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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Citizen Journalism and your Yearbook

    August 19th, 2008 by Russell Viers

    One of the buzzwords in the newspaper business these days is “citizen journalism.” It manifests itself in many forms, but in short, it’s any participation in the publication be non-professionals in the community.

    In the case of a newspaper this can include anything from a letter to the editor to a photo taken at your kid’s yard dart tournament. It can include a blog comment on a newspaper’s website or a full-blown story.

    I have my concerns about this growing trend in newspapers, which I’ll address at another time. But when it comes to school yearbooks, I encourage the entire school community’s participation, or “citizen journalism”, in creating content that reflects the school in its entirety.

    I was at a wedding many years ago where, at the dinner reception, they had put disposable cameras at each of the tables. What a great idea. Knowing the professional photographer can’t be everywhere at once, and knowing that the photographer would also only take a certain type of photo, these cameras opened up endless possibilities of who, what, when, where and how could be captured for the bride and groom to really get the feel of the event.

    In this day and age, there is really no excuse not to be able to capture the who, what, when, where and how of everything that goes on at your school, on your trips, etc. Everyone seems to have digital cameras these days, from tiny point-and-shoots to SLRs with lenses as long as my arm. I had a Yearbook Adviser last year send me sample photos of a ski trip to get my opinion if they would work. Based on the resolution of the images, I told him he should keep the size down to about 4″ by 5″, which was fine…they were all taken by a teacher using his cell phone…and they worked.

    So if we can get photos of everything that goes on at the school, by hundreds of students and teachers, how are we going to manage that much stuff?

    We’ll talk about tools you can use to manage this mass of photos if future articles. For now, it’s a philosophical question: are you willing to open up your yearbook content creation to the entire school or do you want to keep control with the few on staff?

    There are benefits to both sides, but we’re living in an age where everyone wants to participate in the media…and your yearbook is part of that media. If your students are creating YouTube videos, commenting on blogs online or even have their own blogs, they’ve shown they are willing and anxious to participate in the media for free. So why not tap into that and use them to help gather content for your yearbook?

    The advantages of this citizen journalism approach to yearbook content creation are clear:

    • More photos and information than a single staff can possibly gather

    • Buzz and excitement by a larger group about being part of the yearbook

    • A book for the students that is truly created by the students

    • Increased yearbook sales

    Please keep in mind that I’m not talking about the masses designing pages, or editing stories, or deciding which pictures go in. This is still the job of the editorial/design staff of your publication. I think this should be done behind closed doors so the masses are surprised when the book arrives. I’m only talking about content…taking photos, writing stories, etc.

    So for now, as quickly as you possibly can, make a decision between a closed staff that controls the content or community created content. And I’m sure there’s a happy balance between the two and can accomplish all the goals I’ve listed above.

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