Bonnie Katzive 2017-08-25 05:20:31
FOCUS ON STORYTELLING STRATEGIES AND BUILDING SUCCESS WITH SMALLER PIECES One-size-fits-all approaches to reporting don't fit all yearbook programs. Traditional yearbook spreads revolve around a central story for each spread. Teaching students to write these long stories can sometimes be a struggle. These stories require multiple interviews, research and skill at composing an angle, organization, writing ledes and body copy. Maybe your staff is small. Maybe you have a large number of younger or inexperienced staff members. Or you have restrictions on how much instructional time you have for teaching writing. As for me, I have 28 students producing a yearbook , news website and magazine. The truth is we do not all have time to fully develop the in-depth reporting and word smithing skills of our writers and meet yearbook deadlines. Writers may not have time to interview enough people to support longer copy or may lack the research skills to find background information. Some of our writers may start the year struggling to write pieces that are artfully done and can entice readers to read longer copy. Some writers get overwhelmed trying to revise a long piece into catchy and readable copy. But we have to produce a yearbook. So what can we do? Focus on interview skills and the reporting process. If students can become great interviewers, they will develop material that can be used not only for body copy, but also for shorter pieces such as captions, mods or micro-stories. As Humans of New York has shown, good listening can go a long way toward producing a story in an engaging way. When interviewing is strong, with great follow-up questions and attention to what is unique about each person’s experiences and stories, you will see captions, quote mods, pull quotes and the background for stories become compelling. When writers have great material to work with, they will be motivated to present it well. LET CAPTIONS DO THE HEAVY LIFTING Recently l judged a state yearbook sports photo contest and I realized something important: the captions often did not complete the story told in the photo. Although the captions usually identified who was in the photo and what was happening, those are facts and they may not really tell a story, especially to a reader unfamiliar with a sport or activity. Longer captions that include quotes can develop the story told by the photo into something much more engaging. A great start is to use the ABCD caption formula taught by Renee Burke, the 2015JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year from Boone High School in Orlando, Florida. This is an easy-to-remember method that will help create captions that add depth to the photo story, add to the coverage of the students in each photo, and meet requirements for contest judging, where quotations are expected. But why not go further? Treat your captions as a fundamental part of storytelling. Develop captions into micro-stories that provide a deeper view of an event, a group or a personality. When interviewing someone for a caption, encourage students to get into a real conversation. What is the story of the photo? What preparation went into that moment? What was the outcome or impact? Perhaps there are multiple people with something to say about the moment. By letting captions evolve into micro-stories, the photograph becomes the center of a story and advisers and editors can help writers hone a smaller and less overwhelming piece of writing. YOU DON’T ALWAYS NEED CENTRAL BODY COPY When I first started advising yearbook, I was told that every spread must have a dominant story with a 250-300 word count. I no longer believe this is a must. I would say SOME of your spreads should have a longer profile or body copy. What I love about great body copy is that it develops a story — not just facts, but all of the emotions and context of someone’s struggles, successes and adventures. However, lengthy body copy may not always be the best way to tell a story. It is best suited for situations when there is a distinctive event, backstory or personality. Sometimes these stories can be hard to develop. If a sports team is having a season of struggles and no one wants to tell the yearbook about it, it might be time to get creative and think about focusing on alternative coverage. Sometimes an event is full of so many stories that it works better to show the complexity and variety of it. This was the approach my staff took for Homecoming Week in the 2017 yearbook. The editors wanted the page to capture the scope of the excitement of the week and to remind every reader of all its different kinds of fun moments. The page invited everyone who participated in Homecoming to connect to the storytelling. BREAKING A LONG STORY INTO PIECES CAN DRAW MORE ATTENTION TO EACH PART Readers are getting accustomed to reading in small bite-size pieces. Why not take advantage of that? My 2017 editors wanted to draw reader attention to the variety of topics covered in the Current World Affairs course and to highlight interesting and thoughtful opinions from students who had taken the course. By breaking out each topic as its own mini-story, they were able to use visual metaphor and symbols to show that diversity of issues and ideas, drawing reader attention to each issue. This left the writers for the page able to focus on each part and worry less about how to fit together all the pieces with written transitions. GET TO LONGER STORIES BY MASTERING THE ART OF SHORT FIRST A yearbook is not a scrapbook. Some parts of the year need in-depth coverage. When stories are especially important, historic, complex or emotional, you would be doing a disservice to readers and your writers to not cover it in a longer form. So prepare your students by looking at great writing often. Study great headlines from magazines, newspapers and other yearbooks. Have students bring in samples of witty tweets. Rewrite boring headlines and tweets. Play with words. Introduce them to short feature writing, like the 300-word pieces by Brady Dennis. Create some mini-lessons highlighting advice from master journalism teacher Roy PeferClark, such as his “10 tips for making hard facts easy reading” or his book How to Write Short. If can be overwhelming for students to learn to revise using their first 250-300-word piece. Have writers get info the habit first of consulting short and excellent mentor texts and reporting, writing and revising short pieces. Then your writers will grow without being tempted to give up. When they are comfortable, they’ll be ready for longer and more complex mentor texts and deeper revision. Bonnie Katzive is a language arts and journalism teacher at Monarch High School in Louisville, Colorado, where she advises the Mosaic yearbook and The Howler magazine and news website. She has presented at JEA/NSPA conventions and at Colorado’s state journalism day and has written for JEA’s Communication: Journalism Education Today.
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