SNO Adviser Profile: John Vitti

John Vitti was only trying to help his then-elementary school-aged daughter with her essay. Write about your favorite day, the assignment demanded.

“A person of any age wants to be correct,” Vitti said. “The hard part about writing is there’s 85 different versions of correct.

“She didn’t know what to put in. You need some description, a lead, who, what, where, when. I realized I was talking about journalism. You’ve gotta come with a big bag of information and you have to cherry pick what you’re going to use. That’s hard.”

But it may not be so hard if she, or anyone else, had more practice at it, Vitti thought.

So, he approached the administration at Cunniff Elementary School, in Watertown, Mass., about starting a newspaper for the students, pre-K through fifth grade, in December 2007. Out of it came Cunniff Kids News, a platform for anyone interested in any topic to practice writing with a purpose. Their skill level didn’t matter. It would better prepare them for the future.

“If a kid wrote more, and then had their book report, college application, you don’t have to like it but you can lump it out and muscle through it,” Vitti said. “If we’re on a boat and all fall overboard in a lake, I don’t need you to be Michael Phelps, but I need you to be able to swim to shore. The more you do it, the better you are at it.

“If we had a paper, then that gives a kid a reason to write, an audience, a deadline, a format.”

Eleven years later, Vitti’s advising three separate student newspapers in the Boston area — Cunniff Kids News, Watertown Splash (Watertown Middle School), The Raider Times (Watertown High School) — the last of which, at the high school, he took over five years ago. He oversees about 275 kids pre-K through 12th grade.

He also recently earned his teaching certification, allowing him to teach a real journalism class daily at the high school, whereas his other two programs are extra-curriculars.

Plus, he continues to work as a copy editor and page designer at the Boston Globe, where he’s worked since 1999.

What he’s learned, especially with his youngest students, is that having a newspaper to write for has been big educationally.

“You have kids of all ages who can learn about things they’re interested in, with a real reason to,” Vitti said. “In a history class, you’re gonna learn about 1776, the Civil War, whatever, but you won’t have a reason to meet Hillary Clinton or the lady running for city council.

“You can if you’re in newspaper. You can write about food, movies, fashion, dress code, Black Lives Matter, whatever you want to write about.”

And having those newspapers online unlocks an even broader range of topics to write about because the audience could be so much larger.

“If I have a third-grader who really likes dogs, well, heck yeah, let’s do a poll on who’s got what pet, let’s do a story about the vet around the corner with an animal shelter, let’s do a story on Puppy Bowl,” Vitti said.

It’s teaching them, Vitti said, how to talk to people, how to present themselves, the value of different types of questions, of being nice, of spelling names correctly. It’s teaching them skills in editing, photography, design, writing and websites.

That seemed like all the right reasons to get into it in the first place.

“Because I could,” Vitti said, “and because it seemed ridiculously worthwhile.”

SNO Report: Selling your own ads

Your site is fully equipped to feature advertisements, a revenue stream that could help you pay your site’s annual bill and more, but you need to find the businesses willing to buy the real estate and you don’t know how or where to get started. We’re here to help, thank goodness.

Here are a few tips we think will help kickstart your ad selling venture…

1. Make it someone’s job
Delegate the responsibilities to one person, who you could call your Business Manager. It can be their sole focus to create your strategy (specifically, come up with advertising rates and a “rate card” for potential advertisers) and to sell, sell, sell.

P.S. Make them read this email.

2. Create a rate card

This is a sheet you can hand to a business owner that outlines your prices (different prices for different sizes), and a form for them to fill out. It’s all the information they need and you need. It’s a bonus to be able to present them with a breakdown of where the ad spots are available to go on your site. Create that as part of your card. Here’s an example.

Your site should also have this rate card available, so create an Advertising page.

3. Figure out appealing prices

It may take some trial and error for you to figure out what you should be charging for an ad. You want to charge what business owners are willing to pay, and we don’t know what that magic number is. But you gotta start somewhere! Approach people with a $50 per month, per spot rate and see which emoji they make with their face.

4. Be ready with deals to offer

Be flexible with these local business owners of yours. Offer them discounts for extended runs. Buying the spot for a month? For the whole year? Discount.

Tie the sale in with your print edition, too. Offer them a bundle price that gives them an ad spot online and in print.

If you’re operating with our Ad Manager add-on, you could offer them an exclusive spot, instead of being part of the rotation.

5. Approach the right people at the right time

You’re not selling an ad to Apple or Prada. Stay local. Small business owners. Parents. People who want to reach your audience and who your audience wants to know about.

And approach them at the perfect time. Homecoming or Prom coming up? Reach out to local tuxedo and dress renters and photography companies. Is it exam season? Contact tutoring services. Your football team’s in the playoffs? Who wants to buy a “Good Luck” ad?

6. Offer a few perks or add-ons

A small locally-owned business may not know how to design their own ad. Offer your design talents. Whatever you do, don’t just scan a flyer or business card.

You’re better than that.

Separately, maybe you could offer to push their product or business on social media. Like, for an extra $5 we’ll tweet a promotional ad about you (i.e. “Thank your for sponsoring our site, insert local business here!”).

7. Know your audience

Use Google Analytics to educate yourselves about the demographics of your audience. A local business will think students are the only readers of your website. That’s not always true. Tell them that! You may also be getting parents, alums, or who knows who else.

Be prepared to tell the business owner who they’ll be able to reach, as well as how many views their ad is likely to get. If their ad is appearing in your Ad Manager, you’ll be able to track how many times their ad was clicked, or you’ll be able to estimate ahead of time based on past experiences with other businesses.

8. Bring them value back

You need to have something to sell them on. Those Google Analytics can help, but your site should also be pretty convincing.

Post something daily, or as often as you possibly can.

Have a site that looks good, one they’d want their ad posted on.

We also have the SNO Ad Marketplace, which is you handing the job off to us. With it, your site is added to a list where advertisers can go find you and click to buy ad space. You don’t have to do anything. When they buy, we’ll review their ad and either reject it or approve it to show up live on your site. You can always ask us about one we approved if you don’t like it. You’ll generate some profit from this service, too, if ads are being bought — 65 percent of the purchase goes back to you.

If you still need help or if you have ideas of your own, share them with the SNO community.

SNO Report: Advanced story pages in action

We know you’re spending a bunch of time thinking about how your homepage looks. We get it. It’s your front page. You want to pull it up and be proud of it. You also want your readers to like it enough to come back, to spend some free time perusing.

But the real challenge in becoming an exceptionally designed news site is in how you take care of your story pages — not only the words on the page, but what’s around those words. That’s why we give you options with Story Page Templates — the Non-Home Sidebar, Full Width and Side Rails versions of which you’re probably pretty familiar. (Either the Sidebar or Full Width layout can be set as your default in SNO Design Options.)

If you want to look real good — like, going-to-Senior-Prom good — you’ll use the advanced layouts on occasion (i.e. when applicable for a type or length of story).

We’re talking about the Side-by-Side, Grid and Long Form templates, which can be selected in the same area of your Edit Story screen you select the other template options.

These take a little more work to build.

You need to plan for them, which is why we have Online and Web Editors on our staffs.

Then, you need to execute it, and that can be confusing without practice. It involves creating a Container Story, which is what’s going to show up on your site, and then attaching separate Chapter “stories” to it and leaving those Chapters “Uncategorized.” There’s great information about templates here, and even more helpful guides about building them herehere and, oh yeah, here. Go slow your first few times through it.

It helps to see them in action, too, to understand when to use them. So, here you go…

Side-by-Side
by Peninsula Outlook, Peninsula HIgh School

Ideas for using this template should come pretty easy. All you’re doing is presenting naturally paired content side by side, like the Peninsula Outlook has done to showcase reviews of The Martian — the book, then the movie. Another clear use for this: Pro/Con columns or any kind of opposing viewpoints.

Here, the Peninsula Outlook built a Container Story featuring only a Featured Image and main headline. It gets you right into the two reviews, each a Chapter Story featuring a photo and several pull quotes. They also ensured the two stories were similar in length to create a nice, balanced page — strive to do that as well.

Grid
by Clark Chronicle, Clark Magnet High School

The way to do a “Humans of Clark” series (but your school’s version) is split, it seems. Some publish stories within a category for it. Others do what the Clark Chronicle did here. And it makes good use of the Grid template!

All they did was create a Container Story — in this case, it’s only the headline — and then continually add Chapter Stories (or “Humans”) to it throughout the year. With nice feature images of each person and your black background Color Overrides on, you get a pretty slick photo grid to show off your series.

These grids are packages, collecting similar stories. They’re not photo galleries. Each photo on the grid links to a live story. So, use it for a “Best of” showcase at the end of the year, package together all your Homecoming content into one space. You could also do something like this other school did.

Long Form
by Pathfinder, Parkway West High School

This is one, big, in-depth story — or, in Pathfinder’s case, a kind of running reporter journal that turns into a good feature piece.

As a running journal, they attached further Chapter stories to their Container (the top and first part of the article) consistently. They incorporate tons of graphics to really make this piece stand out, including the top Immersive Image and several other photos.

If you have a multi-part feature story (maybe one with several subheads or chapters within the story), this template is for you. Some use only the Container, just to get the Immersive Image feature. You can, too, but that won’t get you points when you’re applying for the SNO Distinguished Sites Story Page Excellence Badge later this year.

Using all three of these templates appropriately is required for you to earn that Story Page Excellence Badge. That’s right — you can earn a badge for knowing and using this stuff. That’ll just get you one step closer to becoming a SNO Distinguished Site.

Do you have your own great examples of the SNO story page templates in action? Share them here.

And now, one last thing…

Are you attending any fall journalism conferences over the next couple months? We are, too. We’ll be teaching and mingling. Here’s where you could find us:

  • October 10: MHSPA, Minnesota

  • October 13: KEMPA, Wisconsin

  • October 19: CSMA J Day, Colorado

  • October 25-27: ACP/CMA, Dallas, Texas

  • October 26: IHSPA, Iowa

  • November 15-18: NSPA/JEA, Dallas, Texas

The SNO Report: Get creative with your staff page

Functionally, staff pages, and the profiles they’re made of, just make sense. Who wouldn’t want a nice, tidy individual profile collecting all of his or her own published work in one place? What a benefit, right? (Mom and dad nodding; college journos applying for jobs aggressively nodding.)

Stylistically, well, staff pages can turn into impressive design elements, and all it takes is a few minutes of focused tinkering.

Within the Staff Page settings on your SNO Design Options page, set a style (Preview Tiles, Photo Blocks, or List View) and take off from there. Also remember, how you build each staff profile matters, too — get started by adding new ones or editing existing ones from the Staff Profiles link on the left-hand side of the WordPress dashboard.

Set a professional tone with short, straightforward bios and studio-quality headshots.

The staff of The Mirror at De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, achieved a sharp look from the Preview Tiles setting with formal headshots set against the same background while cutting bios altogether. Customizing it beyond the standard options, they changed all backgrounds to white. Shiny and new.

Using the Photo Blocks option to create a grid, The Rider Online at Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas, created an excellent design out of repetition. They account for their large staff by setting up the grid as five columns of photos per row, as not to create a staff page that’s oversized. Anyone can do this (customized T-shirts, not included). Depending on your staff size, you may feature photos in 1 to 6 columns across a single row.

Show your staff’s personality by thinking outside the box.

Staffs of The Smoke Signal and the Knight Errant picked fun themes with their staff profiles — and in grayscale, no less.

The Smoke Signal at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, N.J., using the Preview Tiles setting, put every staff member behind bars last year for their mugshots, paying attention to every detail — black and white photos against the same well-known background with each person holding a sign identifying who they are. But the best part is the staff bios, modeled to continue their theme.

The staff of the Knight Errant at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn., dove into a wizarding theme, utilizing props to bring some color to their black and white photos within the Photo Blocks layout.

Both in layout and theme, the possibilities are endless for your staff.

Each staff profile should have a photo of the student. One those are taken, you can set the page layout options. How many photos do you want in a single row? (The fewer columns, the larger the photos.) Which photo orientation do you want to work with? (Horizontal? Or, new to the settings, vertical?) What about margins between those photos? Background colors? And, of course, which style? (Photo Blocks, Preview Tiles, or List?)

Put your thinking caps on and don’t be afraid to have some fun with it.

The SNO Report: New wrinkles to Best of SNO

Starting today, it’s open season for Best of SNOsubmissions.

Wait! Stop! Don’t leave!

Before we lose 98 percent of you rushing to the site we’re promoting from that opening sentence alone, let us first warn you — you’re going to notice some big changes.

The first will occur to you as soon as you get there. BestofSNO.com isn’t the catch-all site it used to be. It’s something better — a shiny new launch pad to take you to one of two Best of SNO sites now accepting new content.

Best of SNO H.S. Edition is the site you’ve always known, though with a slick makeover. (Pause, while I pat myself on the back).

Best of SNO College Edition operates all the same, except for one obvious difference: the name. Best of SNO U is the new and exclusive club for student journalists at colleges and universities to submit work that will be judged against other reporters, photographers, and videographers at their level.

This year, we really wanted to bring all of those non-writers into the equation like never before. So, we’re encouraging students across the entire SNO realm to submit exceptional individual photos and videos as well, showcasing the great multimedia work you’re doing.

Finally, a challenge. Each month, we’ll be putting out a bat signal for submissions relating to a specific topic or theme (coverage of the solar eclipse, for example). You send us a story you’ve already written about that month’s topic or theme, or maybe you use it as a story prompt to write something new, and we’ll collect the best content and feature it in on the Best of SNO homepage. We’re calling it the Assignment Desk.

This month’s topic: Hurricane Coverage.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have affected millions of people in communities all across the country. For weeks, journalists have been on the ground sharing stories about everything that happened before, during and after the devastating weather events. Share with us your coverage about your community, and come back at the end of the month to see a sampling of the great work student journalists have done.

The SNO Report: What’s New From SNO?

Well, well, well… it’s been awhile, huh?

Maybe we bumped into some of you at any one of several journalism camps we were a part of this summer. Or maybe some of you stayed active and in touch with us in other ways over your break. Either way, we hope you’re settling into the new school year and ready to bring your news sites back to life after a long slumber.

At SNO, we’ve been busy all summer preparing to bring a variety of updates to our clients, including new FLEX features, enhanced support resources and refurbished site security.

So, enough of the small talk. We know you have other things to do. Let’s get to what matters.

Updates to FLEX: Good news, designers! With the latest updates to your FLEX theme, you now have added flexibility with your site’s width and staff page layout.

We’ve added measurements from 1100 to 1400 pixels to your Full-Width Browser Options, to enable you to take your site’s width to the edge of any size browser window. Then, with one of the new options selected, your site will dynamically adjust as your readers shrink and expand the size of their window — like magic!

For your staff pages, we’ve added options for using vertical photos on the snazzy-looking Photo Blocks setting. There, you can also set margins between blocks and adjust column settings for how many photos show up in a single row. Need a staff page to copy? Check this one out.

Finally, a reminder: your sites are entirely widget friendly. That includes full-width areas. So, we encourage you to start going away from the old settings for Teaser Bars and Showcase Carousel and build carousel and grid widgets in full-width widget areas instead. Need help? Submit a support ticket.

SSL Conversion: To put this in layman’s terms, we’ve made your site more secure by converting all SNO sites to SSL. There’s nothing you have to do and you shouldn’t notice any changes in your site’s functionality. The mark of an SSL site is the “https://” before your URL. Look up there — yours has it now. Techies, rejoice!

Unlimited Training Subscription: Ever find yourself needing more training but limited by the $75-a-piece price tag? Ever find yourself overwhelmed by all the information dumped on you within the usual hour-long session? For $200, schedule as many training sessions as you and your staff need in a year, with our Unlimited Training Annual Subscription.

We’ll still give you traditional sessions up to an hour, if that’s what you want, but with unlimited access there’s no harm in a 15- to 20-minute session on a specific topic, and then call it a day.

It’s a good deal. Order three single trainings at $75 each ($225) or the unlimited subscription for $200. Plus when you order three at once, we’re automatically converting you to the subscription, saving you $25 for your next tank of gas.

Sandbox Sites: Consider this your own, private online playground. Purchase a sandbox site for $10 per month ($120 for a whole year), and finally, have a place to let your designers’ imaginations run wild without consequences on your live site. It’s a testing ground to try new things, learn how to build something through practice, decide if you like it, and then take it to your live site to create the finished product.

Stay tuned. Some big things are happening at Best of SNO and the SNO Help Site. More on that next week.

The SNO Report: Best of Best of SNO

Oh man, we’re already in the homestretch of the 2016/17 academic year. That means that even though the breezes are getting warmer, you’re probably just trying not to pull your hair out as finals bring the school year to a close. And, it means we’ve got nine full months of killer Best of SNO publications to look back on. So what better time than now to share some of our favorite Best of SNO stories from this year? To the Best of Best writers and staff mentioned below: a huge bravo. To any reader using this email as a welcome distraction from studying/grading/stress eating: you’re welcome. To those of you who were published in Best of SNO this year, but don’t see your name on the list: don’t worry, we love your work, but we’d have you here for days if we listed ALL the stories that stand out.

So, without further delay, we present the 2016-2017 Best of Best of SNO.

Best Local Coverage:
Kearsley students from Flint still struggle with their water – Katelyn Elumbaugh, Kearsley High School

Best Human Interest Story:
Student project gives homeless a chance to show their world  – Ma’ayan Waldman, Shalhevet High School 

Best Continuous Coverage:

Best Localized News Coverage:
EpiPen Cost Inflation Causes Conflict Among Consumers – Izza Choudhry  Southern Lehigh High School

Best Breaking Coverage:
Day after encampment sweep, refugees return to central Paris – Allegra Knox and Tailor Liedtke, American School of Paris

Best Niche Interest Story:
Tautology Club bonds over one quirky interest – Manar Ansari, St. John’s School

Best Students Are People Too Story:
The affected – Katie Judd, Kirkwood High School

Best Teachers Are People Too Story:
The story of a miracle – Fenna Semken, Iowa City West High School

Most Likely To Make An Adult SNO Employee Go “Huh”:
REALITY CHECK: So-called ‘finsta’ accounts bring a different view of teen life to Instagram –Hannah Jannol, Shalhevet High School

Best Local Health Coverage:
Battling Cancer: Three students share journeys – Pearl Sun Walt Whitman High School

Best Niche Sports Coverage:
Art and fun in the form of parkour Arman Antonyan, Anderson W. Clark Magnet High School

Best National Health Coverage:
Three viruses, one mosquito – Harsimran Makkad, Sycamore High School

Best Political Coverage:
Presidential election sparks a week of mixed reactions from BSM students – Leo Driessen and Grace Gyolai, Benilde-St. Margaret’s

Best Killer-Creative Topic:
T-Shirt Epidemic – Amelia Vanyo, Coppell High School

Best Story About Writing:
On the Way to 50K: Discover the author inside yourself during NaNoWriMo –Elizabeth Anderson, Linganore High School

Best Community Editorial:
Column: Mental health in the South Asian community – Nimat Hossain, Lewisville High School  

Best Student Profile:
In the Middle: A Refugee’s Journey From Congo to Iowa – Molly Liu and Nova Meurice, City High School

Best Local Entertainment Profile:
Rock Stars of K-Park Emily Humble, Sarah Martell, Kylee Wing, Kingwood Park High School

Most Heartwarming Story:
Community helps senior reunite with mother – Grace Mottley and Caroline Cooney, The John Carroll School

We hope you enjoy reading the Best of the Best of SNO stories as much as we did. And hey! We’re still reading, so keep sending us your stuff. We can’t wait to read it.

The SNO Report: Best practices to wrap up the school year

May is here, which means some of you are probably already powering down and counting the days until summer vacation. Yeah, we know.

But for a moment, we’d like you to think about SNO. Before the end of the school year, it’s helpful to complete a few tasks to ensure your site is ready for you to come back to in August.

 

  • Turn your site’s student users into subscribers. The seniors staffers did great work for your publication, but it’s time to pass the baton. To retain all the stories of the students who won’t be on staff next year but eliminate their their access to the site, we recommend changing all those student accounts to subscribers over the summer. When students return in the fall, you can grant access back as needed. If you want to delete the user accounts of those graduating, be sure to assign their content to another author so it isn’t deleted. If the content is deleted, you cannot get it back. If you have a couple dedicated staff members that could post a story or two per week on the site, feel free to keep their accounts active so readers from around the country can find up-to-date news on your site — even in the summer.

  • Update your site. Before leaving for the summer, check that your site is running the latest version of WordPress. Check your plugins and theme. A quick update now protects your site over the summer and gives you less updating to do when you come back. Also, it might not be a bad idea to set up a reminder to check for updates once a month. Continue that behavior year round. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • Send your students away thinking ahead. How’d you fare in the SNO Distinguished Site program this year? What can you do to earn more badges or build on your success next year? Looking at the badge requirements now sets your staff up to start creating habits early on next year that will help them earn the Distinguished Site honors as soon as applications are accepted next year.

  • Be prepared. An extension of the previous bullet point. The SNO Patrol conducts hour-long, personalized training sessions for advisers and staffs. Order a training session now and schedule it whenever makes sense — before the end of this year, sometime this summer, or next fall. The variety of trainings available enable all staffs (beginners, SNO experts, etc.) to get something out of it.

  • Put us to work. Do you have a few funds left in the year’s budget? Order a SNO Site Review for a details analysis of your site with a thorough list of recommended changes. Or, order a SNO Site Overhaul, and we’ll 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 know. Getting out of the journo biz? Retiring? Please, let us know so we can welcome the new adviser in proper SNO style.

  • We’re still hard at work. Join SNO 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 you enjoy your summer break. We look forward to another great school year with you.

Sincerely,
The SNO Patrol

The SNO Report: Get ready for a summer SNO storm

This summer, SNO is taking the show on the road to deliver SNO-centric digital media training at regional workshops throughout the country. Check out our summer schedule, make plans for you or your staff members to join us on tour, and get your frequent flyer miles ready, because summer is SNO season.

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 all the basics, and get into the advanced tools that’ll help you take your site to the next level. You’ll get the most up-to-date education on SNO’s latest features (you trendy kid, you!), learn how to study analytics, and master best practices for the web and social media.

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

Better yet, host a SNO Day for member schools in your area, and we’ll come to you, personally. (Check out how it worked this spring in St. Louis.) SNO Days are all about your publication; think of it as your close-up. We’ll bring the expertise, you bring the willingness to learn. At your SNO Day, we’ll go over the latest SNO features, and you’ll get hands-on instruction along with live, expert advice. Nice.

Want to know more, or interested in hosting a SNO Day at your school? Get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you.

The SNO Report: Nerd Edition

Ok, you techy kids, this report is for you. That’s right: today we’re talking about software, your SNO site, and all the tinkerings we’ve done recently in order to give you a news site with all the muscles you need.

First things first: we made things faster. That is, we upgraded our web servers to use LiteSpeed, a layer of software that serves up your website faster and more efficiently than a traditional web server that uses Apache. And it allows your site to handle more traffic. Sweet.

We also upgraded our hardware.  Each of our dedicated servers has 40 processing cores, more RAM than they’ll ever need, and a full terrabyte of diskspace. These things mean something to some of you, don’t pretend they don’t. We’ve even added dedicated database drives on all servers to keep your site fast and powerful.

Here’s a nerdy thing: our servers are all SSD (if you’re still reading, but you’re only faking the whole geek thing, SSD means “solid-state drive.” That means there’s no spinning stuff inside, which is good). AND, we switched all our name servers over to CloudFlare in addition to adding a layer of DDoS protection services, so your site is more resilient than ever.

Finally, just to make sure you sleep easy, we run nightly malware scans, and we verify every site every day, so we find problems before you do. We also take regular backups of your site, and store them in the Amazon data center in Oregon. That’s more than a thousand miles from your our main data center, so if anything did happen, we’d have you covered.

Alright, push your glasses back up your nose and steeple your fingers with satisfaction, you’re up to speed with the geeks at SNO.