The first cover of the new UNR Artemesia featured boxing.

Reinventing Artemisia
The University of Nevada, Reno, yearbook has been converted to a magazine.

While still called Artemisia, it’s now printed as a four-times-a-year slick periodical edited by photographer David Calvert (an RN&R contributor, see this week’s cover story), who planned and executed the innovative publication. The first issue was distributed last month and is a glossy publication printed on stiffer, more durable paper than a typical magazine, which also permits high-quality reproduction of color photography.

Campus news covered in the first issue includes various sports, fraternity/sorority activities, presidential campaigning on campus last fall, the UNR marching band, winter commencement and filmmaker Michael Moore’s October visit.

First published in 1899, Artemisia (the name comes from the plant genus to which sagebrush belongs) the yearbook has had difficulties since the 1960s. For much of its history, UNR was a small, traditional campus with a small number of students. (The 1906 yearbook, in production at the San Francisco printing plant, was destroyed by the great earthquake.) Such a small, familial group of students actually had fond memories of proms and painting the Block N.

With Nevada’s—and UNR’s—terrific population growth came more campus impersonalization and more detachment from campus events. In addition, the school tends to attract a relatively large number of older students—people starting second careers, returning military service people and the like, many of whom are not particularly involved with campus activities. To such a commuter campus, a yearbook has less appeal.

The decline of interest in the yearbook has long been recognized. Over the years, there have been efforts to kill the Artemisia, and there were also earlier efforts at innovation. In 1972, for instance, there was a two-volume paperback yearbook. Volume One was the “record book,” with student and faculty portraits; Volume Two was an extended photo essay. In fact, Volume Two that year was melodramatically titled The Last Yearbook, though it came back the next year.

But the book’s decline in sales continued. In 2002, only about 250 copies of Artemisia were sold. Last year it fell to 150, from a press run of 500. That was less than a percentage point of the student body. So Calvert came up with his dramatic innovation. He also got the student government to agree to stop selling the book and give it away. It is now distributed like the campus newspaper Sagebrush, in stacks at high traffic areas around campus, free of charge.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...