Gone Are The Yearbooks Of Yesteryear Facebook, MySpace and other online sites are threatening the very existence of college yearbooks. Emily Heiser, editor-in-chief of Purdue University's yearbook, talks about the decision to end publication of her school's yearbook after more than a century.
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Gone Are The Yearbooks Of Yesteryear

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Gone Are The Yearbooks Of Yesteryear

Gone Are The Yearbooks Of Yesteryear

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Ah, the strange and nearly meaningless things we all so earnestly penned in our friends' yearbooks, friends forever, never change, KIT, keep in touch, and of course, the wonderfully vapid, wish I could have gotten to know you better. Many of these inanities could be said of the yearbook itself. Facebook and MySpace are threatening the existence of the embossed, hardbound yearbook, especially on college campuses.

For the Purdue Debris, that's what the yearbook at Indiana's Purdue University is called, the dates carved in granite could read 1889 to 2008. After more than 100 years of publication, the Debris will be published for the last time this year. Falling sales are to blame. The staff is trying to find a new forum, maybe a CD or a hard drive, something to keep the yearbook in business. Emily Heiser is the managing editor of the 2007-2008 edition of the Debris. She's worked for the yearbook since her freshman year at Purdue, and she'll be a senior and editor in chief of whatever remains of the yearbook this fall. Hello, Emily. How are you?

Ms. EMILY HEISER (2007-2008 Managing Editor, Purdue University's Debris): Hi, good. How are you?

PESCA: So, how'd you decide this would be your last issue?

Ms. HEISER: Our sales have been dwindling, and we just really decided this year's yearbook was a really strong yearbook, and we decided that it's a great book to end on, we thought.

PESCA: We were talking off the air, and you mentioned that you did your high-school yearbook, too, is that right?

Ms. HEISER: Yes, I did.

PESCA: What are the differences between the high-school yearbook and the college yearbook?

Ms. HEISER: I think high-school yearbooks are normally directed toward every student in the high school, whereas college yearbooks are normally directed towards seniors and freshman, because those are the two groups of students that generally tend to buy the yearbook.

PESCA: Why, why freshmen, but not sophomore or juniors?

Ms. HEISER: I think the freshman parents are more likely to buy it, because they come in - their students come in and, like, still on the high-school mentality, where...

PESCA: Yeah. So, in other words, freshmen buy it and their parents, because they don't know better.

Ms. HEISER: Right. They still think a yearbook is really important.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEISER: I mean, it is really important, but they still, like, think that their student's going to be in the book all over the place.

PESCA: Right.

Ms. HEISER: But they don't realize that there are 38,000 students in the book. And then seniors also buy the book because it is their last year.

PESCA: Was your high school like my high school, like, everyone really needed to have a yearbook and wanted to have one, but by college, people were like, wait, is there a yearbook?

Ms. HEISER: Yeah, I think that in high school, the purpose for a yearbook is to keep in touch with people, look back at the mug shots and say, oh, I remember her, she was in my class. But in college, we covered the huge aspects of Purdue, which makes each year individual from one another.

PESCA: You were editor in chief in high school and you're editor in chief in college. When you joined the college yearbook, did you know you were on somewhat of a sinking ship?

Ms. HEISER: No, actually, freshman year, I had no idea. Sophomore year, I started to get a little insight into it. Then by junior year, it was kind of inevitable, but we decided not to really tell our staff. We didn't want them to really get discouraged or, you know - and then finally in the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, we told them that this would probably be our last year's book.

PESCA: I don't know what you're going to be after you graduate, but you could be a media exec, that whole keeping the bad news from the staff to get the most out of them tactic. That's what they do in newspapers.

Ms. HEISER: That sounds terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah, yeah, well, it's life. What about Facebook? Do you blame Facebook? It seems like there's so much overlap between what a yearbook offers and what Facebook offers, but much more user interactivity with Facebook.

Ms. HEISER: I think people, when they get into college, they just assume that the reason for the yearbook is to keep in contact with people and to remember what people looked like. And I think Facebook does a really good job of that, because you have pictures from all your friends, and instead of getting these random pictures with random students in it, you can have pictures with your friends all the time. And I think that that's why students stopped buying the book, but we try stressing to students that, you know, in five to 10 years, Facebook might not even be around. You know, I think that people are just having a hard time judging the difference between new technology and old. So...

PESCA: Well, I think what maybe - it seems like, you've probably had this idea, just rebrand it. Don't even call it a yearbook. Call it a coffee table book.

Ms. HEISER: Yes, and that's what our staff is going to be working on for the 2008-2009 school year.

PESCA: So, there'll be something, like, your offices will be occupied. There'll be someone taking pictures and documenting everything.

Ms. HEISER: Yeah.

PESCA: This thing just won't be called a yearbook.

Ms. HEISER: Right. We're not going to have a publication out first semester, but first semester we'll still be on campus, we'll still be getting our name out there, we'll still be taking pictures, and we'll still be doing everything that we would do if there was still a yearbook going on.

PESCA: Now, I was on my junior high school's yearbook staff, but when it came to high school, I always felt like the people on the staff were - so often, they would go on and on and on about how un-thanked they were because, you know, their thing didn't come out until the end of the year. Do you feel unloved when you do the yearbook, like, nobody knows what you are doing as you document their lives there on campus?

Ms. HEISER: Not in high school, I didn't feel that way, but definitely in college, people are like, there's a yearbook in Purdue? And it's like a pierce through the heart. You're like, oh, goodness!

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: So, tell me about the name, the Debris, the Purdue Debris.

Ms. HEISER: Well, if I was around in 1889, I don't know if that would've been my first choice, but it grows on you after awhile once you hear the tradition of it. We've heard many different definitions. A collection of works, is one of them, and another definition that we've heard is all, that is all that is left. And I guess, if you really look at it, the yearbook, that is what we're trying to portray, all that is left of the school year. All that is left of the 2007-2008 school year is the Debris.

PESCA: Well, I know that your yearbook doesn't have signatures, because people get it after they graduate, but what are some dos and don'ts of how to sign a yearbook?

Ms. HEISER: Don't put anything in there that you're going to regret. I always used to take out curse words.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEISER: I don't know. I would just ...

PESCA: You mean, if someone signed your yearbook with naughty language, you'd, like, ink it out?

Ms. HEISER: Yeah, because my parents would look at it and I would get really embarrassed.

PESCA: Well, there's a don't for you. Don't let your parents look at your yearbook!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEISER: I look back at mine now and it has like, have a kickin' summer, or having a rockin' summer and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Emily Heiser has worked for the yearbook at Purdue University since her freshman year. She's managing editor in this, its final year of traditional publication. Thank you, Emily.

Ms. HEISER: Thank you.

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