Journalist Portfolio Reflects and Celebrates

Journalist Portfolio Reflects and Celebrates

Producing the yearbook is the ultimate group project, yet, the work of each individual journalist needs to be celebrated as well. A single journalist contributes many components to the yearbook, but, with the exception of a small byline or a shout out in the colophon, this work does not get much individual acknowledgement.

One of the strategies I use to celebrate the individual accomplishments of each staff member is to have him/her create a portfolio of all of the pages completed for the yearbook. As a class, we wrote a generic cover letter for the portfolio, with the intended audience as the journalist’s parents. Each student filled in the letter with specifics about the stories written, favorite photos and some of the things learned throughout the process of constructing the yearbook. This cover letter is the top page of the portfolio and attached to it is a copy of all of the pages the student has worked on throughout the year.

Journalist Portfolio Reflects and Celebrates

The portfolio goes home for the parents to review and sign. This year, when my students turned their signed portfolio in to me, they commented on how rewarding it was to share their work with their parents, something that isn’t done much at the high school level. As the adviser, the portfolio serves two additional purposes for me. The first is that I have an additional chance to provide positive feedback on the work the student has done. The second is that I can review the portfolio for the journalist’s strengths as I decide leadership positions for the upcoming year. Win, win!

Beginning to Train the New Staff: Photography

Beginning to Train the New Staff: Photography

Whether the new recruits have any type of prior journalism experience or not, there are lots of bases to cover when training the newbies. You have to start somewhere, so why not here with an overview of a Yearbook Academy video on photo composition? This video will cover the most basic (but important) things to know in order to take quality photos. Watch and learn — then practice and sharpen the new skills.




Composing an image means arranging elements in a frame that captures your subject and communicates your idea. There are six main components to consider, and when done right, it won’t necessarily matter what type of camera you’re using.

  1. Center of Interest is the main focal point of the photo. Always, always have a center of interest. It will guide the viewer’s eye through the frame, directly to your subject.
  2. Rule of Thirds — good photographers split their frames into thirds both vertically and horizontally, making nine parts. The center of interest should be placed at any of the 4 “hot spots” or where those grid lines intersect to produce the most appealing photo.
  3. Framing is when the photographer looks for ways to give the photo dimension through objects in the foreground or background. Think: doors, windows or trees.
  4. Leading lines draw the viewer’s’ eye to the center of interest. This can be done through linear patterns or object angles.
  5. Patterns/repetition can create visually interesting photography, especially when the pattern is somehow broken up. That disruptive subject draws readers in and makes them take a closer look.
  6. Varying camera angles is very important in taking high quality photos. As the photographer, more often than not, you’ll have to climb high, get low or be uncomfortable to get the best shot, and it’s always worth the extra work.

Beginning this type of training now is a good way to guarantee beautiful photography in next year’s book.

*If you want access to watch all of them, visit the Yearbook Academy page and log in with your HJ credentials. Not yet a Herff  Jones customer? Click here to gain access to the entire collection of Yearbook Academy videos.

Finding Theme Inspiration in Magazines

Finding Theme Inspiration in Magazines

It’s time to dive head first into the wonderful realm of the next yearbook’s theme development. It’s a process — a complicated one at that, and for many staffs, it starts soon. Luckily, you have options, ideas and inspiration in virtually any direction you look. Ideas That Fly, the Showcase Collection, Pinterest, Discoveries magazine… speaking of magazine — that’s exactly where I want to point searching staffs today.

Head to the closest magazine rack and grab a few favorite publications. Or grab a few that you’re not so familiar with. Searching through page after page of magazines offer variety, and while it can be a lot of different options to consume, too many is better than too little, right?


I think it’s safe to say magazines set a standard when it comes to design. They have large audiences who look to their products to see what’s fresh and new — your staff won’t be the only ones turning to magazines as a source of creative inspiration. Look at how they are laying out stories and content, consider what you want to cover then, take a page from their book and use mod ideas or other layout details on your own pages.


For all you font fanatics out there — you know who you are — magazines are the perfect place to look for snazzy headline treatments and packages, font pairings and styles. A font and treatment of the font can make or break a page. Do your staff a favor and peek at how the pros are doing it.

Color palettes

Color is abundant in this world. With so many options, it can be difficult to narrow down a color palette… especially for something as important as your next THEME! Browse through magazines to see what continues to catch your eye. Is it a pair of colors, a single neon color that you’re obsessing over or is it subtle naturals and pastels?


Advertisements can be great sources for photography inspiration. Whether it’s the angle of the photo, the subject or the effects, they can give your staff ideas of types of photography you might want to include in next year’s book.

Copy/How information is presented

Infographics are a great example of how information is delivered in a not-so-typical way. Notice how large publications are telling stories. Are they using lists? Fun graphics? Quizzes? These formats do a great job of visually grabbing the reader’s attention — the idea is to make them look at the design (because it’s nice and lovely) and then want to read what it is you’re talking about.

Visual Theme Concepts

Don’t forget to look for tiny details that will make readers “Oooh!” and “Aaah!” This means graphics, lines or cool effects applied to any/all yearbook elements mentioned above. It could be a cool folio treatment, photos in text, trendy graphic elements and so much more.

When a magazine page makes you stop and examine more closely, mentally dissect the layout. Decide what you like about the headline package, photo or layout. Odds are, you’ll only use bits and pieces of inspiration when moving forward with the new theme. Bring those elements to your staff as theme development continues. And, as a bonus tip… physically dissect parts of magazines that you like to create a staff mood board! Display it somewhere in the staff room for a constant source of inspiration and a place for beloved ideas. Get those creative juices flowing!

Increasing Book Pickup Requires Creativity

Increasing Book Pickup Requires Creativity

Distribution day. Those words combine excitement and dread among my yearbook staff. It’s particularly difficult for my campus, because we don’t sell the book in the traditional sense, (and we create a college yearbook). Students must “opt-out” to a fee in the fall semester if they don’t want a book, and then the staff schedules pick-up points around campus to distribute the books to the students who either chose not to opt out, or simply neglected to do so.

When I was hired to advise the Tower Yearbook at Northwest Missouri State University five years ago, distribution was a weeklong affair that took place in the Student Union the week after books arrived on campus in April. The problem was only about half of the books were picked up. All of these students who purchased the book either didn’t come by the Union to get one, or they got mad when they found out they had paid for a book they said they never wanted. It was a dilemma. Our solutions have continued to evolve with what I consider excellent success.

My first year here, our storage facility was housing about 1,200 leftover books from each of the previous five years of distribution (books older than that were recycled, due to lack of storage). My first distribution as adviser saw about that same number left over at the end of the week. I didn’t want that to happen again. The problem? How do we get students to pick up something for which they’ve already paid, but say they don’t necessarily want?

The second year, distribution was about visibility. In addition to distribution in the Union, we set up distribution points in a campus building called The Station, which is where all campus residents go to get their mail, plus additional dining options. We also distributed at the library. We had 400 more books picked up that year, leaving us with just 800. Still too many, but better. While visibility increased, we still had students who didn’t see any value in the book, even though they had paid for it. Those had to be our next target.

The third year we spent the entire academic year promoting the book. We began publishing “sneak peak” photos of students on social media who were in the book, tagging them so they knew they were going to be in the yearbook in the spring. We shot promotional videos that were pushed out via social media as well. But the biggest change? We sent a personalized email to every student in the Index of the book, letting him or her know what pages they were on in the book, and where to pick it up if they purchased one, or how to buy it if they had opted out of the fee in the fall.

The result? Pick up increased by another 300 books. Still, that’s 500 leftover books, but fewer than half of what we had when I started!

This past spring was year four. We continued the previous year’s activities and, in addition to emailing everyone in the book, we sent reminder emails to everyone who had paid the fee. That resulted in some ugly, rude responses from students who were mad they had bought a book, and that’s an issue we’ll probably always have with students who don’t bother to read their fall bills and check all of the boxes. But, we also had students who said they had no idea they had bought a book, who then showed up to pick one up. We also added distribution points in two high-traffic academic buildings. This year, we have just 200 books remaining from last year, our best distribution yet!

I would love to run out this year. One thing I neglected to mention above is that we do a final distribution each year on graduation day, in the lobby of our arena. The problem is that area becomes exceptionally crowded before and after the ceremony, meaning a lot of new graduates probably don’t even see the table. This year, we are negotiating to have yearbook distribution next to the same room where the students must return their cap and gowns after the ceremony. We are hoping that will increase senior pickup of the book (and it’s also a day when seniors who get the book often ask for all four books for their time here — it would be nice reduce that inventory even more as well!). Check back with me in May and I’ll let you know how that new idea worked out.

Three Last-Minutes Sales Techniques

Three Last-Minutes Sales Techniques

Hooray!! It’s that time of year again when we start to wrap up our yearbook layouts, senior ads and sales. If the students in your school are anything like mine, they love to procrastinate when purchasing their yearbooks or senior ads.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, our Webb City High School Kick Jack yearbook staff marketed an “Early Bird Special” that sold the yearbooks for $25 for a limited time. We marketed the sales through a home mailer, freshman orientation, scheduled pick-up day, open house and social media. The Early Bird Special sold 193 yearbooks from July 31 to August 24. It was a huge hit among the students and parents, especially for those who normally can’t afford to purchase a yearbook, as our school has a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. After the rush of early buyers, our sales slowed considerably.

The lull lasted until December 1, which was the second price break deadline. This deadline increased the price of our yearbooks from $45 to $55. We advertised through our school website, social media, email and over the intercom throughout the week before the deadline. However, this only increased our sales by 89 yearbook purchases. At this point, we had sold 282 yearbooks, and our goal for the year was 528 by January 22. As a goal-driven yearbook adviser, my brain went into panic mode. I needed some marketing strategies, and I needed them quick!

That’s when my editor and I came up with our Three Last-Minute Sales Techniques:

Three Last-Minutes Sales Techniques

Public Display of Layouts

When the students review their new yearbooks for the first time, I hear them say, “Hey, look! There’s me!” They love seeing all of the pages that they have been included on. So, I decided that students like that need to be our target audience with our first marketing strategy.

We printed all of the layouts that we have completed, laminated them, and hung them on a wall in the hallway that every student has to pass when walking in and out of school each day. Every time I walk past it, I see groups of students looking them over and pointing to different things that we have included.


Three Last-Minutes Sales Techniques

Gotcha Cards!

Because students love being included in the yearbook, we incorporated “Gotcha Cards” to personally let them know what pages their pictures appear on. We created a Mail Merge document on Microsoft Word to help us speed up the process of making them, considering we have 1,160 students. To grab the attention of the students, we designed the cards to match the theme of our yearbook, which has a “low poly” look. On the front of the cards, we have the low poly design with “Gotcha!” in the center. On the back of the cards, it has their name and the page numbers on which they are featured. We only hand these out to students who have not purchased a yearbook yet.

Social Media! Social Media! Social Media!

Although I have trouble coming to terms with students spending most of their spare time on social media, it is a wonderful tool to use for marketing yearbooks. Throughout the year, we have posted our complete layouts on social media, and we tag the students who are on the pages. Sometimes, other students will tag their friends in the post, so they can also see it. We also did a senior ad giveaway on Twitter. If the student or parent “favorited” and “retweeted” the post, they were entered into a drawing for a free senior ad for the current year. At another time, we did a free yearbook giveaway with the same rules as the free senior ad. Each winner was chosen by a random number picker.

Another favorite of the students here at Webb City High School is memes. We would create and post memes about yearbook sale deadlines and senior ad sale deadlines on our social media to catch the attention of the students as they swiped through all of their friends’ posts.

After all of our marketing efforts, we conquered 468 yearbook sales and increased our book sales in one year by $1,000. Our goal was 528 books, and that will be the number of yearbooks we have printed, so we still have some marketing efforts to complete to make sure that we sell all extra yearbooks. In years past, we have had students wishing to buy the yearbooks between the last day that they are sold and the day that students receive them. Between now and our yearbook delivery date, we will be using the three marketing concepts from above to completely sell out of our books.

I hope that it gives you some ideas to incorporate into your school’s yearbook marketing! Feel free to leave comments with questions or suggestions.

Requesting Less Stress, Please

requesting less stress

Well, I’ve finally figured it out! I never thought I would, but it happened. After three years flying solo as a yearbook adviser and three years of being the assistant adviser… I figured out how to start making this job less stressful – not more!

I find myself in an interesting, exciting, and exhausting situation … I am now the teacher and adviser for the high school which I attended, and served as editor. So, for the first few years, I found myself slipping back into the daily grind of a staff member – you know, taking pictures, helping write captions, designing spreads, creating ad work-ups, blah, blah, blah. Which, in the beginning, was a necessary evil as the staff was rather small. However, as you know, there was a bunch of other “adviser” stuff piled up on top of that – organizing picture day, selecting senior portraits, keeping a close eye on financials, deadlines, and the like. My stress level was reaching an all time high (in terms of yearbook!)

Then, all of a sudden over the course of the summer my yearbook staff doubled!  I thought I was in for a smooth year …. HA!  First, the book was our 50th anniversary book, which is a big deal.  Just figuring out how to celebrate the milestone in the spreads and stories can be challenging enough – but then you have to figure out how to make it really special. The kids had a ton of ideas – from scratch and sniff pictures so that people could “smell” the school – to the insertion of “artifacts” like an office referral, or tardy slip, or (and I’m not kidding) a lock of hair. This is where I jumped in and gave “a little” guidance. After much discussion, we took on a colossal throwback section in which we included original pictures and captions from the 49 proceeding years. So much for my smooth year!

Then summer rolls around again, and again I find myself with a larger class. However, I get a call while on vacation. It seems that I have a group of students whose schedule won’t let them take yearbook during the normal class period … so they ask if I would mind having them in a different period to work while I was teaching another class …. “Sure WHY NOT??”

We survived first semester – teaching with post-it notes … not exactly how they taught it in college … but for the most part we were successful. But, as Christmas break approached and second semester schedules were being adjusted … a few more kids got wind of this “independent yearbook” thing and of course wanted to join. So over the course of two days….I pick up a few more students … but during two OTHER periods, meaning that I had four periods of yearbook, three of which meet while I was teaching other classes. My sticky note teaching completely collapsed and I had kids going every direction.  My poor editor was so overwhelmed trying to keep track of everything that I just knew one day I would walk in and find her in the corner having a complete meltdown.

I decided it was time to regroup after I found myself spending the better part of my day worrying about who had a spread complete and ready to send to the plant, or who had a camera, or who has been on an assignment and needs graded, or WHERE ON EARTH DID THIS SD CARD COME FROM!

So, I took a three-day weekend to reflect and to figure out how to make this whole process easier. I came up with a fairly simple, but incredibly useful solution … a Credit Request form.   Essentially, it was just a checklist for the students to complete when finishing up a spread or completing a photo assignment. However, it was a place for me to grade the students quickly, the editors to make notes as to any changes that needed to be made and for us to track the status of the spread. It had the added bonus of allowing me to stop feeling like I was simply giving away grades, and put more of the pressure to complete assignments on the students, and created a paper trail for my grading (which the administrators loved!)

I am still amazed that something so simple as two pieces of paper could make my life so much easier. I suppose that I should also mention that at some point along the way, I came to realize that I was more than capable of helping my students create a high quality yearbook without actually doing all of the work myself. It’s their book, so it should be their content. If they don’t get the pictures, they get to figure out how to fill the pages… with meaningful content!  It’s my job to set the standard and hold high expectations, not try to meet them. The more responsibility the students feel they have, the better they do – because the annual yearbook really is A BIG DEAL. 

The Power of eDesign’s Student Coverage Report

The Power of eDesign’s Student Coverage Report

If you’re currently using eDesign, you have a powerful HJ tool at your fingertips — the Student Coverage Report. When you first sign in to My HJ Yearbook, you may have noticed a pie chart underneath your Overall Book Progress. This is the gateway to sales heaven and better student coverage, my fellow yerds. Just make sure you’ve uploaded a master list of students into eBusiness first.

Hovering over the ring or reading the chart next to the ring will show you how many students fall under each coverage category: low, moderate, good or excessive. But wait, there’s more. Clicking on the green See More Detail button will bring you to one of my favorite parts of eDesign, the Coverage Report. My staff and I use this report daily. When we need to find someone for a quick quote, we open up our Coverage Report and pick someone from the red list (low coverage) who has also purchased a book. That way we are ensuring that our students who have already pre-ordered a book are in the book more than one time. In addition, we check the black list for kids who are in the book an excessive number of times. Their names get put on a “dead” list that we post in the yearbook room, and we do not use them again if at all humanly possible. And for those kids who appear on the black list but have not yet purchased a book, get after them! Go tell them how many times they’re actually in the book and sell another copy.

Another use for the red list is to help us find the kids that appear zero times in the book. You know, the kids that missed picture day, re-take day, and/or transferred in to school later in the year? We make sure that every person in our school is mentioned or seen in the book at least once, even if it’s only a little quote in a pop-out on page 86.

One way to boost your student coverage numbers is to name tag as many people in your pictures as you can. After writing the caption for a picture, look at the tool bar on the left side of eDesign. Find and click on the little tag icon at the very bottom of the tools, under the zoom percentage. This opens up the pictures for name tagging. Simply double click the box that appears on each picture, uncheck the box next to the gray area at the top that says Only show tags that are used, and then search for a student who appears in the picture (but was not used in the caption) by first or last name. Check the box next to their name and search for the next person. This will allow eDesign to update the number of times a student is used or shown in the book.

As a staff, it’s our job to make sure that we cover as many kids in our school as we can. Using the tools built right into eDesign is one way to make that mission possible.

Staff-Made Videos Increase Sales

We are still swooning over the yearbook video that Honda created for the Super Bowl. Funny, touching and those were actual yearbook photos of the celebrities, digitally brought to life — nostalgic and entertaining. It was easily our favorite commercial and appropriately so. The video is actually a perfect example of inspiration for your own sales videos — and there’s no better time than Scholastic Journalism Week to have fun with creating some of your very own.  

It could take a bit of extra time and effort, but they’ll totally be worth it. You could post them on your school and staff’s social media accounts, the school website or share them during televised school announcements. The extra exposure, especially if it’s funny or emotional in some way, could increase sales. Consumers like to laugh, cry (happy tears) or reminisce and are even compelled to buy because of that.

So, watch the Honda yearbook commercial again with your staff and some sales videos that we’ve created in-house to gather ideas and inspiration of your own. They can be short and sweet, but we want to see all of the creativity! Post your homemade sales videos to social media using the hashtag #HJSalesVideo and we’ll choose our favorites to include on our website. We can’t wait to see what you come up with — have fun with it!

How I Organize Deadlines

How I Organize Deadlines

To keep deadlines organized, I color code each one. In July, I go to Target, Walmart or Office Depot to find out who has the best variety of $0.10 colored folders. Each year, the selection varies so it helps to check them all out. I then load up on a variety of colored folders. My first deadline is red, then yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink (if I find orange folders I consider myself lucky!) I then create labels for the front of the folders that include signature sign offs for peer edit, first draft, final draft and when the page is published. Inside the folder, I expect students to keep their peer edit, first draft, final draft and any documents that are important to the spread (i.e. interviews with signatures — proving the person said the quote, scoreboards from the coach, etc).

How I Organize Deadlines

I have “in” and “out” bins that are placed on the wall where the students turn then folders in at each deadline. I HATE it when a student puts something on my desk and expects me to grade it right then. My students know that if the folder is in the “in” bin, I will grade it. They don’t ask me if it has been graded or when it will be graded because they know that when I am done with it they will find it in the “out” bin.

To store all of these folders throughout the year, I bought a colored organizer from Michaels (with a coupon.) I used a label maker and the students can find their folders in this organizer at anytime throughout the year.

When the folders are done — meaning we have submitted and published the page — I then put the folders in crates. I do not toss anything until the following year. Why, you may ask? Well, in the event anyone questions anything we have published, I can go back into the student’s folder to find out where they got the information.

I hope you find my color-coded organization system helpful as you plan early for the next staff and school year!

HJ Plus One is Like BOGO Yearbooks

HJ Plus One is Like BOGO Yearbooks

Are you more likely to buy something if it’s a BOGO deal? What if (in a sense) you sold the yearbook in the same manner? You can — by advertising and promoting the Herff Jones Plus One App. When students purchase their copy of the printed yearbook, they’re guaranteed access to an online version of the book once it arrives on campus — or whenever the yearbook staff decides, really. Some staffs have allowed limited access to the yearbook in the HJ Plus One app to really get students excited and in an effort to sell remaining copies. Others decide to wait until books are in hand. Either way, the luxury of having the entire book at your fingertips anytime is one that many buyers can’t resist. Ah, technology.

Create eye-catching posters, social media posts or emails around this concept. I can already think of some headlines that would make me want to purchase a yearbook. The term “BOGO” alone tends to get a lot of attention, and using the term within your school is probably no exception.


You might say, “Well, these headlines are a bit misleading.” However, yearbook is like running a small business, and that means marketing your product in a way that makes prospective customers (the students, parents, faculty, etc.) want to buy it. Just make sure your posters, emails and social posts explain the app and why it’s like owning two yearbooks for the price of one.

If you haven’t thought to entice buyers using HJ Plus one, now’s the perfect time to do so to hopefully sell more books, and keep up that selling momentum.