessed enough to enjoy the pleasure of having some “time-out” time to think and evaluate what we are doing. Kansas City has allowed me ample time during and between sessions to look at my “yearbook carrier.”

One thing the reader might need to know is this: I was not the best applicant for the position as EIC; I was the only applicant. This is not to say that I am incapable of fulfilling the shoes as EIC or to say I was the worst applicant, but simply that no one else was willing to step up into the leadership role.

With that being said, we also began the year with a staff of “yearbook virgins” and no publisher/printer, whatever term you might prefer to use. So, needless to say, there was and is a lot to learn.

I came to Kansas City in hopes of learning the skills and such I need to best lead my staff. My only wish: the conference would have been held before August. There is no way this blog could begin to explain the knowledge accumulated during my trip, but I am going to try.

Today I attended 5 ½ session. Each shedding new light in different directions.

9 a.m.: Recruiting and Retaining Staff

Wow. So, not going to lie. This was not the session I signed up for, in more ways than one.

First lesson learned: figure out how to read. Each room might share the same “main” name, but they also have a little letter attached. A. B. C. Get the drift?

Well, it turned out that I was in room B when I should have been in room A, but no worries. The man came in and said he would speak about recruiting and retaining staff. Wonderful. I am no expert, this could apply to me. Let’s do it.

What was my original plan? To attend a session on figurative language. Am I disappointed I missed it? Yes.

Now, this guy seemed like a pleasurable man. He came from a 2-year institution in the northwest, and apparently had one of the best bi-weekly papers around. All of his students worked for class credit, much like we did at TJC, and he pushed hard to recruit.

He had some great thoughts. They published things in area newspapers, talked to junior highs and flirted with high schools.

His school had an event, seemingly equivalent to our J Day, where they would host 4 sessions an hour, for 4 hours. He would feed the advisors and speakers, and then bait them with his institution’s journalism amazingness.

He would offer to go to the high schools and “critic” their papers and talk to their staffs. Brilliant plan. This takes dating to a whole other level. He is networking with these high school teachers and building relationships. Not only does this help him get students, but it helps the teachers desire to come back to his institution for their workshop. Amazing.

He goes in the early spring, before the seniors have committed to an institution, and talks to the staffs. He then sends them letters and everything else. Amazing.

But that’s not all. This man’s techniques go beyond sweet talking high schools. He has a major league baseball team tied around his fingers. Sometime in the year, his staff takes a weekend retreat to some city, I forget—sue me.

Well, while there, they not only get a tour of the ball park, but they get two photographers on the field, students in the press box, box seating for the rest of the students, personal after the game interviews and more. For what you may ask? So that sports team could have one full-color page dedicated to them.

Now that’s a trade, let me tell you. Not totally sure how ethical, but think of the opportunities those kids get.

Granted, they also see some other things on the trip like a salt-water beach, some newsrooms and such, so it’s not completely sport driven. But what a deal.

How do they pay for all this? Now that is a splendid question. They get GIA’s and do fundraisers.

They do this thing called a “book swap” at the start of each semester that apparently brings in about $3,000. I do not completely understand how this works, but they re-sell used books they bought from students.

Not too bad.

There was one idea he had that I really liked. Totally not fundraising or recruiting or retaining related, but oh well. They would display the past newspapers (about 3 years old) all around their newsroom. They just stapled them up near the ceiling. Now, I don’t think I would want that all around our newsroom because our newsroom is beautiful thanks to some “beach house” and “stem green” paint and the efforts of both The Current Sauce and Potpourri. But perhaps something along those lines somewhere else would be awesome.

They did it apparently so when they came into a “design slump,” they could get some fresh ideas. Very cool.

Well, the session ended. Not completely horrible, but not what I wanted to work on. C’est la vie.


10 a.m.: How to Survive as a Yearbook Editor

Man. Let me tell you, amazing. The speakers were well spoken; they got their points across and then offered valuable information that I hope to attempt to apply. Some of it will have to be applied more for “in the future,” but some of it can slowly be applied now.

What they did was present 10 strategies “to survive,” and in order to not completely butcher the meaning behind their wonderful presentation, I will just tell you the steps.

10. Recruit: Talk to the journalism departments, talk to English and art classes, reach out to organizations, hold an open house—with food, talk with the freshmen, reach out to high schools, add a personal touch, volunteer to teach classes at high schools and talk to the admissions department about SAT surveys.

9.  Training: Host a summer workshop, host an idea forum, attend summer publishing workshops, go on retreats, have personal staff training.

8. Staff Manual: include history, chain-of-command, job descriptions, ladder, deadlines, phone numbers, etc.

7. Develop a Management Style: coach, one-minute manager, management styles, leadership styles, know your weaknesses, leadership is big picture and inspiration, manager is organization and day to day, use True Colors test, use the ice cream test.

6. Set Your Goals High: individual and staff goals, goals for sections, have both short-tem and long-term goals, set them high so staff needs to reach for them.

5. Idea Files: design, headlines, graphics, color, secondary coverage, stories, photos, idea walls. Get ideas from magazines for designs. Good magazines include: real simple, rolling stone, details, G2 esquire, nylon, ESPN, BPC History, living ?. Visit and

4. Plan Ahead: maestro, coaching (, mini deadlines, deadlines, pre-visualize with photos for events, utilize google docs and concept share.

3. Have a Sense of Humor: survival tactic, laugh at yourself, smile, joke of the day, wall of shame, etc

2. Establish Traditions: wall of fame, weekend theme parties, buddy system, birthday bashes, parites, awards, banquet. Embrace the “cheese.” Think outside the box

1. Reward Them and Have Fun: food, yearbook bucks, praise, thank you’s, recognition wall, teamwork, celebrate. Staff shirts.


11a.m.: State of College Yearbooks

So, this should have been an amazing session, but sadly the “session-tears” were hardly prepared. They tried. It just didn’t work out in their favor.

The moral of the session: college yearbooks are dying…big surprise.

It is sad, but as the producers of the book, we need to do more to change this.

We went around the room and spoke about our books and how they are sold and such. It turns out that a lot of staffs have to sell their books much like in high school, and it isn’t very successful.  Most colleges of over a thousand only sell about 100-200 books. In case you didn’t know, that is slightly pathetic.

Apparently some schools also struggle with their relationship with the newspaper. I gleefully made the mental note that we didn’t have an issue with that. While some newspaper staffs decorate the newsroom with ripped up yearbooks, our newspaper staff helps write for ours.

There were a lot of great ideas from people with horrible relations, but sadly they didn’t shut up long enough for Sarah or me to voice our relationship with the amazing Saucers. C’est la vie—their loss.

We spoke about different ways to advertise the yearbooks. This is what was decided: announce in Facebook, emails, tabletop, newsletters, sticker on newspaper, talk to graduating seniors and freshmen, solicit to parents, send fliers home, advertise in the paper, snail mail, “you’re in the book” postcards and emails, “7 times” idea.

Out of the schools that lost their yearbooks, it was either because of lack of sales and lack of interest.

It was also suggested to have a giant yearbook guy to help promote books (figured Vic could help us out), and it was also suggest a “picture yourself” section in the book. Basically, that would be a play from Facebook.

It was nice to know that our yearbook is doing better than some of the others. There were some schools that have been around for 125 years, but they had consecutive years without a yearbook.  We have only had 3 years without a book, and that was because of some World Wars. Hopefully we can overcome the hurdles ahead of us and reach our 200th anniversary without years of missing books.

Noon: How to Write Editorials

“Good sex does not have to be loud sex.”

Wow. Now that is a lead, if only this part of my blog was about sex. Between that and paper airplanes, I do not think that I can forget that amazing session.

We all want to be better writers. We all want to move people. But how can you accomplish this with crappy columns or editorials?

A bad editorials or columns (in case you didn’t know) consist of opinions that lack organization and details, lack facts, are too pompous, overly long or excessively preachy. If you have all that in your editorial or column, then all you have is “Le Poup.”

No one cares what you think or the fact you think it. Just write it. Use your background to lead people down a path. 

Talk to other people outside of the newsroom. Random people in the street. Everyone has something to say. Everyone has a story. Everyone has an opinion.

When you write an editorial or a column, you need to have a point. Do you want to change something? Do you want to point out that something is right or wrong?

Get an identifiable posistion, and then…now here is a novel idea…STICK TO IT. Don’t make a reader search for your opinion or have to guess it. Tell them what you are going to say. Then say it. Then tell them what you just said.

Now, before I continue, I should clarify for the reader…a column is an opinion on one person. An editorial is the opinion of the newspaper.

So, with that being said, it is important that for editorials, a paper should have an editorial board. This is good to help you strengthen your opinions and your thoughts.

When you get a group of people together with diverse opinions, you are bound to learn something new. And, you are bound to better be able to defend your position because you know what people on the other side of the fence think.

If an editorial or column are not reported and have no research, then it is just an idea.

Just like a news article need a nut graph, so do opinions.

You should mix and match your styles and tones. You don’t want to be monotonous with your writing. Pay attention to the tone in which you write, and than ensure that it matches your opinion. Don’t be funny when you are talking about rape and such. (Duh?) Sometimes it is good to completely re-write your opinion to help you get a better tone.

Columns should have quotes. Active verbs are a must. Passive verbs…not so much.

The easiest thing for readers to do is quit reading.—DON’T LET THEM.

Know the grammer rules, know why there are there, and then break them. That’s what they are for.

Use everything you can. Actively get online. Use interactive polls, comments, blogs (wow, I have NEVER used that before).

When editors are deciding what to put in the opinion section, they need to agree to disagree. Voice all sides. Post both good and bad things. Never settle. Bad writing is bad writing. That’s all there is to it.

Editors need to be aware that editorials should not only reflect what is going on, but sometimes they lead. Sometimes a paper needs to be a voice of reason during bad times. And papers should never let one incident change their opinions.

Don’t sink to lower levels and watch sarcasm.

Overall, be amazing.


1 p.m.: Recruitment, Retention and Motivation

So, a little known fact: I hate elevators. They always freak me out and make me feel gross inside. Weird, I know.

Well, sadly everyone is trying to use the elevators at the same time, and at that time I had no clue where the stairs were. Well, long story short. I was late for this session, so I am sad to say, I will never know how it began. But, this is what I got from it.

Recruitment: Start in high schools, join state and national journalism associations, access account information, send personal letters, talk with community colleges (that is because community college kids are AMAZING), make a promotional yearbook sheet.

Don’t forget your on campus prospects. Talk at freshmen orientation, network with organizations on campus, search in the different departments (art, English, mass communications, etc), have business cards, brochures, etc.

Select staff members who are enthusiastic and willing to go out and talk to people. Talk to professors and ask them to recommend students who would be successful on the yearbook. Put testimonials in brochures from different people who once worked on the yearbook and are now successful somewhere else.

Retention: People need to experience success.

Money is always a keeper, but if that isn’t an option, there are a lot of other things staffs can do.

Create a positive office environment. Make it feel homey and welcoming. Equipment is always good. It is always good to encourage students with the advanced programs that they can use for personal use (after they finish their yearbook assignments, of course).

It is also good to accent the experience they will be receiving. Talk to alumni and employers and ask them to give testimonials. Network with alumni.

TCU also has a DVD of past yearbookers about their experience—something we should totally do.

Editors should plan ahead and plan a workable workload. Utilize a staff manual that states all expectations and responsibilities, etc.

Organization is essential. Use assignment sheets, have a planner, have information forms for organizations.

Train the staffs. Talk about time and leadership. Use rewards and the buddy system.

They even suggested the editors read the book, “One Minute Manager.”

Motivation: tell your staff they are doing quality work. Remind them how it helps with their resumes and portfolios. Critique staffs now rather than after the book prints. Have brown bag meetings—everyone brings their lunch and you talk.

Create a staff identity with t-shirts and business cards, etc.

Have celebrations for the staff. It is ok if they are corney—it is kinda the point. Have weekly awards, internal awards, national awards and an end of the year banquet.

Make yearbook distribution an event. There is no reason to have boxes of book in a closet. Get them out.


2 p.m.: Making Magic

Oh man, I just wanna get out there and shoot stuff.  Not with guns, but with cameras.

As editor, I should be able to step into the role of anyone on staff and rock out. So, I figured that attending a photography workshop would not only be intriguing, but informational.

This is the ½ session I mentioned before. I only stayed for half of it because I did not have any camera equipment with me, so I would slightly be wasting my time.

They speaker was interesting and knowledgeable.  He helped me put myself in the shoes of my photographers, and man…those are big shoes to fill.

He said we should think creatively. Avoid boring photography. The more you control, then more you can create. Use different lighting techniques and angels. Have fun.

The photographer should know what the story is and know what needs to be portrayed. If they don’t know this, there is no way they can be successful in the eyes of the editor.

Top tricks: time, perspective and lighting.

He spoke about reverse engineering. Basically, look at a photograph and put yourself in the eyes of the photographer. See what he did by taking the photo apart piece by piece and then recreate it. Look at the light sources, the photographers intent and just rock out.

Time: Don’t just capture time, enhance it, steal it, help it grow. If a guy is running, show him running. Play.

Perspective: don’t portray things how you see them. No one cares.—now that’s a shocker. Get down on the ground, get dirty. Stand on something. Stick your camera in the air. Rock out.

Lighting: play with soft and hard light. Soft light: diffused shadows. Hard light: sharp shadows. When accenting fitness, shoot from a sharp angel.

Photography should be fun and intriguing. If it isn’t, then something is wrong.


Well, that’s the story of my sessions. The rest of KC, now that’s an adventure. If the reader only knew what I went through to publish this blog. I have walked all over Kansas City in search of wireless internet. After closing the library and walking all over the city, we finally found a restaurant that offered free wireless. So now we are in a fancy place with our laptops out finishing our blogs in hopes that the readers are slightly entertained or at least informed.

And, by the way…what kind of library closes at 6 pm on a Thursday, and what kind of Starbucks doesn’t have free wireless. Seriously!?

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