The SNO Report: Tasks to End the Year

Whether your school’s still making up for a bunch of snow days or you’ve already been dismissed for the summer, we hope we can ease your brain a little bit with a straightforward list of tasks to do before your website goes to sleep.

  • Turn your site’s departing staff members into subscribers. Doing this retains all the great content those students produced this year but takes away their access to the backend of the website.

  • Run any available updates. Check to make sure your site is running the latest version of WordPress and your plugins are up-to-date as well. Doing this protects the site over the summer and gives you fewer updates to run when you get back.

  • Save a Snapshot of your site. It can’t hurt to save a Design Snapshot of the design of your site that you’re ending the year with, especially if you’re planning on testing out some design changes over the summer.

  • Departing adviser? Tell us. We’d love to welcome the new adviser to the SNO community in proper fashion. So if you’re leaving the job, notify us.

  • Put us to work. Summertime is the best time to order a SNO Site Review or SNO Site Overhaul. We’ll make it a summer project, and you’ll have a newly refurbished site or detailed written analysis ready to review when you get back.

  • Maybe think about a training. Our trainer conducts personalized hour-long virtual sessions for advisers, students, students and advisers, advisers and their pets — whatever. Think about when you want your incoming staff trained. Order a training session and schedule it whenever it makes sense, before the end of the year, during summer downtime or hold onto it until the fall.

  • Join us on the road. SNO will be at several regional summer workshops and you can be, too. See you there?

As always, we want to express our sincere appreciation for letting us build and support your websites this year. We hope you enjoy your summer break and we look forward to another great school year just around the corner.

Introducing Student News Source: The new mobile app for SNO customers

Several months ago we announced that we were working on a complete overhaul of our SNOMobile platform, and we asked for help in shaping the new app.

Over 100 SNO customers took the time to provide feedback, and here’s what they said: Make the new app seamlessly integrate with SNO websites, fill it with useful features like photo galleries, automated push notifications and story commenting, and above all else, make it affordable.

Today we are pleased to announce the launch the Student News Source app for SNO customers. Unlike our old platform that relied on individual apps that were expensive to build and difficult to support, the Source app functions as a hub of student journalism around the country. Think of it as the Apple News of student media. Users of the app can follow one or many journalism programs in one place.

The Source is full of features we think student journalists are going to love, and we’re excited to offer it for $250 a year as an add-on to a SNO website subscription.

Here are just a few of the features included in the first version of the Source:

  • Latest stories from your SNO website automatically added to the app
  • Design control from your WordPress dashboard

  • Push notifications by category

  • Photo galleries

  • Staff profiles

  • Story commenting

  • Video

  • Search

  • Social sharing

The app is available today in the iOS and Android app stores. And we have added several programs to it already to give everyone a sense of how it will work for their journalism team. Get out your mobile device and search for the Student News Source in the app stores to give it a trial run today.

By taking the entire development in-house and transitioning away from standalone apps, we’re able to continuously add new features to the app that all subscribers will benefit from. In the coming months, we’ll integrate SNO’s Sports Center tools in the app and add reporter-based push notifications, allowing users to receive a notification when their favorite writer publishes a new story.

Current SNO customers can fill out this form to add their program to the Student News Source app today.

The SNO Report: Meeting the SNO Developers

Noah and Travis are our two undercover guys. They lurk in the shadows (when their overhead desk light is off), living in the matrix, making sure your sites are up, running and doing all the things they’re supposed to be doing.

They automate this, app that… migrate this, maintenance that. None of it makes any sense to us Normals. Just say, “Thank you.”

Meet Noah, server and site technician

Q: Explain what you’re always doing behind those computer screens over there?
A: Everything from managing databases and servers to writing your favorite SNO Plugins.

How does one become a tech developer?
Years and years and years of watching YouTube videos and copying other people’s code from the internet.

Who beat who last time you played ping pong?
I won, obviously.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Play soccer and basketball, bow hunt, play guitar, and write code.

You can pitch one app to the App Gods. What’s your app?
An app that keeps track of all the food and ingredients that you have in your house and provides you with a list of recipes for meals that you can make.

If you could automate anything in the entire world, what would it be?
Working out … Nobody has time for that.

What’s the famous tech innovation idea you wish you’d come up with?
The Nokia cell phone.

So, what is the internet really?
A bunch of 1s and 0s floating through space.

You’re coders. What’s your code name?
Seicho (pronounced: Psycho)

Should we be concerned about robots?
Yes … Have you seen the movies!?

Favorite thing of all the things? 
Bacon.

Favorite OS?
Mobile: Android. Desktop: Linux.

Say something Minnesotan?
I’m from Wisconsin. I do not speak the native tongue.

Meet Travis, app developer

Q: Explain what you’re always doing behind those computer screens over there?
A: Working on building a new app platform that will give clients more fine-grained control over their mobile presence, and it will allow us (SNO) to control how everything works.

How does one become a tech developer?
Going to college for computer science is the most common route, but people can also self-teach themselves. Regardless of the approach, the most important thing is enjoying the learning process and being passionate about it.

Who beat who last time you played ping pong?
Noah beats me pretty much every time we play.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy being outdoors, camping, hiking, rock climbing.

You can pitch one app to the App Gods. What’s your app?
An augmented reality app that lets you see new furniture in your house before buying. One that actually works well!

If you could automate anything in the entire world, what would it be?
The laundry.

What’s the famous tech innovation idea you wish you’d come up with?
Uber. Being the largest ride-sharing/taxi service but not owning any vehicles. Genius.

So, what is the internet really?
A bunch of computers talking to each other, super, super fast.

You’re coders. What’s your code name?
I don’t have any particular “code name,” but I do have about 100 various usernames online for different things that I can never keep track of.

Should we be concerned about robots?
… maybe.

Favorite thing of all the things? 
When I spend a long time trying to solve a coding problem and finally figure it out.

Favorite OS?
Mac

Say something Minnesotan?
“It was 70 degrees on April 9 and I hear we are getting up to 20 inches of snow on April 11.”

The SNO Report: Eighteen SNO customer sites named Gold Crown winners by CSPA

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association announced its Gold Crown winners this week with 18 of 24 winners in online media categories coming from the SNO community.

The SNO winners are:

In Digital News:

Pathfinder, Parkway West High School (Ballwin, MO)

Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy (Las Vegas, NV)

The Red Ledger, Lovejoy High School (Lucas, TX)

Wingspan, Liberty High School (Frisco, TX)

In Hybrid News:

El Estoque, Monta Vista High School (Cupertino, CA)

Fenton InPrint, Fenton High School (Frenton, MI)

North Star, Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, MO)

Panther Prints, Plano East Senior High School (Plano, TX)

The A-Blast, Annandale High School (Annandale, VA)

The Black & White, Walt Whitman High School (Bethesda, MD)

The Broadview, Convent of the Sacred Heart High School (San Francisco, CA)

The Kirkwood Call, Kirkwood HIgh School (Kirkwood, MO)

The Muse, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts (West Palm Beach, FL)

The Newsstreak, Harrisonburg High School (Harrisonburg, VA)

The Rubicon, St. Paul Academy and Summit School (St. Paul, MN)

The Tam News, Tamalpais High School (Mill Valley, CA)

The Tom Tom, Antioch Community High School (Antioch, IL)

Tiger Times, Texas High School (Texarkana, TX)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

The SNO Report: Get to know the mobile homepage

SNO sites come completely mobile responsive out of the box, always have and always will, so you’re basically all set.

But depending on the size of your mobile audience, which you should assume is bigger than you imagine but that you can know for sure by studying your analytics, you may want to focus more attention on how your homepage looks on your phone.

That’s where the Widget Control Panel’s “Mobile Homepage” widget area comes in.

For example, maybe you’re one of the many sites featuring a SNO Story Grid widget of your best stories at the top of your desktop homepage. That’s really great, but you may not like the way it looks when you pull it up on your phone.

Just a hunch, but go check yours out.

That’s how it is for the order of everything else on your desktop view, too. You’ve built your homepage one way for a reason; commonly, for your readers to enjoy some version of a left-to-right reading experience. But on a phone, you don’t get three columns across the screen, nor widget areas with distinctly different widths (i.e. Full Width vs. Wide vs. Left, Center or Right). You get one column for your reader to thumb through, top to bottom.

In its responsiveness, SNO sites will stack your widgets vertically in the order in which the areas appear on the Widget Control Panel. So, whatever’s in Home Top Full Width gets put at the top, above anything in Home Top Wide. From there, Home Top Left, then Center, Right, and so on.

With that in mind, it’s important to think about what you’re hoping to prioritize. After all, if you’ve built a homepage where the most important pieces of content are presented horizontally, like Home Top Full Width, then Left, Center and Right, you’ll end up seeing everything you stacked into Home Top Left before anything in Home Top Center. Maybe there’s five lesser things under News in Home Top Left — those five will display first on a phone before your reader can ever get to what you wanted them to see next — the thing at the top of Home Top Center.

Is this making sense?

What’s also important to know: the mobile homepage is an all-or-nothing feature.

What we mean: the SNO Story Carousel looks much better than a SNO Story Grid on mobile, so maybe you’ll want to switch by adding a SNO Story Carousel widget to your Mobile Homepage widget area. But you cannot stop there. The first thing you add and keep in your Mobile Homepage area overrides everything else. So, if you only add that Carousel, that’s the only thing you’ll see the next time you view your site on a phone.

This is not to say that ignoring the Mobile Homepage area altogether makes your site unresponsive in some backwards universe. As we’ve said, it all works automatically. You don’t have to use the widget area at all.

Here are some publications that do. Can you reach your phone? Check out Rubicon OnlineThe MuseThe Kirkwood Call and HiLite.

  • Notice on Rubicon Online that their desktop carousel with a thumbnail navigation row underneath it is instead a carousel with text below it on mobile. Also, notice how they smartly show the Widget Title on that carousel, “Top Stories,” on mobile, to more concretely label it for their readers.
  • Notice on The Muse how they’ve reworked what takes priority on mobile vs. desktop. On desktop, a lot of real estate is devoted to Upcoming Events, Podcasts, their print issue, a poll, and a countdown. On mobile, they stick with Upcoming Events (high-value info) but then get straight into their content categories and that’s it.
  • Notice on The Kirkwood Call how they’re offering a totally unique reader experience on mobile. Their desktop homepage is so much more dense. Mobile includes Recent Posts, a Twitter feed, Trending Stories, and then the road ends. Perhaps their thinking here is that readers use their phone for quick updates; they’ll go to the desktop if they really want to engage in depth. They’re not wrong.
  • Notice on HiLite that their carousel on mobile gets labeled “Top Story” and includes text below the photos (both like Rubicon). It’s nice to be able to see the images, rather than displaying headlines on top of them. Then, they give their readers a ton from Recent Posts (like Kirkwood) before getting into their content categories with modern uniformity in the formatting of those (like Rubicon and Muse as well).

All of these mobile experiences were designed with the Mobile Homepage widget area. You can do it, too. You just have to commit.

Let us know how we can help.

The SNO Report: Story formatting no-nos

You know how on cop shows the detectives always show the crime scene photos to the person they believe to be the perp to see if it triggers a reaction?

Below, we’re going to show you a bunch of images of things that are wrong when formatting stories on your news site — little things you’d likely be called out for if applying for our Story Page Excellence badge.

These are things we’ve seen enough times to know they’re commonly overlooked. For fixes, follow the hyperlinks, when present, or instructions outlined for each one.

And now, the photos from the crime scene:

  1. THAT’S NOT A HEADLINE. It’s not even a good title. A headline should have a subject and verb and give the reader some representation of what the story is about. When using a title instead (something like “State Champs”), add a deck, or secondary, headline (the third to-do in Step 1 here) that keeps to the subject-verb best practice and keeps your reader in the know.

  1. NOBODY WINS THAT BATTLE. Hierarchy matters and it’s easy to control. When you have several forms of media for a story, pick one to dominate. The others are secondary. Is it a great photo, or is the video the essential part of the story? In Featured Image and Video Location options (look to Step 5), set one to “Above Story” and one to “Beside Story.” Assigning both to the top looks bad; I mean, I couldn’t even fit all of both pieces in my one screenshot.

  1. VIDEOS DON’T GO THERE. Use the custom field for Video Embed Codes (half of the write-up here), instead of adding it as media within the text area — frequently caught before or at the end of the story. Doing it the bad way, the video is never the width you need it to be and it creates a headache next to your Featured Image.

  1. LOST IN SPACE. Sometimes your site’s text editor will add an additional break between paragraphs when pasting your story into it. But just because it happens, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it. In each case, backspace from the beginning of the next paragraph. Or, for goodness sake, add the break. Neither style — extra breaks (first part of the picture) or “single-spaced” (second part) is doing you any favors. (P.S. Don’t indent the beginning of paragraphs either.)

  1. NOT SNO’S WAY. Yes, WordPress has its own pull-quote formatting tool built into the text editor. (You get there by clicking the quotation mark next to the alignment icons.) SNO’s pull quotes (by way of the “Add SNO Story Element” button) is the prettier version of it and gives you full control over the alignment, backgrounds and borders of it.

  1. DON’T STACK LIKE THAT. Imagine there were 10 more photos stacked below the two that are pictured. Yeesh! Avoid nonsensically stacking photos, one right above another, anywhere in your story. Instead, pick a couple to embed throughout the text, and then use the rest in a photo gallery. (Learn all about it here.)

  1. PICK A BETTER PLACE. The Related Stories box (another SNO Story Element) is a great tool to keep readers moving throughout your site — but maybe not at the bottom of the story, especially when it’s a tease to one or two stories. Such a small box should be highlighted higher up in the story. After all, what if the reader doesn’t finish the story in the first place? Catch them before they’re gone.

The SNO Report: Follow us around this summer

At our Minnesota base, it snowed in record-breaking sums in February. That has us longing for warmer days — the ones we’re expecting this summer.

We’ll be popping up at workshops all over the country this summer, delivering on-site, SNO-focused digital media training. Meet us there? Check out our schedule below and feel free to send us a care package to lift our snowed-in spirits.

Our workshop sessions are designed to help you grasp the creative power you have over your SNO site and use it to transform your publication. We’ll cover the basics and get into the advanced tools that’ll take your site to the next level. You’ll be introduced to the most up-to-date features and master the best practices for web, analytics and social media.

Can’t make it to a workshop? That’s OK. Order a personalized SNO training session or unlimited training subscription and we’ll meet up virtually.

Or consider hosting a SNO Day involving members schools in your area and we’ll come to you personally. SNO Days are all about getting a close-up with your publication. We’ll bring the expertise, you bring the willingness to learn. If you’re interested in learning more about setting up a SNO Day, get in touch with us.

Bonus points if you show up wearing some sort of SNO merch this summer.

The SNO Report: Slam dunk story grids you can do

When the calendar hits March 1 this week, you’ll have only two months left to earn SNO Distinguished Sites badges and the whole enchilada.

To earn the Story Page Excellence Badge, you’ll have to submit correctly-assembled Grid, Side-by-Side and Long Form templates among other examples. In some cases, those are templates you have to plan in advance for.

Let’s help you out with a few ideas for Story Grids that ANYBODY can do.

New teachers at school


A grid’s natural purpose is to package together content that goes together, giving your reader one place to find all of it. A story grid of new-teacher features is an easy get. The Little Hawk profiled nine new teachers at Iowa City High School. How many does your school have?

Clubs and organizations

Who says you have to write a full profile? A story grid of clubs and organizations at your school is a good way to be a basic informational resource for your student readers. The East Vision assembled a grid of 48 tid-bits, including club sponsor and student leaders, meeting times and a brief description. Now that’s valuable.

Seasonal sports previews

Here’s an idea for three separate grids throughout the year. Assemble a grid with previews of the fall sports at your school, later the winter sports, and finally the spring ones.

P.S. Check out our new merchandise store for SNO swag!

The SNO Report: Starting A Podcast, Part 2: Time To Do It

Last week, in Part 1 of this series, we coached you through everything to setup a podcast, from generating an idea to picking an eventual home for it and an audio editing program.

Now is the best part. Now, it’s time to actually do it.

Producing your content involves selecting theme music, determining a general structure for each episode and, finally, being an interviewer. This is our advice:

Where do I get music legally?

Podcast music is never music you hear on the radio. It’s instrumental, or tones, but you can get in trouble for stealing Kenny G’s music, so you’ll need to find music labeled for free-use.

Google it. There are several free-use music sites online, some that are totally free and some that you’ll actually end up paying for.

The one we use is the YouTube Free Music Library. It’s free and has a huge library of music and sound effects to download.

The best part? They’re labeled by both genre and vibe. For example, “Curb Stomp,” by Underbelly, is labeled as “Hip Hop/Rap” but also, “Dark” — naturally.

How funny is that?

To use the music in your podcast, download the MP3 file and import it into your audio editor (like Audacity) when you’re editing each episode. Or Anchor, for example, has its own library for you to use, if you’re using its web-based editor instead of a program on your computer.

How should it be structured?

The best advice for this is to model it after podcasts you like and make a list of the things you like about each one.

  • How is music used? When does the music come in?

  • How does each episode begin? How does it end?

  • How long is each episode?

When we talk about the structure, or an outline, we’re specifically thinking about those three things listed above.

  • Length is important because it can intimidate people. Consider this: If you’re looking for a new podcast to try for the first time, are you more likely to click on the one with its first episode 15 or 90 minutes long?
  • Podcast episodes often include a consistently-structured greeting to welcome listeners and tease what’s to come and a not-so-strictly defined farewell that may include a call to action of some kind, like asking people to subscribe on iTunes.

  • Music comes into a podcast at a variety of different points around the greeting and farewell. It may be the first thing you hear. It may create a natural break between the introduction and interview. It may play quietly underneath the entire episode. Again, consider the podcasts you listen to and mimic them.

What about interviewing tips?

Doing an interview for a podcast is not unlike any other type of interview. So, if you’ve done a few in any arena, you know a little about how to handle yourself.

The difference, perhaps, is that with a podcast interview, you’re probably pretty concerned about the length vs. an interview for a printed article. This is because interviewees don’t expect you to use every single one of their quotes in an article. But for a podcast, they probably expect to be heard in full — it’ll sound better if they are, too.

Keep yourself reasonably within the expected length of your episode by outlining everything.

  • Script the intro and outro you’ll record for each episode. Reading from such a script makes you less likely to ramble on walking in circles around yourself

  • Prepare and write down interview questions ahead of time. Anticipate their answers in order to script a few likely follow-ups. This will give you a direction and something to fall back to should you lose track of the conversation.

  • Write those questions in a conversational way, rather than like questionnaire you’d ask someone to fill out. That way, if you need to, you can read from your list and still have the interview sounding natural and unscripted.

Depending on your experience level and the person you’re interviewing, you may feel more or less obliged to script it all. That’s fine.

All of this advice goes with the way we’ve tried to create SNOcast. Listen to some of our episodes to hear it all in action.

Also, shop our new merchandise store for new SNO swag!

The SNO Report: Starting A Podcast, Part 1: Laying The Foundation

It’s true, you know, what they say. Anyone who wants a podcast can have one.

You don’t need any specific college degree or expensive equipment to make your voice heard on the almighty iTunes. You don’t even need a “radio voice.” Trust me, you guys, I know this. All you really need is an idea, something that’ll record you and a place to publish it.

That’s called laying the foundation, and that’s where this lesson begins. When printed out and attached with a piece of tape (only then!), this and next week’s SNO Report will, hopefully, be a helpful guide to starting a podcast, essentially with nothing more than stuff around your house.

This week, before you call Stephen A. Smith to be your first guest (mad props!), let’s talk about generating an idea and the two things you need to make it a reality — a tool to record it and place to upload it.

What’s the big idea?

This has to be your first step. It makes no sense to start decorating a recording studio (or to have one in the first place) or to be scheduling interviews when you don’t have an idea.

You need an idea that makes sense, in a couple ways.

 

  1. Is it reasonable to expect that you can execute a series from the idea? If your idea is to interview professional athletes about what it’s like to be professional athletes, consider how achievable that is. Perhaps your school has an alum in the NHL, making him reasonably within reach. That’s one episode. What’s left after that? A series interviewing educators, in comparison, gives you much greater opportunity.

  2. Who is your audience and what interests them? Consider it a criminal offense not to consider this specific question. Knowing your audience drives everything you do. It may seem silly that people are tuning in, by the thousands, to live streams to watch other people play video games, but those gamers know that the audience — on that specific website — will be interested.

To the first point, it’s equally as important that you can project your idea for several recurring episodes, but that it’s not too rambly that you can’t train your listeners to know what to expect every time they tune in. Your podcast is likely to be more popular when staying within your main theme than if you’re trying to have the freshest take about the New England Patriots one week and counting on your listeners to come back to listen to you review cereals next week.

It helps to plan. Make up a schedule for the first bunch of episodes (three, at least) and finish them before ever publishing the first one. This gives you as much time as you need to get together with your buddy to debate about sports or to schedule, reschedule and complete that interview with the local dog catcher.

You’ll feel the heat of deadlines plenty in your day-to-day journalism. Give yourself a cushion just once. It’ll mean you’re setting yourself up to succeed.

How do I record it?

Let’s pretend you don’t have a radio or broadcast program at your school with all the know-how to produce your show — that it’s just you and a couple other big dreamers figuring it out at your average high school. You’ll need a computer program to record to, edit with and export from.

Sure, the same as there are knock-off Photoshop solutions online, you could probably find free audio editing, too. Or, there are tons of professional audio editing software programs you can buy but at the price of 100 tacos from Chipotle. (Your move.)

Instead of those, here are two options that each combine that Free-99 price tag with an authentic editing experience:

 

  1. Audacity is a free, downloadable application for Macs and PCs that we use to produce SNOcast. We learned how to use it pretty quickly.

  2. GarageBand is a stock application on Macs. Its editing is over-simplified, which may be easier to learn if you go to it first. It’s not our favorite, but it’s an option.

The option to import audio into these is vital because not all interviews happen in front of a computer — or they’ll happen on a computer but using a separate program, like Skype. So, whether it’s recorded remotely as a voice memo on your phone or using a digital recorder, you need to have the option to import “tracks.”

One recent enhancement coming from the websites where you’ll ultimately upload your podcast to, like Soundcloud and Anchor FM, is downloadable, all-in-one apps.

These podcasting platforms are allowing you to do it all in one place. On Anchor, for example, you can record through your phone, import additional tracks, edit them together, add music from their free library, even add transition sounds (woooosh!), and then publish it.

Where does it go online?

You can go through the steps of setting up an account for iTunes and Spotify if you want, but each time you’ll run into the requirement to provide a link to your podcast feed.

So, after you have your idea and start producing episodes, you need to pick a site that creates a feed for you and, often, sends your episodes off to iTunes and others automatically.

There are many options out there, each with important factors to consider. Here are the four we looked into, to publish SNOcast, why one won out and the others didn’t:

 

  1. ART19 was the first place we looked, but with it you’re in for an investment right away because you’re paying for is their marketing of your series and data tracking.

  2. Soundcloud was next. In fact, we created an account and uploaded our first episode to it because while it’s extremely well known, what wasn’t clear at sign-up was that you’ll have a cap on your free account. You can only upload so many minutes of audio before you have to start paying up, so one 25-minute podcast really put a dent in that space right away. Remember, Soundcloud was created for musicians, who may only be uploading an album that’s no longer than 25 minutes total.

  3. Podbean is another well-used option. Unlike Soundcloud, it’s made for podcasters. Like Soundcloud, you’ll be paying an annual fee for more space.

  4. Anchor is what we went with. It’s 100 percent free and has worked well so far.

Next week, we’ll talk about a few of the things that separate your podcast from being just another in the crowd to being memorable.

In the meantime, check out some of the new SNO swag we’re selling!