The SNO Report: Best of SNO is open for submissions!

Best of SNO features outstanding student journalism from members of the SNO Network. We believe that by recognizing and sharing the best work out there, we can help inspire students to continue cultivating fresh ideas and exploring new and innovative approaches to journalism.

Many advisers use examples from Best of SNO as teaching tools in the classroom. Check out some of the stories that have already grabbed our attention:

  • A student at Parkway West outlines the strengths and weaknesses of Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign.
  • Timeless Gene Wilder strikes the fancy of a budding thespian at Canyon High School in this funny and smart memorial.

  • Starr’s Mill student Spencer Dawson traces the history of Title IX and its impact on high school sports today in this story, now featured in Best of SNO.

Best of SNO is now open for submissions! We publish new content daily, so we’re always looking for new material to show off. Great writing, original images, audio, video –– we love well-done journalism. Stories should be previously published on your own news site and should be engaging, concise, and relevant. Check out the rest of our guidelines here.

Stories submitted to Best of SNO are reviewed and published daily, and students who have work featured in Best of SNO will receive a PDF certificate recognizing their achievement. Any school that has three stories published in Best of SNO will receive the Excellence in Writing badge, and the badge will be displayed next to their publication name on the SNO client list.

Submit today!  We can’t wait to start reading.

The SNO Report: Fundraising made easy

We know that budgets are tight today for schools, and scholastic journalism programs can be hit especially hard by funding cuts. To help teachers and students on the SNO platform raise funds for their journalism program, we’ve partnered with Pledgebrite to offer SNO customers simple online tools for fundraising.

Through this partnership, your program is able to set up a crowdfunding site within minutes to raise funds for equipment purchases, printing and hosting costs, field trips, convention travel, and anything else your journalism program needs.

All donations are managed online through credit card payments, so there’s no need for you and your staff to spend hours trying to track down the cash. When your fundraising campaign ends, we’ll send you a check for 85% of what’s collected online. The remaining 15% goes toward paying the credit card fees and serving costs related to the fundraiser. It’s as simple as that.

To view a sample fundraiser, visit this link. To get started with your own fundraiser, just fill out this form.

The SNO Report: Understanding your analytics

You probably know that all SNO Sites come with access to Google Analytics, a platform that allows you to know who’s visiting your site, how many hits you’re getting, and what your most popular stories are. Or maybe you’ve never heard of Google Analytics, or you’re not quite sure how to process the different types of data you’re seeing. Wherever you stand, here’s a quick lesson in the basics to help you get the most out of your site’s analytics reports.

Before we get started, you might be wondering– how do I access Google Analytics? Check out our help site article on accessing your Analytics account. You should also be receiving weekly email updates from Google Analytics — or maybe you were, but they’ve stopped. If you or someone from your staff needs your email subscription renewed, just let us know, and we’ll take care of that for you.

Now that you’re in, we’ve outlined three main areas to pay attention to below, which will fast track you towards the analytics wonk you are. These sections are calledAudience, Acquisition, and Behavior, which can all be found under Reporting.

Audience is your, well, Audience! Click on Audience Overview to see the most helpful stats, such as number of users and pageviews per a given time period. Are most of your beloved readers mobile visitors? Are your visitors brand new or returning readers (aim for a 50/50 split)? The Audience section will tell you.

The Acquisition section displays how visitors are reaching your site. Common ways audiences access your content are through direct traffic (or knowing your URL by heart), organic search (thanks DuckDuckGo), Referral from another website, and Social Media. This will let you know what you should be focusing on in terms of promotion; aim for Social Media, Direct Traffic, and Organic Search to be the top three.

Finally, the Behavior section displays, you guessed it, the behavior of your visitors! This would include which stories get the most hits, which pages are being viewed most often (or least often!), and what kind of content seems to drive readers to your site. What’s so great about the Behavior section is that you can determine what your readers care about most, as well as break that information down per day, week, or month.

Lastly, if Google Analytics just isn’t for you, we get it and for that reason have added a really cool feature to your site’s dashboard called Insights. Once linked to your Google Analytics email account, you’ll be able to view easy-to-read reports right from your dashboard. You’ll also be able to display your trending stories in a widget based on Google Analytics readership stats! If you’re having trouble using Insights, justsend us a message.

Google Analytics is a great way to monitor everything that’s happening on your site; what’s working, what’s not, and what your audience really wants. Use this knowledge to make your site even more alluring to your readers, and watch those traffic numbers rise.

The SNO Report: We’ve got your back this school year

We hope you had a great summer! Whether you’re a brand-new adviser or a website pro, SNO wants to offer you an enthusiastic welcome back. We’ve got some great new features and updates to make you the rockstar of your journalism program this year.

You’ve got a lot to deal with as a journalism adviser and teacher, and one of the last things you want to worry about is website security.  But one of the realities of websites is that they can get hacked when users fail to use strong password practices.

With that in mind, we’ve just released an update to our FLEX theme that will help make your site more secure.  There are three main components to our latest security update.

  1. While WordPress has a strength meter on its password field, it still allows your users to create weak passwords.  We’ve added a measure on the password reset process that will prevent weak passwords from being used.  While our new setting doesn’t require crazy ultra-secure passwords, it will now require that a password will have lowercase and uppercase letters, a number, and meet a minimum length requirement.
  2. We’ve added a mechanism that will require a password change every 180 days.  When your password is nearing expiration, you will receive a notice in your dashboard to change your password.  If your password expires, you can use the password reset option on the login screen to regain access, or you cancontact the SNO support team to help you regain access.
  3. We’ve also added a mechanism to thwart brute force hacking attempts.  If any user account on your site has more than 10 failed login attempts from any particular IP address, that account will no longer be able to log in from that IP address for the rest of the day.  If one of your students accidentally triggers this lockout, you can click on Locked Accounts under the Users tab to quickly unlock their account and help them regain access.

This FLEX update is currently available — you can get this update by following theupdate link in the red bar at the top of your dashboard.  Within a week, we’ll be automatically pushing this update out to all sites that have not yet updated.

Unlimited support (as always!)
As you start the new school year, don’t forget that the SNO support team is here to help in any way we can.  You can reach us via live chat at snosites.com between the hours of 8 am to 5 pm CDT.  You can also reach the support team by phone at 855.543.9766 x1 during those same hours.  And, as always, you can send an email any time to [email protected] and we will help you as soon as we can.

At SNO, we’re not just your web host, we’re your partner in publishing, and we want to do everything we can to make your life easier.

The SNO Report: SNO recognizes 27 student websites as SNO Distinguished Sites

The 2015-16 academic year is almost over –– in fact, for many of you, it already is. Whether you’re struggling through your last week of finals or you had finished cleaning out your locker weeks ago, summer break is here, and we know you’re all excited about the prospect of taking some much-needed time off. Journalism programs in the SNO network have something else to look forward to, too –– the recognition and pride that comes with being named a SNO Distinguished Site.

Twenty-seven student news websites earned the title of 2016 SNO Distinguished Site after earning badges in each of six areas of distinction. These badges recognize achievement in what SNO views as the best practices of a successful modern news website: story page design, writing, multimedia, continuing coverage, audience engagement, and overall excellence in website design.

The sites awarded this year’s SNO Distinguished Site award are:

SNO created the Distinguished Sites program two years ago with the goal of eliminating the ambiguity of what makes a good online student news site. SNO provides detailed guidelines for each badge, and encourages schools to make improvements and reapply if at first they don’t succeed.

Natalie Rebetsky, adviser of the Distinguished Site award winning Lance at Linganore High School, believes the recognition program encouraged her staff to really explore the features of their SNO site, explaining that “this is also the first time we really looked a side rails, grids, etc. . ., and several students changed their stories and re-published them –– with great enthusiasm.  We designed a new series that will be a container story with chapters –– something we would not have thought of before this semester.”

With many of this season’s Distinguished Sites being repeat awardees, the program has fostered an atmosphere of continuing excellence.

Overall, a total of 102 different scholastic news sitesearned a variety of badges over the course of the past six months, with 27 of those programs earning all six badges and earning the title of SNO Distinguished Site.

The 2017 SNO Distinguished Sites program will be announced at the start of the 2017 academic school year.  We will have some exciting changes to look forward to concerning new (and slightly revamped) badges moving into next season; we will be introducing a new badge based on Best Practices and Web Standards, which will look at a variety of elements, such as your site’s editorial statement, staff page, and the appropriate use and crediting of images. We will also be re-working the current Site Excellence badge into a more focused badge called Homepage Excellence, which will look exclusively at the design and layout of your site’s homepage.

The SNO Report: Best of the Best of SNO

Well, we made it – another school year means another nine months of stellar Best of SNO submissions from so many supremely talented young journalists – and what better way to wrap up another fantastic season than to acknowledge our very favorite stories published on Best of SNO this school year? A huge congratulations to all of the writers and staffs below! If you don’t see your school listed here, don’t be discouraged – we easily could have selected enough favorites to come up with hundreds of award categories, if only we had the time to spare.

Without further ado, we present the 2015-2016 Best of Best of SNO!

Best editorial on a school or local issue:
Not-so-socially-acceptable mediaMimi Wright, Kirkwood High School

Best editorial on a national or international issue:
Tick-tock goes the…bomb?Summer Thomad, Southwest Career and Technical Academy

Best opposing viewpoints:
Versus: Pro-Choice and Pro-LifeRebekah Rosenstein, Michelle McDaniel, Legacy High School

Best use of infographic:
How should you spend your Thanksgiving season?Justin Sweeney, Mary Stuart Murray, Kirkwood High School

Best use of innovative design:
The New GenderationMadeline Bowne, Ashley Cooper, Sonia Kim, Lanxi Li and Jenna Myers, Cherry Hill High School East

Best sports coverage:
My life on the rinkCaroline Puckett, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

Best news coverage, health edition:
Crickets become the new protein sourceJohn Bandek, Clark Magnet High School

Best news coverage, education edition:
Standardized redundancy: The failure of American testingHenry Dikeman, Apple Valley High School

Best political coverage:
Kanye graduates from hip-hop to politicsBria Blassingame, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School

Best metajournalism:
Publications statewide must stand behind first amendmentKaylee Chamberlain and Hannah Bernstein, St. Louis Park High School

Best movie review:
The Force falls asleep in new Star Wars movieSophie Haddad, Carlmont High School

Best use of story page template:
Top 15 albums of 2015Henry Youtt, Liberty High School

Best investigative reporting by an individual:
Schools not notified of students with sex offensesZia Kelly, Lawrence High School

Best investigative reporting by a group:
Homelessness in Iowa: A hidden issueAndi Munford, Vivian Le, Waukee High School

Best feature in a series:
Kit-fox probe beginsJoe Bergman, Bakersfield College

Best technology exposé:
The social media maskLilly Stannard, John Carroll School

Best photojournalism:
A day at the shelter Minju Kang, West Ranch High School

Best student profile:
SongbirdAlex Walters, McKinney Boyd High School

Best alumnus profile:
Journalism students speak to ABC evening reporter Natasha BarrettKamryn Kobal, Cypress Ranch High School

Best creative editorial:
I didn’t know – Nicholas Smith, Lovejoy High School

Best informative journalism:
A breakdown of what it means to be transgenderRose Rodriguez, Sartell High School

The Logan Aimone best critter profile:
Meet the Geese 2: Geesepocolypse Hannah Hoffmann, Parkway West High School
(Honorable mention: Unique pets: four students share their crittersEmma Froseth, Benilde-St. Margaret’s)

And there you have it! As always, Best of SNO will be taking a break over the summer, but will resume publishing your fantastic work come August. Have a great summer, and we can’t wait to read more of your submissions next year!

The SNO Report: You’re going to love the new SNO FLEX

Last night, we updated your site to the latest version of our SNO FLEX theme.  This new version is our most significant release in over a year, and we’re excited about its improved design options for both large and small screens.

The homepage of FLEX has always displayed at a width of 980 pixels, but this release has options that allow you to expand your homepage up to 1400 pixels wide to take advantage of the wide-screen monitors your readers might be using.  To take advantage of this added real estate, go to the SNO Design Options page and look for the new section labeled “Full-Width Browser Options.”

You can now activate an additional widget area that displays content just for wide-screen monitors.  When your viewer’s browser is wider than 1210 pixels, this widget area displays to the left of your normal homepage content.  You can add any widgets you’d like to this area, but keep in mind that this content ONLY displays on wide screens –– it’s completely hidden on smaller screens.  For that reason, we recommend that you think of this area as bonus content for your readers –– use it to add additional advertising spaces or a Recent Posts widget.  We also recommend that you set this extra column to be “sticky,” meaning that it will stay in place at the top of your screen while the rest of your normal homepage scrolls as usual. Making this area sticky will prevent a big empty space from showing on the left side of your screen as your reader scrolls down.

If you have the Outer Background option set to “Defined Edges,” this extra column will slide up alongside your header graphic.  With this option, we recommend that you have either a navigation menu, breaking news ticker, or social media icons set to display at the top edge of your site.  Do this in combination with making either of your menus “sticky” to give your reader an easy path to navigate throughout your site.  And if you want a large and dominant header, set the Outer Background to “Full Browser Width” and the extra column will tuck in beneath the header and to the left of your regular homepage content.

The second part of this new version of FLEX is the addition of a whole new set of design options for the header area.  You can now activate the Alternate Header Mode –– this low-profile header area is just 80 pixels tall and spans the full width of your browser.  The space for the header graphic itself is much smaller –– just 325 pixels wide, and the area to the right of the header graphic can be set to display leaderboard ads, menus, social media icons, or the breaking news ticker.  This new alternate header can be set to “stick” to the top of your screen to provide your readers with quick and easy access to navigation, and you can also activate a “slide-out” navigation menu on the left side and add a bar above the header for extra features.

The new recommended size for full screen header graphics is 1400 pixels wide by 150 pixels tall, and FLEX will recommend a header graphic size for small screens for you based on the options you select –– find this recommendation in the Custom Header Graphicsection on the SNO Design Options page.

We haven’t forgotten about the small screens either.  This release has an option that allows you to control which content will show up when your site is viewed on amobile device.  To take advantage of this new option, click on Widgets under the Appearance tab and add any widgets you’d like to the “Mobile Phone Homepage” widget area.  Once you add widgets here, this content will take the place of your traditional homepage when your site is viewed on a phone.  You can then use the customizing options in each widget to give your mobile version its own distinct personality. If you leave this widget area empty, your site will display a mobile-responsive version of your full homepage, just as it always has.

There are other notable changes in this release as well:

  • The social media icons have been updated.  They’re now font-based with options for color and monochromatic display, and you can add borders up to 10 pixels wide around each icon.

  • The header graphic can now be centered in the header area.

  • Widget Style 6 has a new look.  Just set the “Title Bar Indent” to “Off” to create a bar of color beside the widget title.

  • Widget Titles can now be set to three sizes –– small, medium, and large.

  • The breaking news ticker and navigation menuscan also be set to three sizes.

  • Each widget now has the option to add additional padding on the bottom to make it easier to line them all up to the exact pixel.

  • Icons can easily be added to any navigation menu item — just click Menus under the Appearance tab, and you’ll see that each menu item has an Icon option.

  • You can add a mini-logo to any of your navigation bars.  Try this option along with the option to hide the traditional header area for a slim, low profile header.

  • If your navigation menus get too long for the width of the browser, FLEX will automatically collapse the extra elements into a “More” tab.

Give these new features a try and tweet a screenshot to@schoolnewspaper to show off your new design.  If you need any help with these features, don’t hesitate to ask –– as always our support team is standing by to help you.

The SNO Report: The SNO Distinguished Sites deadline is fast approaching!

This year, we’ve extended the submission timeline of our Distinguished Sites program to June 1st, which means you still have time to apply for badges – but with the deadline looming, the sooner you send in your submissions, the better. Join the ranks of the 89 esteemed programs that have already earned badges during our biggest season yet! Of those, 19 programs have gone the extra mile and earned all six badges, earning the title of SNO Distinguished Site.

A huge congratulations goes out to our most recent addition to the DS hall of fame: Apple Valley High School in Minnesota, who just joined the SNO Network this fall. In their first year with a SNO Site, they’ve already managed to earn all six badges and established their journalistic excellence – which means there’s nothing stopping you, so apply now!

The SNO Report: Year-End Best Practices

It’s May the 4th and you’ve got your eye on summer.  We respect that, but we’d like you, for just a moment, to think about SNO.

Why? At the end of the school year, it’s important to complete a few quick tasks to be sure that your SNO site is ready to go when you return to school in the fall.

  • Make all student users of your site subscribers. The seniors did a great job while they were here; now it is time to pass the baton. To retain all stories written by students who won’t be on staff next year, but eliminate their ability to access the site, we recommend that you change all student user accounts tosubscribers over the summer. When students return in the fall, you can grant access back as needed. If you chose to delete the user accounts of those graduating, be sure to assign the content to another author so that it isn’t deleted.  If the content is deleted, it is not retrievable.  If you have a couple of dedicated staff members that could post a story or two per week on the site, feel free to keep their accounts active, so that readers from around the country can find up-to-date news on your site, even in the summer.
  • Update your site.  Before you leave for the summer, check that your site is running the most up-to-date version of WordPress.  Also check your plugins and theme, a quick update now can protect your site over the summer and give you less updating to do in the fall. Speaking of site protection, it might be a good idea to set up a reminder to check for updates once a month, all year round.
  • Send your students out the door thinking about how they can earn some badges as a part of the SNO Distinguished Site program next year.  Looking at the requirements now sets your staff up to start creating habits that will help them earn the honor of Distinguished Site as soon as applications are accepted next school year.
  • Think ahead.  The SNO Patrol conducts hour-long personalized training sessions for advisers and staffs. Order a training session now and schedule it whenever makes sense for you (before the end of the school year, this summer, or even next fall). The variety of training sessions available mean that all staffs, from beginners to SNO experts, will get something out of it, including a staff that’s ready to make use of all that the SNO FLEX design offers.
  • Put us to work. Do you have you a few funds left in the year’s budget? Order a SNO Site Review for a detailed analysis of your site with a thorough list of recommended changes.  Or order a SNO Site Overhaul, and we’ll get in and do the heavy lifting for you.  You’ll start the new school year with a site that looks and feels brand new.
  • Keep us in the loop. Are you getting out of the journo biz? Retiring? Pleaselet us know so that we can welcome the new adviser in proper SNO style.
  • There is still SNO in the summer. Join us at one of the many regional workshops we’re attending this summer and learn how to make the most of your SNO site.

As always, we want to express our sincere appreciation for letting us build and support websites, mobile apps, and features for you and your staff.  We hope that you enjoy your summer break, and we look forward to another great school year.

Sincerely,
The SNO Patrol

The SNO Report: New Curriculum Project

As part of an ongoing project here at SNO, we’ve recently released two strands of our new SNO Curriculum – theDesign Strand and the Story Page Strand. Our SNO Curriculum is a more structured, lesson-based way for you to learn about the different aspects of your SNO Site.

The Design Strand will walk you through every SNO Design Option available on your site, while the Story Page Strand aims to inform you about the different features and templates you can utilize when creating, editing, and publishing your stories.

The strands are broken down into modules; each module contains a slide-based presentation focusing on one specific element related to the strand. And don’t worry, we’re not done yet – we’ve got more strands coming soon, so there will be no shortage of curriculum for you to share with your students!

Get your new staff ready with a SNO training session

Many of you are turning your attention to recruiting and selecting your staff for next school year.  Now’s the perfect time to order a personalized staff training session for your group of aspiring journalists. You can order the session now and schedule it for the date and time that makes the most sense for your group, be it this spring or right before school starts at the end of summer.  We’ll make sure that your new staff has all the tools they need to hit the ground publishing at the start of the new school year.

SNODrift Webinars

Join us for our live SNODrift webinar tomorrow, April 27th, at 3:00 p.m. EST/2:00 p.m. CST. This week, we’ll be discussing slideshows and photo galleries. You can join the live webinar via join.me – keep in mind that some school networks do block web-based calling, so you may need a phone to access the audio portion of the conference.

Want to see what you’re missing? Here’s a recording of last week’s topic, SNO design page options.