Waiilatpu Needs More Than Funding to Flourish

Editorial Board

Among the many issues raised by ASWC’s preliminary budget for 2013-14, the future of Waiilatpu, Whitman’s yearbook, has been one of the most discussed.

While the Finance Committee has indicated that it will restore funding to a level which allows Waiilatpu to operate next year, the issues which prompted discussion about the future of Waiilatpu have not been resolved. It is the opinion of the Pioneer editorial board that financial support is not sufficient to allow Waiilatpu to become a successful presence on campus. Waiilatpu needs technical skill, institutional memory and vision.

In the three years since Waiilatpu was resurrected at Whitman, discussions about its viability have centered on whether or not students want a yearbook. Waiilatpu editors have responded to these concerns largely by talking about efforts to improve marketing and raise student awareness about the yearbook. These are good steps to take, but they still don’t address what is, in our view, the fundamental problem. Student interest largely depends on the quality of the yearbook in question. When it comes to sales, relevance on campus and institutional value, there’s a world of difference between having a yearbook and having a good yearbook.

In the era of Facebook, a yearbook can’t be relevant to most students by simply collecting photos of campus groups and events. To be a product which holds student interest, it needs to tell stories, provide a record of what happened during the year, and create features which add value to the online photo albums we’ve already seen. Whitman’s yearbook could draw on the considerable artistic talent of the student body, the skills of staff members for other campus media organizations and the wide range of student, staff and faculty experiences to create engaging, meaningful content which sums up the year for the Whitman community. Thus far, it has mostly been limited to displaying photos of campus teams, clubs, trips and events.

We say this not to criticize the hard work and effort put in by Waiilatpu staff over the past three years. Developing a vision for this type of product, not to mention the capacity to carry it out, requires time and resources. The Pioneer, blue moon, quarterlife and KWCW did not become what they are overnight, and Waiilatpu won’t be able to consistently deliver a quality yearbook without a commitment from its staff, ASWC and other campus media organizations. Having to fight for ASWC funding every year has also taken time away from staff which could have been spent working on addressing these deeper issues.

ASWC can begin the process by providing institutional support for Waiilatpu. Currently, the ASWC Club Director provides assistance to new and existing campus clubs by offering leadership seminars and assistance with transitions. The ASWC Nominations Chair, who serves as the liaison for campus media organizations, could function in a similar capacity. While the Nominations Chair may not have personal experience with running a media organization, they should be able to help Waiilatpu editors receive training and support from people on campus who have experience in reporting, design and other necessary skills. They could also assist the editors in developing a longer-term, strategic vision for the yearbook, and in getting support to attend college media conferences where award-winning yearbooks from other colleges are featured.

If ASWC intends to fund Waiilatpu for the coming year, they should do so with the longer-term viability of the publication in mind. With dedication not only from Waiilatpu staff, but members of ASWC and other campus media organizations, Waiilatpu can grow into the publication that its creators imagine and the campus desires.