The SNO Report: Covering the midterm elections

You can’t escape it. The political ads pouring into your poor mailbox and out of your television screen (here’s our favorite). The context applied to all news, or discussions of news, coming out of Washington, D.C. recently. The midterm elections are right around the corner.

On our podcast with The New York Times’ design team, they told us they were already thinking about the way their midterm coverage is going to look online.

Are you thinking about yours? How will you cover the midterms? How will you present the coverage?

On Best of SNO, we’ve already seen a ton of political coverage localized by student journalists. Three such articles covered the experiences of students working for political campaigns, which you can read here and here and also here.

On the editorial side of it, we’ve republished a column about “Developing Your Political Ideology” and another calling on students to “Vote early and local.”

Covering your local elections is especially important and it’s something you ought to be doing, since a subset of your readers are probably voting for the very first time.

That means covering it, first, at a bare-bones level:

  • How can your of-age readers vote? Or where can they register to vote?
  • What does a ballot look like? Or what else can you tell them about the Election Day process?
  • Who are the candidates?
  • What do the different political offices being pursued in the election actually do?
  • Where do candidates stand on the issues, especially those issues that matter to the age group of your readers?
  • What’s a Democrat? What’s a Republican? What’s it matter?
  • Why does voting matter?
  • Or for readers who aren’t of age, how can they still get involved?

How many of these questions have you answered for your readers? (Hint: The more the better.)

A lot of those answers can be found by researching the information. They’re mostly information-based reports, rather than relying on interviews. But what about interview opportunities? What about sending reporters to cover the events?

Here are a few stories about student journalists who went out and did it:

Start by covering school board and city council meetings. Go as a class and make it an assignment.

That’ll help you get even more prepared to cover politics leading up to, during and after these midterms. Think of it like covering your Homecoming Court election — you identify the candidates, share information about them with readers, you cover the big announcement, etc.

Maybe you have a potential Homecoming candidate with a great story to tell. You’ll only find out by going and talking to them — that includes politicians, too.

Here’s an excellent example of how a student publication covered the 2016 election: “2016 Election one-stop shop,” from West Side Story.

Here’s a great example of students covering the results of a local school board election: “Blue wave in North Penn School Board election,” by The Knight Crier.

Now, get out there and do your thing. Good luck!

The SNO Report: Covering Sports On Your Site

As the calendar flips to October, fall sports season is hitting its stride. That means every game has higher stakes and the postseason is right around the corner, if not already here for some.

So, there’s a lot to cover. What could you be doing?

Previews and gamers

Some teams play so frequently — volleyball, for example — that it’s hard to keep up with previewing upcoming games and writing recaps afterward.

Other sports — football — setup perfectly for you to schedule coverage around its one game each week — and football can be quite a readership draw. Preview the upcoming football game every week to offer readers a perspective on what’s happened earlier this season and what’s coming. With postseason play coming up, do this with other sports, too.

Then, get out and cover those things. Take notes of important plays and game trends, interview the coaches and players afterward and write up a recap.

Being at the games helps you improve your coverage and allows you to find extra coverage you wouldn’t otherwise.

Weekly athlete features

Here’s a piece of new content, produce weekly, that you can count on — and that your readers can count on. It may also be a good chance to use the Side-by-Side story page template, too.

Photo galleries

Send someone with a camera to as many sporting events as possible and have them produce a gallery from the game, whether it’s standing on its own or as a part of a story package.

Live blogging

Here’s an idea. It’s so easy to update your articles, so create the shell of one for, “Live updates from (insert game here)” and have a reporter updating it throughout an event with a play-by-play or occasional observations.

You could end up with something like this.

Tweeting

Live tweeting updates from a game is about the same as a live blog. Reporters should have Twitter accounts or access to an official publication Twitter account to send out updates from a game.

Also, use Twitter on your site that displays a feed where readers can find your live tweets. It’s popular to display your own, but when you have a sports page, why not use the school’s athletic account to maximize the information your readers can get there?

Live videos and recaps

Use video to recap games, especially if you have a broadcast program, but you may also use video to be a resource for your readers who can’t be at the game. Help by streaming the games live.

Scores and schedules

Use our Sports Center add-on to publish schedules for the season, update them with the final scores as the season progresses, and even list the rosters for your teams.

Even if you don’t have the add-on, use the SNO Sports Score Scroller widget to add and display a ticker of recent sports results for your school.

The SNO Report: Best Of SNO Is Back, With One Major Difference

Alright, we’ve tortured you long enough. Best of SNO is back, baby!

But wait… There’s nowhere to submit my story! Ahh! Am I going crazy? Why are you doing this to me! WAS THAT A GHOST I JUST SAW!

Frankie says “relax.” Gone are the days when you had to fill out a submission form on the site to submit your article. Welcome to the future!

We’ve added a feature in the dashboard of your site that allows you to press a button that sends your article our way. Right there in the toolbar where you click “Stories,” “Breaking News” and more, you’ll click “Best of SNO” — that’s how you’ll get started.

This new feature is constantly sifting through all of your content, marking stories as eligible or ineligible for submission based on several factors, listed below (and listed on your site’s “Best of SNO” section under the “Submission Guidelines” tab).

  • Stories must be at least 300 words in length, with the exception of videos, which are eligible when that video’s embed code is pasted into the proper Video Embed Code field.
  • Stories must have a featured image.
  • That featured image must have a photo caption and photo credit.
  • Stories must have a byline with the writer’s first and last name.

All of the other ideological requirements, like the story being engaging, concise and relevant, standing out from the crowd — that kind of thing — remain the same.

Eligible stories will be listed under the “Eligible Stories” tab of the Best of SNO page in your dashboard and ineligible ones will be listed under, you guessed it, the “Ineligible Stories” tab. View your list of ineligible stories and there’ll be a note there explaining what’s making it ineligible.

Before you do any of that, please review the “Site Data” tab, which should be the first thing that shows up when you click “Best of SNO” in your toolbar. The site data lists important information for us like the adviser’s name and the school’s name. Verify that all of it is correct; if not, fix it.

Now, a few things about submitting…

  • Everyone can view the page to see if their story is eligible, but only site “administrator” accounts will have the ability to submit.
  • Only three submissions are permitted per day, per site. We read all submissions, so cut us some slack on this one.
  • When you hit “Submit” on an eligible story, it goes to the “Submitted Stories” tab and also is added to our master list for review.

At that point, it’s all out of your hands, but you can see the status of each submission (it’s either Pending, Accepted or Rejected) in that “Submitted Stories” section. You can also retract a submission if you change your mind about it.

Your overall progress toward the Excellence in Writing badge is tracked in the middle of the page. There, you’ll see how many stories you’ve submitted this year, how many are being reviewed, how many were published, and how many you’ve submitted (out of three) that day. You still need three stories published on Best of SNO to earn the badge.

OK. You’ve heard enough from us. Now show us what you’ve got!

The SNO Report: Getting acquainted to Google Analytics

Step into most professional newsrooms and you’ll find someone with knowledge of web traffic. Maybe it’s the general manager or an editor, or maybe it’s someone hired specifically to track and find uses for that data.

In your newsroom, who’s that person going to be?

As a SNO customer, you have access to Google Analytics, the very system most use to gain insight into their readership base — how many people visited today, what did they read, and more. The quickest place to find info like this is the Insights tab on your site’s dashboard. The most in-depth version of this is right on the Google Analytics homepage, which if you need help accessing, please let us know. Hey, you can even receive weekly updates from Google recapping your site’s stats, too.

Whether you need to be convinced of what you’ll get from it or need help walking through it, let’s go over the important stuff you need to know…

Audience

This is the first of three main data areas you’ll find. It’s all about the general scope of your audience. Hint: these are your most directly helpful stats (i.e. how many readers today, what was read). It’s guaranteed to perk up your staff when you pass along this info. “Today’s top story was written by (insert name here). Congratulations!” (Have that one for free.)

Acquisition

Here’s an example of a situation that happens often: Random Adviser recently got access to Analytics and sees the Audience numbers and exclaims, “Wow! That many people read our site?” Now they want to know how they did so well? Check your Acquisition data.

Acquisition details how readers are getting to your site in one of four ways. There’s “Direct Traffic,” meaning word of your site has spread so well that people are going directly to your URL for their news. Next, there’s “Organic Search,” in which readers know about you but not enough about you to know your URL — so they Google you. There’s “Referral,” meaning some other website linked to yours. Finally, there’s “Social Media,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Behavior

There is some overlap between Audience and Behavior. Both will tell you what the audience is reading while on your site, for example.

Analyzing your readers’ behavior helps you understand them. What are they reading, or, rather, what are they looking for? (We shouldn’t have ignored the PTA.) Which of our sections is most popular? (We need to write more sports stories!) What time are readers coming to your site? (Let’s start scheduling stories to publish at 4 p.m.)

Is this making any more sense? Maybe it’s only one statistic you latch onto, that’s OK. Knowing your analytics help you know your audience, and knowing your audience helps you get even more of an audience. Use it and watch that traffic rise.

The SNO Report: What will your identity be this year?

“How do we design our header?” Here’s a good question we get a lot, especially this time of year. New editors are at the controls, wondering how to put their unique stamp on the year.

This is a pretty simple answer, as far as we’re concerned. You can do it yourself, or you can hire us to do it for you. (I’ll take “Logo Design and Web Header” for 200, Alex.)

OK. So, you’ve picked a path… now, what?

Everybody needs an idea, if not a floor-to-ceiling, inspirational cat poster to get them thinking.

Take a deep dive into our client list, our Award Winners, and you’ll find a bunch of great ones. Many strive for a look that screams modern professionalism. We don’t blame ‘em. But you shouldn’t be discouraged from having some more fun with yours.

What does “fun” look like? Let’s see…

Use a photo of your student section

Awfully specific, we know. But you know the great thing about student sections? They’re probably color-coordinated. Here are two examples courtesy of Leander High School and Cathedral Catholic High School:

We also see many headers with various school buildings in the background. A photo’s a photo.

Make it a GIF, obviously!

We can’t take credit for this one. Bravo, Linganore High School.

… Wait for it.

Use a patterned background you just want to reach out and touch

Use ALL THE COLOR

Change it as seasons and holidays pass

You just have to trust us on this one. Go to the HiLite’s site today, then return around Halloween, again sometime in December, then specifically on Christmas (what else do you have to do?), then when you’re dateless on Valentine’s Day (we’re sorry), then again a couple months later.

If you follow those instructions and don’t end up seeing at least six different headers, please contact us immediately and we’ll call Jim because something must be wrong.

Simply pick a sweet Google Font

I mean, why not? It’s just SO EASY. And so fun.

One last important thing: The deadline to enter the National Scholastic Press Association’s Online Pacemaker contest is earlier than ever before. It’s Monday, Oct. 1. You can enter here.

Judging this year will be continuous, meaning Pacemaker judges will review the sites on a regular basis until the finalists are announced Jan. 8. Then, those judges will continue to monitor the selected finalists through April.

Last year, 17 of the 22 Online Pacemaker Award winners were members of the SNO community. We’d like to see that number grow this year.

The winners will be announced at the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention, April 25-27.

The SNO Report: Get your staff page together

The first couple weeks of school might be the most free time you’ll have, before all your time is spent report, writing and publishing, and other class workloads spike, to put together your 2018-2019 staff page.

The staff page can be a fun team building activity, if you do it right, and can, at least, get new staffers acquainted to your website.

Many of the best ones we’ll see this year are already finished. Here’s a sampling:

Farmers’ Harvest

With full-body, vertical photos, the Lewisville High School staff’s style is one you’re not going to see on many other staff pages (including the ones on this list!). And that is just really awesome! Look how cool it can look when you have what fits the 2:3 Vertical Photo Ratio option in the Staff Page settings. With 15 profiles, they also set the page to have five columns of photos, creating three perfectly-assembled rows. Notice their subtle use of props, too — empty Starbucks cups, bananas, a bag of Chick-fil-A — as if it’s needed… their poses exude personality on their own.

The Lancer Feed

What a total classic! These Lafayette High School staffers know you don’t have to have a photo studio to setup excellent portraits. There is a lot of skill exhibited in these photos, but that they’re all taken in the same location is what helps produce a great-looking page. It’s a bonus in this Profile Preview format to get at least a little bit of each student’s biography out on the first page their readers will see when they click “Staff.” The bio is the place where each individual student can get most creative, while the page overall is best done as a team.

Washington Square News

There’s a theme developing, isn’t there? Consistency to the photography raises your staff page to another level. Here is another example with the news staff at New York University. This is a great example of how the Square Photo Radio option looks. The staff picked a red background matching that of the color on their site. Also, there’s an easter egg here. If you actually click on the link we’ve provided you, you’ll notice one profile isn’t human. That’s Crime Bot, a robot against a red background cropped the exact same as the human beings it shares the page with.

For these or any other staff pages, also remember you can now reorder the staff profiles on the page to represent the actual hierarchy of the staff, rather than the date or order the profiles were published in. Learn how to do that here.

The SNO Report: Welcome To A New School Year

It happens every August. Support tickets ramp up all of a sudden, and then we know only one thing can be true: school is back in session. We sure hope you’re settling in and excited to get your site up and running again.

We’re back in your email inbox today, not to make you think too hard but to remind you that there we’ve got some cool new things for you.

Updates to FLEX: Is there a rogue color orange on your site that you don’t know how it got there? Well then, you might not know where to change it. There are hundreds of different places to change colors individually, but only one place now where all colors on your site are listed together: Master Colors. These controls allow you to quickly change all instances of a single color to a new color. Buh-bye, orange!

Master Colors can be helpful, but you’ll still be able to change colors individually like you always have, in the hundreds of different areas they show up throughout the SNO Design Options and Widget Control Panel pages.

Hmm… what else? The Design Snapshots tool rolled out late last year. There’s no better time than the present to start using it. Don’t forget about the Above Header Full Width widget area either. There, you can put widgets ABOVE your header area.

Do more with staff profiles, too! Reorder them based on staff hierarchy using the Staff Profile Order tool and put them at the bottom of stories with enhanced Story Page Extras options.

Bundle Up: There’s a new way to buy those add-ons. The Site Booster Bundle packages together Sports Center, Form Builder and Ad Manager. The Education Bundle packages together the Unlimited Training Subscription and SNO FLOW.

You can still buy the Unlimited Training and SNO FLOW separately, as well as mobile apps, email addresses, logos and headers, and individual trainings.

New Narrator: Thomas, the knowledge center of SNO Support, re-recorded and added several new help site videos. So, now there’s no getting away from his voice, whether you call us for support or seek it on your own. The “Getting Started” videounderwent the biggest change, he says. It’s worth showing your new staff members.

New Smart Guy: Join us in welcoming Noah Seichert to the SNO team! Noah will be the server and site technician making sure your online publications are running seamlessly.

Easy Listening: A new podcast by SNO, titled SNOcast, will feature interviews with journalism teachers, students and working professionals. Listen to our first episode, an interview with former St. Louis Park High School student and Echo editor Annabella Strathman, this week!

Stay tuned! More about the podcast and more about changes coming to Best of SNO (the way you submit stories for it) later! For now, better go ahead and start class already!

The SNO Report: Best of Best of SNO

It’s May, plants are finally blooming in Minnesota, promposals are yesterday’s news, and “Wrap it Up!” is flashing on the teleprompter out in front of us. So, this week we’re handing out some end of the year Best of SNO superlatives. And what a year it was for student journalism. Not unlike the national media, students had a lot to cover from all the people and events at your school to national movements that had especially local footprints this year. You crushed it.

Of the hundreds of great stories told this year, here’s a sampling of our favorites:

Best Strange But Still News Story
“Wild hawk spotted devouring squirrel on quad,” by Claire Furse, St. John’s School

Best In The Classroom Story
“Freshman English classes participate in privilege walk activity,” by Hadley Hudson, Vandegrift High School

Most Inventive Analysis 
“Anatomy of a teen movie,” by Blythe Terry, Starr’s Mill High School

Best Enterprise Reporting
“College-bound students weigh how far to fly the coop,” by Hannah Jannol, Shalhevet High School

Best College Edition Story
“Go big or go home: Colleges fight waning enrollment,” by the Jetstream Staff, Simpson College 

Best Sports Story
“A day in the life of a Whitman pom,” by Eva Herscowitz, Walt Whitman High School

Biggest Viral Hit
“Tesla’s Women Engineers,” with 10,450 views since March, by Ajooni Grewal, Day Creek Intermediate School

Best Unpopular Opinion
“Trump robbed of ‘Person of the Year’ award,” by Yianni Sarris, Mayfield High School

Best Editorial
“Commentary: Why I walked out of our ‘walkout’,” by Maya Wernick, The Archer School for Girls

Best Review
“This is what makes us girls: a ‘Sour Heart’ review,” by Luke Reynolds, Iowa City West High School

Best Exploratory Reporting
“Students torn over controversial net neutrality repeal,” by Mohini Rye, Sacramento Country Day School

Best Hurricane Coverage
“Surviving the storm,” by Katie Felton, Lovejoy High School, and “‘Life is definitely going to be different now’,” by Katelyn Spivey, Canyon High School

Best Localized #MeToo Story
“Not just Hollywood: The culture of harassment in schools,” by Julia Radhakrushnan, Abby Wheatley, Rebecca Chapman, Hannah Chambliss and Peyton Humphreys, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

Best Video Feature
“Carnegie Hall awaits junior violinist,” video by Divya Murali and Neha Perumalla with story by Brooke Colombo, Liberty High School

There’s so much more excellent work to check out. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it all as much as we have.

The SNO Report: Find out where SNO’s camping this summer and join us

SNO will be raking in the frequent flyer miles again this summer, delivering on-site, SNO-centric digital media training at regional workshops throughout the country. Check out our summer schedule below, because you won’t want to miss us.

Even sooner, come see us at our SNO booth next week at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco, April 12 to April 15.

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, learn how to study analytics and master the best practices for web and social media.

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

Or host a SNO Day for member 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. We’ve already booked a SNO Day in Tampa, Florida for the fall.

Want to know more? Or are you interested in hosting a SNO Day at your school? Get in touch with us. We’re excited to hear from you.

The SNO Report: See The Long Form Story Page Template In Action

Year after year, the Story Page Excellence badge (one of the six you need to earn SNO Distinguished Site status, for which you can enter here) proves elusive to even the best newspaper staffs. Why? More often than not, it’s about the long form template.

Eventually, it clicks for everyone and they earn the badge. Just your luck, we’ve spotted a few long form templates out in the wild that are excellent, that you can use as helpful references. 

From West Side Story, Iowa City West H.S.

A group of reporters set out to tell, “The stories of foreign students finding a new home in the United States.” It makes for a good example of using the long form template to string together a few separate, in-depth interviews about the same type of experience into one long feature — and you can use the Long Form template to establish clear separation between sections.

They’ve created a super-clean, consistent design on the page. They threw a changeup using vertical featured images for each Long Form Chapter and it really makes the page pop. Each “chapter” is consistently put together — each with a large featured image, a second photo embedded, one pull quote and a related stories box. Each section has a different related story suggestion — drive that traffic!

Low key, theirs is also a good example of when you can get away with not displaying the primary featured image on the story page.

From The Harbinger, Algonquin Regional H.S.

Writing about “Vape Culture,” as this article is titled, is trending this school year. We’ve seen a lot of different versions of the same story — especially coming through the Best of SNO log — but this one really makes an impact because of its appearance and all the extras.

Notice how they’ve utilized the Long Form options from the SNO Design Options page, which allows you to put this story page template against a different colored background (off-black, in this case) than other stories. It goes really well with the lead photo, too.

The variations in text color, style and size makes the page pop, too. They’re using sidebars at an expert level, so well that there’s no sense that other photos are needed, as you’d traditionally hope for, to break up all that text. This example is pretty striking.

From The Sunflower, Wichita State University

It’s another excellent example of a story fitting the template, with staffers of The Sunflower reviewing a chain of events related to the university threatening to take away its funding because of its displeasure with stories the staff has covered. Content-wise, it’s a statement as to why journalism is important.

It’s separated into chapters, each with several headings within them to separate parts of that section, and it utilizes a good opening introduction in the Long Form Container — a good way to use that part of the template.

Also, notice the custom graphic they created for the series. There’s a lesson in it: When at first there’s not an obvious photo to get, create a graphic.

Think you have a good example the long form usage? Share it with the SNO community here.