Yearbook Controversy and 14 tips to avoid it

18 Jan

Yearbook Controversy

and how to avoid it

No-one wants to end up on the news or in court because of their yearbook being involved in controversy. This is why avioding controversy is something that should be carefully considered by the yearbook committee.

What to watch?

There are many ways that a yearbook can cause controversy.Photos, text, topics, polls are examples of where offending material can turn up in your yearbook content. Basically all content needs to be carefully examined and proofed for offensive material.

Examples include a quote from hitler being included in one American yearbook which hit the news, or photos of students making offensive hand gestures,one yearbook team got in hot water for not allowing a girl to pose for her yearbook photo in a tuxedo.

What you don’t want.

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Inappropriate hand gestures
  • Swearing
  • References to teen sex
  • Comments on sexuality of students
  • Bullying in any form
  • Derogatory comments about staff/ other students
  • Inappropriate clothing in images
  • T-shirts with inappropriate slogans
  • Copyrighted material
  • Any material showing prejudice towards race, religion, sexuality, gender, etc.
  • Illegal behaviour
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Anything that compromises the reputation of the school

How to avoid this.

1. Create a school policy that details what is and is not acceptable for inclusion in the yearbook. Ask each person who submits material to sign this policy and to accept all legal responsibility if any material has been knowingly submitted by them. This will put most people off, but not everybody. Include that the committe has the final say in what is included.

2. Look carefully at every piece of text submitted. Take care to check for hidden messages/ anagrams that spell words for example poems where the first letter from each line spells an obscenity. Look out for references to teachers and watch for repeated material across the yearbook- this may point to bullying.

3. Examine photographs submitted by students that may have a hidden agenda, for example t-shirt slogans, hand gestures, dress codes in what can be a seemingly innocent picture.

4. Look at artwork closely. There was a case where artwork in a yearbook, when turned upside down revealed a scribble offending the school.

5. Be sensitive to issues of students for example deaths of students or pregnancies. Deal with these issues in a sensitive and non-offensive way. It is great to remember students that have passed on in your yearbook, but make sure that it is not going to upset their family or friends.

6. In sections such as ‘most likely to…’ watch out for inappropriate comments or ‘the worst…’

7. Find out if material you are using is copyrighted/trademarked or if it is the public domain/royalty free. This could be logos, symbols, images or even photographs taken by a photographer. If unsure, email the company and request permission explaining what you are using it for,or omit the material altogether.

8. Get students to submit section about themselves rather than about other students. This means that any reference to themselves will have come from them and is less likely to offend. It also means that they will be remembered how they wish and not how others see them.

9. Proof it yourself first and then hand it to someone else to proof without telling them what you noticed and then compare notes.

10. Trust your gut. If you are unsure about something, ask yourself how might it be controversial, and how could it affect people. If this could be negativein any way, omit the material or ask someone you trust for advice.

11. If you are a student and you are happy with the material, ask a teacher to look over the material and vet it giving them the final say.

12. Get a hard-copy proof from your printer/ publisher and agree that mistakes can be rectified at this stage. A soft-copy proof is ok, but mistakes are much more obvious in a hard-copy proof. When the final yearbook is printed, it’s too late to change any errors and you might stand to lose your entire budget if you notice something controversial.

13. If you do notice on delivery that there is material likely to offend or be controversial, deal with it, ask the opinion of the principal and even if it means binning the entire yearbook, and starting again, it’s better than a lawsuit.

14. Try to educate students on why it is important to uphold high standards in this regard. Ask them to think about showing the book to their grandchildrenand how would want to be remembered. It may be useful to bring up exapmles of the negative effects of controversy for the students involved in other cases.

Remember that people get angry when their names are spelled incorrectly so try to imagine how angry people will be if they find offensive material printed about them.
All of this is not intended to scare you off yearbooks, but to advise you to be careful before publishing any material that will become available to the public. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you have been as careful as possible with regard to included material and as long as you are confident that you have tried not to knowingly or willingly offend anyone. Freedom of speech should be encouraged amongst students as long as it is reasonable and ethical.


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