Yearbook ethical guidelines
Yearbook staffs are responsible for creating an annual publication that becomes the permanent record of the school and the school population they serve.
The publication they create will serve as a record/history book, memory book, business venture, classroom laboratory and public relations tool for the district.
Because the functions of the publication are so far-reaching, and the publication itself is an historical document, ethical questions facing the yearbook staff are challenging and unique.
For that reason, members of the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission and representative winners in the Yearbook Adviser of the Year Competition have created ethical guidelines students and teachers might use in creating their own policies.
● The same ethical principles apply to yearbook journalism as to any other kind of media.
— Reporters should cover all sides of a story fairly and fully.
— Reporters should identify themselves as representing the yearbook.
— Reporters should verify source information with someone else or some other resource.
— Reporters should avoid lurking on social media sites and should never use information gained from social media as their only resource. No information should be taken from a social media site without notification to the author of the site.
● Student yearbook staffs should also examine downloadable resources for additional ideas and approaches.
● In addition to the guidelines presented here, advisers should follow the tenets of JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics, and students should continue to honor values expressed in existing resources.
● Although these guidelines may not apply to all staffs in every situation, it is recommended they be shared in discussions with adviser, staff members, administrators, school board members, members of the community and other stakeholders such as yearbook company representatives, so all parties better understand the critical thinking, ethical and journalistic issues students experience as they make content decisions to summarize the year.
● Policies should be established to guide the staff in making fair, objective decisions regarding obits/memorials, ad sales, book sales and student classifications.
● Because the publication is created by students, for students, prior review by outside sources should be avoided and the staff should take precautions to report the story of the year fairly, fully and responsibly.
Ethics Guidelines for Yearbooks with Print and/or Digital Components
Section I: Policies
Before the staff begins work on the book (or as soon as possible), editorial policies should be established, placed in written form and followed exactly as the staff has created them. Policies should be included for general coverage, portrait pictures, advertising, obituaries, return of books and any others that may relate specifically to the school. As staffs determine specific policies, they should keep in mind these considerations:
• What is the purpose of the book, and what type of stories, photos and other coverage elements help meet that purpose? How will the staff handle sensitive or possibly controversial topics? Will all groups, topics and events receive equal space or attention? May readers, teachers, administrators or community members submit content?
• Are students required to be photographed by a particular photographer in order to appear in the album/people section? Will the school dress code apply? May students submit their own portraits to be included, and if so, what requirements exist in terms of size, content and technical quality? Does the staff reserve the right to exclude any photo it considers inappropriate? Will the staff provide other options for students who are absent, not yet enrolled or otherwise missing during the initial photographing period? If a student enrolls in the school later in the year, what are the options, if any, for being included in the album/people section? When will these deadlines occur, and will they be the same each year?
• What type of ads will the staff accept, and are there any conditions under which a staff might reject a potential advertiser or its submitted artwork? How will the available amount of advertising space be determined? Will the staff accept advertising after its published deadline? Does the staff have a policy for corrections or omissions? How will the staff remedy the situation if a printed advertisement has an error or receives a complaint from the purchaser?
• How will the staff handle the death of a student, faculty or staff member in the book? If the staff will include some type of memorial treatment, will all deaths be treated equally? How will the size and type be determined? What if this occurs at a time when no space is available? What if this occurs at a time past the deadline cycle? What if this occurs in the summer? Does the cause of death play a factor in how the death will be handled? What role will the deceased person’s family play, if any, in determining the content included?
• Under what circumstances, if any, will the staff accept books for return? What happens if a student does not appear in the book? What happens if a student’s name is misspelled? What happens if a student moves away and no longer wants the book? What happens if a person, group or team is unhappy with its coverage? Will a damaged book be replaced? Does the staff take action to recover a lost or stolen book? What happens to books not retrieved at the distribution event, and for what length of time will the staff keep them?
Section II: Covering the Year
Those who have signed on to be part of the yearbook staff have agreed to be the eyes and ears of the student body as they capture the unique aspects of this particular year at a specific high school. This commitment means —
● Coverage will reflect all aspects and voices of the student body and will not be limited to those who are on staff or their friends. The book will reflect the school’s diversity and will have balance in terms of age and gender, with emphasis on student involvement more than faculty and staff.
● The book will include scoreboards for all teams even if it has not been a winning year, group pictures with complete names of all teams and organizations, as part of the important record-keeping information.
● To keep the book as complete and accurate as possible, the staff will take extra care to work with the counselors, registrar and administrators to determine the correct grade level of each student enrolled to be classified as such. The staff will determine a policy for how to classify students who fall above or below the determined credit level and/ or students who plan to graduate early. The staff will include a “not pictured” list in the portrait section.
● Because this is an historical document, special care will be given to accuracy, including fact checking all information, correct quotes, correct spelling of names. Faculty names, classes taught and extracurricular activities sponsored should be included with faculty portrait pictures.
● The staff will tell all stories fairly and fully using resources representing all points of view.
● It is not recommended that the staff include superlatives in the book because they are not journalistic and do little to tell the story of the year, but because the book is a student publication and students should be empowered to make content decisions, advisers may want to help students organize a selection process, encourage reporting of the selection process as well as the action and reaction to the superlatives selected. In any case, award categories should be based on achievements, timely topics, service, performance and non-physical or popularity-based voting so all types of students have a chance to be represented. Low voter turnout is evidence that readers are not interested in superlatives, and is another clue that the staff should eliminate them.
Section III: Original Work
The story of the year should be as special as its characters (the students) and as creative and fresh as its authors (the yearbook staff). Because the story of your school this year can only be told once, the yearbook is a one-of-a-kind publication. The staff then:
● Will use previous years’ books only as a quick guide, and will avoid lifting material from previous books to include in the current book.
● Will use the books from other schools as inspiration only rather than copying their techniques for replication in the current book.
● Will refer to professional publications for inspiration and ideas but will use elements of what they find to create their own design, headline package or color usage. Credit should be given to professional inspirations in the colophon.
● Will not lift material (photos or text) from Internet resources without permission and will give proper attribution for that material as suggested by the resource provider.
● Will officially copyright their own work to protect it from use by those who have not requested permission.
● Will make clear when material not created by the staff is included in the publication. Because the yearbook is a student production, it is the ethical responsibility of staff members to notify the reader if pictures have been taken, copy written or designs created by someone other than a student staff member. Photo credits should be given individually to all photos and bylines should appear with all stories.
Section IV: Working with the Printer
The yearbook staff is the publisher of the book and the yearbook company is the printer. The difference between the two is an important distinction. The publisher controls the content of the book while the printer works for the publisher to print the content as defined in a printing contract. The yearbook printer is an important part of the team but does not control content and is not the publisher. Because the relationship with the printer is a business as well as personal one, making ethical decisions is even more important.
● The printing contract outlines deadlines and number of pages due on each deadline. It is the ethical responsibility of the yearbook staff to meet all of those deadlines with pages that are complete and ready for the printer. Sending incomplete or dummy pages really does not hold up your end of the contract and results in extra time-consuming work for the plant.
● The printer’s representative should notify the staff if additions being considered will add to the final invoice for the book. In an open, honest relationship there should be no surprises when the final bill arrives.
● The printer should not make corrections or remove questionable content unless directed to do so by the yearbook staff with advice from the adviser.
● It is not the responsibility of the printer to find errors or catch questionable content. All content is the responsibility of the staff.
● Staffs who choose to use company-generated templates, plug-ins and other materials should let the reader know in the colophon that those printer aids were used and not all design work is original.
● Advisers should take special care in working with yearbook company representatives during a bid process for the printing contract. All information should be distributed to every representative in an open, transparent manner. Should one representative request special information, it should be sent to everyone at the same time.
● A review of the final bill should be made as soon after delivery as possible. Any adjustments to the bill should be made on the current book rather than on future contracts.
Journalism Education Association’s Model Guidelines
JEA Adviser Code of Ethics
National Scholastic Press Association Student Code of Ethics
Sample SPLC yearbook staff member license
Handling obituaries, NSPA
Yearbook controversy a time for discussion