The SNO Report: New Year, New Features

Alright, it’s 2017 now. Everybody take a breath. You made it through last year, you kept it pretty much together, and you and your newspaper staff even managed to run a pretty killer online publication. From us to you: bravo. Seriously. You and your staff have big jobs and we admire the hard work you do generating awesome material and designing super cool sites.

We’ve been hard at work, too. It’s cold in Minnesota, but we’re keeping warm by coming up with new ideas and building new tools to help you make your site even more extra. We think you’ll like our brand new features, and we can’t wait to see what you do with them.

Custom Category Pages

You guys wanted more options for category page displays, and your wish is our command. Now you can customize category pages to your liking, and you can make a custom view for each category. Awesome. And what’s better than that? The new category page design options are widget-based –– any widget can go there. That means you can design each widget any way you want, and you can do it on every category page. And the widgets utilize a drag and drop interface, so changes are super easy to make. So cool. And one more thing: we added a carousel widget for category pages, so you can make them look just as bodacious as your home-page. You’re welcome.

New and Improved Slideshow

We know slideshows are awesome, and we just made SNO slideshows even better. Now, instead of remaining in a static location within your story and showing thumbnails, your slideshow will be interactive. Readers can click on the collection of photos, and a pop-out slideshow window will open automatically so readers can click through at their own pace. This format automatically sizes photos from within, so vertical pictures show up nicely even alongside horizontal ones, without changing the size of the window. And you get your choice of a dark or light background. Neato.

MORE Homepage Widget Areas!

No longer are you bound by prescribed Showcase Carousel or Teaser Bar aesthetics! With three new, full-width widget areas, you can customize your site even more than you already have. The new widget areas are located at the top, middle, and bottom of your page, and you can use as many or as few of them as you like. Use the same, super easy drag-and-drop interface you’re used to, and add any widget you want. Pair the new widget areas with the new carousel widget, and the design possibilities are out of this world.

Story Scroll Bar

Aka: “teasers galore.” The Story Scroll bar is a horizontal bar of thumbnail story suggestions, and you can apply it to the top of your homepage, or the bottom of your story pages, or neither, or both! It’s totally up to you. When you add it to story pages, it’ll appear at the bottom of a story when your reader scrolls up, suggesting more content based on category, tag, or writer. When you add it to the homepage, it acts as a mini-carousel in the header area, and it’ll grab your reader’s eye with story suggestions. Wherever you put it, you’ll have attractive thumbnail photos next to teaser text, and you can apply a light background or a dark one, whichever suits your fancy. You decide what to display, and you can change your mind as often as you want, no sweat.

Cool stuff, right? We thought so, too. To see the new features on your website today, simply click the Updates link in your FLEX dashboard and upgrade to version 6.7.  Need help upgrading, just drop us a line.

Now, the next step is learning to use the new features. Join us for a live SNODrift webinar on Tuesday, January 9th at 10 am, CST. We’ll walk through all the new features. Can’t make it? No prob! We’ll post the webinar on our website, too, so you can watch at your leisure.

The SNO Report: New Voices

Let’s start with the obvious: the first amendment is a vital component of our democracy. As Americans, we have protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Or, some of us do. Unfortunately, these basic rights aren’t universally applied, and it’s a problem for student journalists. Thanks to the precedent set by the 1988 Hazelwood decision (which ruled that a St. Louis high school student’s rights were not violated when they were censored by school administration) school journalism programs, students and advisers are operating in an environment that does not recognize students’ first amendment rights. Shockingly, the Hazelwood decision has even been applied to student journalism at the collegiate level. It’s a problem, and it’s got to stop. There’s a silver lining, though: people are paying attention, and there’s a movement afoot. It’s called New Voices, and it’s important.

What is it?

The New Voices Act is legislation that protects student freedom of expression within the school environment, and seeks to address and serve students journalists in three ways, all aimed at meeting the varying needs of student journalists at all levels. First, the Act seeks to restore the Tinker standards, which protect student speech so long as: “it’s not libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a ‘clear and present danger’ or a ‘material and substantial disruption’ of the school”. Secondly, the Act supports the protection of students at public colleges from becoming subject to Hazelwood-based rights violations. Finally, the Act would extend those same rights to protect college students at private schools.

Who are they?

Steve Listopad, Founder of New Voices, and Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, head up the New Voices movement. They’re taking it state by state, proposing legislation with the goal of earning protection for student rights. This October, the Society of Professional Journalists got behind the effort, too.

From an adviser’s POV:

Mitch Eden, journalism adviser at Kirkwood High School in Missouri who has testified twice in front of the Missouri Legislature, says New Voices is important because it would show students the value of their voice. Students, he says, learn and model civic action when they collaborate, evaluate, and communicate, and protecting their right to do so has to be paramount. Fortunately for Mitch and his newspaper staff, Kirkwood High administrators support student expression, but his advice for students and advisers facing administrative adversity is to seek help. “Any questioning of administrative policy must be student-led,” he says. “And it shouldn’t be combative. Student editors need to show administrators how they can be responsible journalists.” It’s good advice, and he’ll keep working to promote the campaign in the name of student rights.

What can I do about it, anyway?

Get involved. And get the kids involved. There are many ways to get into it, and if yours is a state that has already adopted legislation protecting student expression, awesome. Talk about it. Share it on social media. Put it on the radar of the people, not just journalism students and advisers. New Voices is gaining momentum and that’s because it’s important. We support New Voices, and we hope you do, too.

The SNO Report: Promote your yearbook with a website from SNO

Oh man, you guys. We can’t stop. First it was online newspapers, then it was lit mags. Now: yearbooks. Yep. We’re bringing you the digital platform for your yearbook program. With your brand new website, you can promote and advertise your book, and show off the incredible photography your team has been working on all year. It’s a great way to stir up excitement and to engage a broad audience both within the school, and in the community at large. You can even add a click-to-buy link to make your yearbook site a one-stop shop. Sweet, right? It’s not a replacement for the physical book–– you’ll still have that. It’s an enhancement. Check out some of the options you’d have at your fingertips:

Immersive Splash Page: Think of it–– you’ve got a great photo. We mean great. And you want everyone to see it. With the Immersive Splash Page, your audience will land on that exact photo when they visit your page. They can feast their eyes on your awesome picture, and when they’re ready, click through to the home page. And you can change the image on the splash page as much as you want, it’s super easy.

Showcase Carousel: When students (and their parents, and their grandparents, and their grandparents’ friends, and their grandparents’ friends’ book club) go to the site, they’ll be greeted with an appealing display of the yearbook staff’s best work. And the staff will have eight different Showcase Carousel configurations to choose from, so they can pick the perfect one to show off their work. Nice.

Photos, Photos, and MORE PHOTOS!!: We’ve got slideshows, we’ve got grid-style templates, we’ve got immersive long-form templates, we’ve even got widgets specially designed for videos, if that’s what you’re into. Yearbook staff are great photographers, and prolific ones. With a yearbook site, you’ll have a place to show off all those great photos that don’t make it into the book.

Tagging and Search: With all those photos, you’ll want to be able to identify all the beautiful and awesome student subjects. Our tagging feature makes it easy to pin a name to a photo, and the search function means that Grandma’s friend’s book club mate can look up that nice picture of Suzy and her Homecoming date. Boom.

Staff Profiles: You’ll also want to connect photographers and yearbook staff to their work: there’s a page for that. We have lots of design options for making your staff profiles super cool, and if you don’t believe me, check out this rad staff page. And staff profiles will link to photos on the site, so it’s like having an online portfolio, which is awesome.

Cool stuff, right? And it’s super easy to get started! Just contact us to learn more, or place an order, and we’ll get right to work.

The SNO Report: Fight the Fake

If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention, (and we know that you have, you newshounds, you) you know about the problem with fake news. It’s everywhere, with its salacious headlines and promises of shock and sensation. And now the entire nation is abuzz about fake news, as if it’s suddenly come into being. But fake news has been a thing for a long time. Think: The National Enquirer. Nobody ever really worried about it. But thanks to our beloved and ubiquitous social media networks, this election season proved that fake news can have real life ramifications, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. So the new challenge for journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students? Learning to recognize the fake news, analyze sources, and continue to promote journalistic integrity. It’s a tall order, taller than it has been in the past. Let us get you started:

What it is:

There’s the blatant stuff: totally fabricated, usually hosted by websites with credible-sounding names, and ones that don’t identify themselves as satirical. There’s clickbait: sensational headlines with lots of caps and punctuation and shocking or appealing photos, because you just have to know what caused that horrifying skin condition, right? Right?? But when you get there the content has nothing to do with the photo. And then there’s the sneaky stuff: half truths, misleading stories, speculations and “satire”, all shared online over and over again. For an illuminating take on how these stories go viral, consider this timeline of a speculative tweet that went viral, sparking a widely shared conspiracy theory right before the election.

How to recognize it:

Again, some of it’s obvious, some of it’s not. The important thing is to continue doing your due diligence, checking out sources, and consuming news with a critical eyes. But if you’re into lists, here’s one that delineates the hallmarks of news fakery.

How it spreads:

This one’s easy: social media. We’re uber connected right now, and we love to share, because everyone you know should get to read that one article you read, right? But there’s a major lesson here: sharing isn’t caring, not when it comes to dubious news. Investigate before you share, and try not to engage in reckless liking.

What to do about it:

Investigate. Think. Be critical. Demand facts and don’t accept sensation. And practice. Jonathan Rogers from Iowa City High put together a lesson plan about fake news, it’s pretty cool, and it’s right here.

The SNO Report Student Profile: Nina Elkadi

Yes, we all know journalism advisers are great: they’re smart, they know all about reporting the news, and they probably wear matching socks without even having to think about it. But they get like, all the glory. So we thought we’d shine some light on the real stars of the journalism game, at least as far as we’re concerned: the students. This week, we’re profiling student journalist Nina Elkadi. She’s a junior at Iowa City West, and she’s pretty cool.

Nina’s been in the newspaper game forever. Or at least, for a significant portion of her life so far: she started her own newspaper when she was just a kid. The elementary news start-up revolved around stories about Nina’s school and about Shadow, the class fish. And people liked the paper–– Nina can still remember the pride she felt when people would talk about the “Shadow Books” that lived next to the fishbowl.

As a teenager, Nina’s interest in journalism is a bit more sophisticated–– both of her parents were raised in countries where the news was censored, so they’ve taught her to appreciate and take advantage of the freedom of speech and press she enjoys as an American citizen. And she does: she doesn’t know for sure what she’ll study in college yet, but her dream is to become an international reporter. “The entire world should care about journalism,” she says, “because it’s how we learn.” One thing we’d put money on? Nina’s going to be keeping us informed, long into the future.

When she’s not Lois Lane, she’s a bit of a naturalist. If you can’t find her on a day off, she’s probably unplugged, paddling down the river on a kayak. She’s a bit of a purist, too. Her favorite bugs are leaf bugs, because, “they just look like they’re supposed to be in nature.” And when it comes to sandwiches, keep your mayo and mustard, man, she’d rather taste her food than drown it in condiments.

Ultimately, she says, “telling the stories that aren’t always easy or happy is so important, and allowing those that are usually in the shadows to have the chance to tell their story is what I love.” And so even though she’s come a long way since those first stories about the school fish, she’ll still there, a voice for the Shadows.

To read some of Nina’s recent stories, visit the following links:

The SNO Report: Five Things You Didn’t Know Your SNO Site Could Do

Oh, man. When it comes to creativity, SNO customers are pretty major. You guys constantly impress us with the ways you use the SNO FLEX platform to brand and stylize your websites. But you’ve got tons and tons of powerful tools available on your SNO site, so we thought we’d highlight a few super cool features you might not have known about.

 

  1. Immersive Splash Page: This feature is pretty rad, and it’s easy to do. Think of it as using your entire homepage to feature a story: when readers go to your site, they will land on an immersive photo featuring a single story. You can drive traffic to a highlighted story, and your readers can still access the homepage by clicking into it from the splash page. It’s a fun, short-term way to change up the look of your site and direct traffic.

 

  1. Trending Stories Widget and Analytics: You’ve got power at your fingertips with the Trending Stories Widget and Google Analytics. Want to know which stories are the most popular? Want to engage your reader by letting them see, too? Follow these simple instructions to authenticate your site and install the widget, and start analyzing your traffic, easy-peasey.

 

  1. GIFs!!  Everybody loves them, and you can use them on your site. In fact, you can use them exactly the same ways you would use photos. Just follow these super easy instructions, and you’re off and running. A note: just like any proprietary image, use gifs with permission only, and fight the urge to go all-gif-all-the-time.

 

  1. Full-Width Browser Options: You’ve got tons of content, but you don’t want it to take a year to get to the bottom of your homepage.  Why not use all that extra space in your browser? You can give your page a totally different look, and add all the content you want.

 

  1. Grid, Long-Form and Side-by-Side Story Templates: You’ve got the basic story format down, and you’ve even moved your featured photos around and added SNO Story Elements. Now it’s time to check out some of our other templates. The Grid, Long-Form and Side-by-Side story templates let you choose the format to best feature your content and photos. They’re fun and easy to use, and you should totally try them.

Alright, you’ve got the technology, now let’s see what you can do with it. And if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our Award Winners page to see what other people are doing, it’s cool stuff.

The SNO Report: The SNO Distinguished Sites Application Season Is Now Open!

Between now and May 31, 2017 you can (and really should) apply for any (or all) of the SNO Distinguished Sites badges representing six key components of a modern news website:

CONTINUOUS COVERAGE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must update their site regularly and demonstrate a commitment to timely online journalism.

SITE EXCELLENCE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must customize their homepage beyond the initial SNO design with a clear sense of purpose for every element on the homepage.

STORY PAGE EXCELLENCE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must submit eight fully-developed stories from the current school year that go beyond the text to enhance the reader’s experience.

EXCELLENCE IN WRITING BADGE

This badge is automatically awarded to news staffs with at least three stories from this school year published on Best of SNO, a site dedicated to excellence in student journalism.

MULTIMEDIA BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must submit at least three videos and three slideshows published during the current school year that meet standards of excellence in multimedia production.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must meet a minimum traffic threshold, use social media to engage their audience, and study analytics to measure their readership.

News staffs are welcome to tackle the badges in any order, striving to earn as many as makes sense for their publication. A site that earns all six badges will be awarded the honor of being a SNO Distinguished Site for the calendar year. In addition, Distinguished Sites will receive a certificate, a press release, and a letter will be sent to the school’s principal or PR department.

Last year, in the program’s third season, 102 sites piled up individual badges, with 27 programs earning the honor of Distinguished Site.

If you’re a new program and just starting out, you can use these standards to chart your course. If you’re an experienced program already doing these things, then what are you waiting for? Apply for your badges today.

Submissions will be accepted through May 31, 2017, and you can reapply as often as necessary. Badges will be published on our client list as soon as we review your site.

To learn more and to apply, please visit the the SNO Distinguished Sites page.

The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Submissions Open November 1st

The best day of the year is coming early! No, it’s not your birthday or Flag Day, we have no control over that. But we do get to decide when to open submissions for our Distinguished Sites recognition program, and we’re just too excited to wait until 2017. The Distinguished Sites program consists of six different badges that news staff can earn for demonstrating mastery over online news standards. A site that earns all six badges will be awarded the honor of being a SNO Distinguished Site for the calendar year. In addition, Distinguished Sites will receive a certificate, a press release, and a letter will be sent to the school’s principal or PR department.

Check out the badge descriptions below, and stay tuned for all the nitty gritty details: we’ll release them next week.

CONTINUOUS COVERAGE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must update their site regularly and demonstrate a commitment to timely online journalism.

SITE EXCELLENCE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must customize their homepage beyond the initial SNO design with a clear sense of purpose for every element on the homepage.

STORY PAGE EXCELLENCE BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must submit eight fully-developed stories from the current school year that go beyond the text to enhance the reader’s experience.

EXCELLENCE IN WRITING BADGE

This badge is automatically awarded to news staffs with at least three stories from this school year published on Best of SNO, a site dedicated to excellence in student journalism.

MULTIMEDIA BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must submit at least three videos and three slideshows published during the current school year that meet standards of excellence in multimedia production.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT BADGE

To earn this badge, a news staff must meet a minimum traffic threshold, use social media to engage their audience, and study analytics to measure their readership.

And for inspiration, check out these previous winners, they’re pretty great.

 

The SNO Report: Don’t do what Donny Don’t does

At SNO, we’re so proud of the student news sites our customers design and operate. The custom capabilities of the FLEX platform coupled with the creativity of journalism advisers and their staff produce amazing results. Seriously. So since we spend all day looking at great websites, and because the list of what-not-to-do’s is shorter than the list of what-to-do’s, we thought we’d share a few ideas on some design elements to avoid. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk tons about the what-to-do’s when we open submissions for the SNO Distinguished Sites program in a few weeks!)

Consider these pro-tips before adding these elements to your site:

A weather widget

We get it. People love weather. We love weather. But your visitors aren’t coming to your site to check weather, and this widget will only take up valuable space that could be used for news content.

Confetti animation

Confetti is fun on New Year’s or at a wedding, but those are very short periods of time and then we put the confetti away. Think of your website in the same way––confetti can be fun for a short celebration, but not as a permanent design element on your site.

Countdown Widgets

Notice the plural on widgets. We’re not saying don’t use them at all; counting is fun! Especially counting down. But be judicious in the frequency and volume of countdown widgets–– they can absolutely be overdone. Remember your audience comes to your site for school news, so guard all available space jealously.

Photobombs

In this context, I’m referring to the overuse of uncurated photos. It can be very tempting to upload 30 pictures of cute couples smiling at the Homecoming dance, but bulk photos can easily become the visual equivalent of white noise. Similarly, photo galleries of all recently added photos can lose meaning quickly. Instead, choose your featured images carefully and be picky, your readers will thank you.

Site visit counter

Consider how useful this information will be to your readers. Given the behind-the-scenes analytics that come packaged with your SNO site, this widget is almost always unnecessary.

There, that wasn’t so bad now, was it? Again, we’ll talk more about how to design a great website (we’ve got TONS of ideas about that!) when we open theDistinguished Sites program very soon. Until then, happy news-ing!

Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY!

Please encourage your students to apply for a chance to represent THEIR state at a prestigious high school journalism conference in our nation’s capital next summer.

Each year, one high school junior from every state and the District of Columbia is selected to attend the (all-expenses-paid) Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  Conference dates for 2017 are June 17-22.

Sponsored by the Newseum Institute in honor of the late Al Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY and the Newseum, the goal of the program is to encourage free-spirited students to pursue a career in journalism and to emphasize the importance of the First Amendment in a democracy.  Each student is awarded a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his/her choice.

 

Additional information about the program — and its online application — can be found at www.freespirit.org.

The deadline to apply is February 1, 2017.
Questions? Contact Karen Catone at [email protected] or 202-292-6271.

www.freespirit.org