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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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

The SNO Report: For a good time, call.

At SNO, we like to think we’re different than the other guys for a lot of reasons. First, we’re super smart, and people say we’re attractive. Second, most of us have exceptional taste in shoes but we don’t even have an ego about it. Finally, we’re pretty good at the web hosting game.  Two-Meal Tom

But in reality, Thomas Sugatt is the reason we’re different. He’s our support guy–– his is the calm, pleasant voice you’ll hear when you call us for help on your site (he types quietly, too, when you send him chat or email questions).

Thomas has worked for SNO since February and he knows his stuff. You’ve got questions about your site? Thomas has got answers.

When he’s not standing at his desk, you can find him folding his socks in low lighting (he prefers lamps to overhead) or practicing his handstands. If there were such thing as a kale cake, he’d choose that for dessert, but he’d call it kale-ke. Otherwise, he’d choose strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream and he’d do the dishes as soon as he was done eating because he’s fastidious and pragmatic. And that’s what makes him so good at his job.

Get to know him! He’s here for you, and he’s the guy you’ll get when you call, chat oremail with your support needs from 8am-5pm Monday through Friday. You can ask him anything (including why he likes curtains but doesn’t like buying them).

The SNO Report: Online Lit Mags FTW

Here’s the thing: in the literary publishing game, print has always been king. Readers and writers alike have bowed, mystified, before the gatekeepers of the print literary magazine while dismissing online publications. But the game has changed. In our culture of hyper-connectedness, a link to a published story can be more valuable than a physical copy because it’s infinitely shareable. A writer who publishes work online suddenly has a huge potential audience, and one with a dramatically wider reach than most print publications. Online is the place to be for today’s writers.

At SNO, we couldn’t be happier with this trend: people are writing really good stuff and consumers are hungry for fresh, new, and accessible literature. We can help with that. Our FLEX WordPress platform is designed to be fully customizable, so your school can launch its online lit mag with the same ease of design and access as your newspaper. Custom header graphics, menu, and widget options allow you to arrange and change your site as often as you like. With all the design optionsavailable, your editorial staff can have a real hand in managing the aesthetics of the site. And in the grand tradition of literary publishing, define-able user access roles can allow the Editor-in-Chief and editorial board to screen and curate the work published on their site.

Check out lit mags Apotheosis and Cougar Tales to see the different ways they’ve used the platform. We’re pretty impressed with what they’ve done.

Questions? Talk to us! We’d be happy to chat with you about getting your lit mag off the ground and out into the atmosphere–– the air is pretty good out here.

Fundraising Success

A couple of weeks ago, we let you know about our partnership with Pledgebrite, the web-based platform that makes it easy to launch an online fundraising campaign. The staff at Bloomington South’s The Optimist took us up on the offer, and they have raised over $1100 in two short weeks. To get started with your own fundraiser, just fill out this form.

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 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 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.