After almost 170 years of publication, the Yale Banner, the nation’s oldest college yearbook, will drastically reorganize itself following a series of budget cuts at the Association of Yale Alumni.
The position held by Allison Biele, associate director for student programs and adviser to the Banner, was eliminated this month after the AYA scaled back its operating budget in the face of the economic downturn. The AYA, which has financially supported the Banner since 1995, will also eliminate all other advisory and administrative links to the yearbook.
Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry has asked several undergraduate publications, including the News, if they would be willing to assume responsibility for the Banner next year in an effort to reinvent the Banner as a fully student-run organization.
The Banner is not classified as an undergraduate organization because it is not fully operated by students, which current Banner editors said severely limits its ability to publicly recruit staff. But without the support of the AYA, they said, the Banner will be forced to develop a student-run business staff after almost 15 years without one.
Tommy Ou ’05, co-editor-in-chief of the 2003-’04 edition of the Banner, said in a phone interview that the old arrangement with the AYA allowed Banner editors to focus on the production of the yearbook itself instead of worrying about finances.
“Even though we were run by the AYA, we had complete freedom as editors,” Ou said. “We didn’t have to worry about expenses or costs. We were under no constraints.”
Although Ou said he favored the old system, he said a temporary partnership with a publication such as the News could be just what the Banner needs while it recovers from the loss of AYA support, which could rescue it from potentially disappearing altogether.
But no decisions about the potential involvement of the News have been made yet, News Editor in Chief Thomas Kaplan ’10 said Wednesday.
“The News is in discussions about how it might be able to support the Yale Banner next year,” Kaplan said. “At this point, however, it is too early to speculate on how such a partnership might take shape.”
Faye Zhao ’10, co-editor-in-chief for the 2008-’09 and 2009-’10 editions of the Banner, said she believes the Banner will thrive in the wake of its separation from the AYA. The Banner, which sells as many as 700 yearbooks each fall at $95 per book and earns $11,000 annually from a contract with a photography studio, is likely to break even or make a profit at the end of this year.
“It seems that we may have been running at a loss because we had to pay people at the AYA to run our finances,” Zhao said of the Banner’s finances in years past. “If we can run the Banner [in coming years] as well as the AYA did, but without their support, we should be able to make a profit.”
Prior to the AYA’s partnership with the Banner, the yearbook was run entirely by students — but the organization ran up almost $100,000 in debt in 1994 and was subsequently bailed out by the AYA, according to an Oct. 30, 1998 article in the Yale Herald.
Although Zhao said she is open to the idea of running the Banner in conjunction with the News, she said she is worried the Banner may not be able to extricate itself from any co-operative arrangements with the News once it is ready to stand on its own, explaining that Banner profits would likely be funneled back into the endowment of the News’ parent organization.
“I can’t imagine the News wanting to let us go in that case,” Zhao said.
To this end, the Banner may forgo any supplemental support altogether and reinvent itself as a completely autonomous student-run yearbook, an option Kaplan and Zhao both mentioned.
Regardless of which option the Banner chooses, Zhao said she is optimistic about the Banner’s future without the AYA.
“Part of me is excited at the chance to finally turn the Banner back into what it should be, which is a completely student-run organization,” Zhao said. “We should view this as a chance to turn the Banner around and give it back to the students.”
The Yale Banner was first published in 1841 as a newsletter that addressed a riot between Yale undergraduates and the firemen of New Haven before it changed its focus to undergraduate life in the following year.