Winning Scholastic Journalism Awards or Not!

This week I took seven of my students to a yearbook camp at Texas A&M University in College Station.  It was a great experience in spite of the fact that A&M does not offer a journalism or communications major.

But the real attraction of camp is the final day.  All the hard work for four days is summed up by the awards assembly.  This year we didn’t take home a single certificate or trophy.  Too bad I guess.  But my students took their defeat well and I’m proud of them.

On the long two and a half hour drive home, we discussed what our “loss” meant.  Before we turned in our project to be judged, we had already decided that we had worked hard, created a theme that our students will like and came up with some marketing plans that may help sell more books.  The photographers shot more photos than ever before and put in a decent amount of time putting together a spirit of Aggieland layout.

So, the kids said that awards would have been nice, but weren’t that important.  They drove home wearing their matching maroon shirts and were proud of their work and happy that they had worked hard.  And they had fun too.

Most of them bonded in a way that they never can do at school.  For four days, they lived together in a dorm and shared their lives.  They worked, ate, slept and had fun together.  It is a great experience.

But sometimes we can get so hung up about the awards.  There have been many camps we have left with trophies in hand and others we have left with nothing.  That has meant little to our success at selling and creating the yearbook.  Camps where we got great ideas have been much more helpful for us.

I’m not saying you should try to win awards.  Submit your yearbook or other media publications to your state associations, CSPA or other contests.  Read or listen to the critiques that they send your way.  But then digest it.  They don’t live in your world.  Every school is different.  Your school board and community have values and priorities.  Your principal has her/his goals.  Your budget may be different.  Your communities ethnic and economic make up is different from others too.  Cultures, local traditions and much more vary from place to place.  No one can know all of this when they look over your book or other media work.

So much of what we do is subjective.  Just look at the “real” media.  Which publication is better Vogue, Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly?  I can’t judge.  They are so different, for different audiences – as are yearbooks.  Sometimes, the one size fits all rules of yearbook design just don’t work at every school.  Don’t fret.  Learn when you have to break them to keep selling books.  Sales should matter more than awards.

Journalism is important for yearbooks, but remember it is a memory book first and foremost.  Don’t let that get hijacked by too much journalism and high design that your student body does not understand.  Are the basics of design important?  Yes.  But research your audience, know what they want and give it to them.  You will be rewarded with higher sales.

Awards are nice, but sales are better.

Mr. C