Journalism 101: The Basics of Writing and Interviewing for the Yearbook

what to include in a yearbook

One of the most important components to any and every yearbook is the written content. It should be well-written, well-researched, fun, and engaging. Therefore, no yearbook committee is complete without a handful of enthusiastic, passionate, and well-versed writers. Those students interested in English and journalism are a must when it comes to bringing written integrity to the yearbook.

But, even if you’re not the top English student, passion for creating great content and bringing a fresh perspective to the yearbook is important. There are two major facets that go into creating written content for the yearbook– writing and interviewing. Both are equally important for bringing the student body’s voice into the yearbook and obtaining personal reflections of the year.  Nonetheless, these talents don’t come naturally to everyone.

If your yearbook team needs a refresher course on how to create amazing content, here is a quick lesson in Journalism 101 for creating an awesome yearbook:

WRITING:

  • Find your chi: Whatever your ideal writing setting is – be it a quiet library, in front of an old-school typewriter, or with your iPod on full-blast – get yourself centered, and put your energy into the writing.
  • Brainstorm: Write down anything and everything that comes to your mind with regards to the yearbook. You might not always have these ideas when you are sitting down to write, so keep a notebook handy or open the Notes app on your phone, so you can jot down ideas on the go.

An ideas journal – keeping a notebook handy is a good way to jot down ideas on the go.

  • Outline: Once you’ve collected all of your million-dollar ideas, organize them into something that makes sense. Creating a bulleted outline will manage ideas and create a flow. This will help when it comes time for you to start writing.

Tips for visually outlining your yearbook ideas.

  • Be disciplined: In regards to the yearbook, writing is your job, so treat it that way. Set a goal for the subject or word count you are going to achieve each week. Meeting these goals will not only move the yearbook along, but will make you feel confident about your writing.
  • Get it right: When covering different facets of the yearbook, accuracy in writing and reporting is very important. You don’t want to tick off the soccer team by stating that they lost sectionals, if in fact they didn’t. So check your facts, and double-check your writing.
  • Sound your voice: Don’t be generic and simple in the yearbook. You are a member of the school, too, so bring personality and voice to the content. It is always more interesting to read something when there seems to be an actual person behind the writing.
  • Never stop learning: Even if English class isn’t your forte, it’s important to be diligent about learning new things in regards to writing and editing. You have a lot to say, but your message my get lost if you fail to follow some basic writing guidelines, like exercising proper grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.
  • Have fun: Yearbooks are a celebration of the year and the school. The more fun you have in your writing, the more fun people will have reading it!

INTERVIEWING:

Students interviewing one another.

Good interviewing skills are a must.
Image source: Flickr user Gangplank HQ

  • Know your subject: Bone up on who you are interviewing and the topic at hand. If you’re speaking to the head of the debate team, for example, study up on some of their most current issues. That way you’ll be able to bring up key talking points.
  • Be prepared: Don’t come to an interview with a few questions scribbled down on a piece of paper. You are a professional reflection of the yearbook. Take time to type up a complete list of questions. You don’t have to ask every one, but they are there if you need them.
  • Craft your questions: It’s important to ask open-ended questions – who, what, where, when, how. The more developed your questions are, the more wiling your subject will be to elaborate and be comfortable overall. Stay away from “yes” or “no” questions, and don’t get too complicated with the dreaded double-barreled questions.
  • Don’t just hear, but listen: Interviewees want to know that the interviewer actually cares about what they are saying.  Don’t do the active listening thing –“mmhm, ok.” Make eye contact, nod, but don’t speak out of turn. Wait until the person has finished what they are saying, and wait a few seconds to take it all in before moving on to the next topic.
  • Capture their voice: Just like you want your voice to be heard in your writing, a good subject wants their voice to be heard in the interview. Understand your subject’s voice and what they want to say. That way, when you take a quote for the yearbook, it will be a good reflection of that person.
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Even if you think it’s a bore to hear about the fancy moves the chess club captain pulled out at their latest match, it’s important to never let them see that. You get what you give, so if you want respect for what you do, give the subject that same respect.
  • Be conversational, not confrontational: You are not there to intimidate or make the interviewee look dumb. Create a level of comfort between you and the subject – ask some ice-breaker questions before the full interview gets underway.
  • Don’t take things out of context: The interviewee did you a favor with their willingness to participate in the yearbook.  Don’t take anything they say out of context that may make them look bad – it’s dishonest.

Remember that yearbooks are forever, and your writing will be read for years to come. Don’t take this task lightly. Continuously brush up on your journalism skills and you’ll create a fantastic yearbook!

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