From the newsroom to the classroom

While SNO works with many middle schools, high schools, and colleges, we’re lucky enough to host a few elementary school papers as well. One of these is The Colonial Times, from Colonial Elementary School in Pelham, New York. We recently spoke with Rich Zahradnik, who teaches the fourth and fifth graders that comprise the Times’ staff.

Zahradnik is an accomplished journalist in his own right, having worked in the field for three decades before becoming an educator. It all began at 15, when he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing a local school board member. She called his mother to complain.

“I realized I could write things that would have an impact,” he said. “I was sold.”

After studying journalism in college, Zahradnik landed a job at an independently owned, local daily. He began writing business news, then national news, eventually going on to report on everything from film to finance to sports. “I was obsessed with understanding media itself,” he said.

When the paper was acquired in ‘86 by media giant Gannett, Zahradnik and two of his colleagues–who knew nothing about running a business—set out to publish their own. The Peekskill Herald was “badly undercapitalized,” he said. “Running your own paper is the hardest work. You’re responsible for the staples, tax forms, postage, everything.”

It was gratifying work, too, though. It was also something that would have been impossible just a few years prior. The brand-new Macintosh had just begun to replace expensive typesetting equipment. “This affected news producers, not consumers,” said Zahradnik. “But it lowered the barrier to entry to publishing.”

What did affect consumers, of course, was the Internet. Like many journalists and journalism educators, Zahradnik has mixed feelings about digital publishing.

“Everyone receives news at the speed only newswires once operated at. We can read pieces we would never have seen before,” he said. “[But] bloggers in basements are not the same as feet on the street—at city hall, the school board meeting, the police precinct. When everyone’s rewriting everyone else, who will be left doing original reporting?”

After the Herald, Zahradnik went on to work at some big-name outlets—CNN, AOL, Fox. He said each newsroom had a distinctly different culture. “CNN was entrepreneurial. Fox often felt like a political campaign… AOL spent its time obsessing [about] click-throughs.”

Zahradnik began teaching after he quit journalism to write novels full-time. “I wanted to give something back,” he said. He volunteered to start a newspaper club at his son’s elementary school. After discovering WordPress and SNO, he realized that a digital paper would be ideal for young writers.

“Say you assign 16 kids 16 stories for a print paper. If one story doesn’t come in, you’ve got a problem. [With a website], the readers know nothing of the missing story.” Plus, he said, his fourth-graders’ stories are often too short for a print paper, but look just fine on the web.

Zahradnik’s students do a surprising amount of work on the Colonial Times, which is now in its fourth year of production. Kids decide what to cover and who will cover it. They write full stories and headlines. They also do on-screen layout for the paper’s two print issues per year.

“The only thing they can’t do for either outlet is copyedit,” said Zahradnik, “but there are a lot of grownups that can’t do that, either.”

Zahradnik believes fourth and fifth graders have some unique qualities that make them especially great reporters. “They jump into everything with energy and enthusiasm, yet still have an intelligence about the world that’s worth hearing,” he said. “My kids make a refreshing change from the cynicism and ‘I-can’t-do-that’ of the newsrooms I’d been in for 30 years.”

For now, Zahradnik is happy to be teaching part-time. “Great teaching is great theater and takes tons of energy,” he said. When not teaching, he’s writing mystery novels. He lives with his family in Pelham, New York.

The SNO Report: Badge Recap and Celebration!

Thank you to the 128 news publications that applied for badges over the past four months. It was another successful badge season here at SNO! We awarded 172 badges overall!

While every school that earned a badge should be proud of their accomplishment, we’d like to especially congratulate the 14 news programs that earned the ultimate distinction of becoming a 2015 SNO Distinguished Site. Of these schools, five are in Texas, two are in Minnesota, two are in Pennsylvania, and five were the only school in their state to earn the honor––and one of those was the only school in it’s state to earn any badges!

Here’s the complete list of this year’s SNO Distinguished Sites:

Clearly they are a distinguished crowd; a distinguished crowd that knows how to celebrate…

Congratulations to all the programs that earned badges this year! If you haven’t taken the time to celebrate your accomplishment, do so and tweet us a pic!

Badges, pacemakers, and slideshows v. galleries

You are running out of time!
The deadline to earn badges as a part of the SNO Distinguished Sites program is May 1, which is next Friday. Have you submitted for one or more of the SNO badges? What are you waiting for? Apply today.

Congratulations are in order
Speaking of awards, six awesome SNO customers earned Online Pacemaker Awards from the National Scholastic Press Association. The awards were announced on April 18 at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Denver.

The winning sites are RHStoday, Robinson High School in Tampa, Fla.; The Rider Online, Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas; the Knight Errant, Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, Minn.; Chant, North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga.; Tiger Times Online, Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas; and the Communicator, Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The full list of Pacemaker results is here.

The Echo of St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota was also named Best of Show for small-school websites by NSPA at the convention. The full listing of NSPA Best of Show results is here.

The battle royal of image display
Slideshows and galleries are a super slick way to show off your photos, but getting them to look their best can take a little practice. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to help you master them.

Galleries and slideshows look identical on the page, but each method is created in a different way. Each has different benefits, so choose which method suits your purposes best.

Use a gallery if: you want to display photos that are already uploaded to your site. This is the default WordPress method of displaying multiple pictures together, and it’s a bit easier than making a slideshow. The downside to this method is that you can only display a gallery on a story — not on your homepage.

Use a slideshow if: you want to display a collection of photos in a widget as well as a story. This method is a little more confusing, so make sure you follow our directions exactly. Additionally, slideshow photos cannot already exist on your site — you must upload them at the time you create the slideshow.

No matter which method you use, make sure to also include a featured image. We recommend you use one of the photos from your slideshow or gallery.

Final step: if you’ve created a gallery, set the featured image location to “Do Not Display.” For a slideshow, set the featured image location to “Slideshow of All Attached Images.” This will ensure that the featured image doesn’t get in the way of your other photos.

Video, video, and more video

This week we’re focusing on what may arguably be the most challenging aspect of digital journalism to tackle — video. From news broadcasts to sports highlights, video is no longer a medium online publications can ignore. We turned to two of your fiercely talented adviser colleagues to learn their success stories with video.

Jonathan Rogers oversees a thriving video and broadcast program as the adviser Iowa City High School’s The Little Hawk. Rogers says his initial motivation to focus more on video production was spurred by hearing from editors at the Washington Post that having quality video content, or a great YouTube channel, had became a main focus for them– especially in the world of mobile news.

Rogers said from there, they took a few important steps to start strengthening their video quality. First, they established video editors and upgraded their equipment.Rogers stresses the importance of good mics, lighting, and tripods when shooting video.

Rogers encourages his staff to always be ready to record their own raw video footage, and upload it to their personal YouTube accounts; that way, The Little Hawk always has content to draw from. Rogers also utilizes Aurasma and QR codes in the Little Hawk’s print edition to link to online content.  The Little Hawk has also started working on video production outside of news reporting; they’re currently working on a sports YouTube channel, as well as a weekly broadcast that highlights their top stories.

We also heard from Mark Ionescu, adviser of The Patriot at John Carroll High School, who says his biggest challenge with video production is convincing his staff that the end result is worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to film, edit, and create a really great video.

He has noticed, however, that once a video is done, the staff members that worked on it feel a great amount of excitement and pride when it’s finished; more of an enthusiastic reaction than they might have after writing a story, or posting a photo.

He keeps his students motivated by showing them what other schools are doing well, and gives them instructional videos to help them enhance their news reports.

Does your staff need some video motivation?  Have them check out the featured clips on Best of SNO.

The SNO Report: Resources for journo advisers

At SNO, we’re focused on making the life of a journalism educator a little easier. With that in mind, here are 8 online resources we think are worth checking out:

EditTeach.org:
Here you’ll find a collection of useful journalism teacher/adviser goodies, including headline challenges, editing resources, ways to improve content, and even a lesson on “math for journalists,” though we don’t know why anyone would be interested in that.

AP Style Quizzes:
Want to focus more exclusively on AP Style? Here is a collection of 18 AP Style Quizzes to give your students. Make sure they’re experts before you send them off into the “real world;” they’ll definitely impress their future J-School classmates at whatever Ivy League school they are sure to get into after taking these quizzes.

Verification Junkie
Here is a blog dedicated to collecting tools for all of your fact-checking needs. The site gives reviews of each product, as well where you can find it.  An invaluable resource for verification and assessment of your user-generated content, especially information gathered from social media.  Basically, an absolute must for all journo advisers everywhere.

Covering sensitive content:
Resources and guides that help your students tackle the difficult topics with grace. This has been a frequent concern in High Schools across the country, especially given varying school policies and audiences.

Make Cool Photo Spheres:
Create Photo Spheres (360-panoramas) similar to what you see on the Google Maps Street View to embed in your stories.  It may not be a feature you’re going to want to use frequently, but, when you do, it will really make those stories stand out.

Berkeley.edu:
Have you always wanted to go to Berkeley to learn more about digital journalism, but it’s not physically possible for you to be there? Now, California education comes to you; Berkely has graciously provided us with this compilation of resources, tutorials, and inspiration for digital journalists. Educate yourselves.

Using A Camera:
Here are some helpful tips on taking photos with a DLSR camera, for those staffs lacking photographers, or for the writers who want to dabble in professional-esque picture-taking.  Sometimes, that iPhone camera just doesn’t cut it.

Have you SEEN these hashtags?:
A super-easy way to search hashtags and create “Seens” (which organize the content and make it accessible to anyone you want to share it with.)  It may seem redundant, as Twitter already allows you to search through hashtags and trending topics, but this user interface is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but also a bit nicer to navigate. If your program uses Twitter regularly, this is definitely worth checking out.

Printing your paper is easy with SNNO

Sure, online newspapers are great. You’re publishing at the speed of light, you’ve got multimedia options galore, you’re winning awards and SNO badges like nobody’s business. Plus, your website sure looks fancy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But do you ever get nostalgic for the crinkly newsprint of yore? Do you miss the good old days of embarrassing typos and frantic print deadlines? Maybe you just want something to send your web-illiterate uncle to prove you’re doing something with your life.

SNO has a solution for you! Starting today, we’re launching SNNO–School Newspapers Not Online. With just a few clicks and a $99/month convenience charge, we can give you the best of both worlds. Not only will you continue to have a great website, but every time you publish a new story, we’ll print it out and send it to you in the mail. Using the File>Print function of our state-of-the-art computing machines, we can effortlessly immortalize your digital content on paper. What other web hosting company can claim that?

Do you publish a lot of videos? No problem — we’ll print ‘em frame-by-frame and bind them together in a beautiful, timeless flipbook. A thoughtful gift for that friend of yours who is a little too smug about not owning a television.

What about podcasts? Our podcast transcription service (currently in beta) can take care of that. Word-for-word accuracy not guaranteed, but people will get the gist, probably.

Prefer your “printing” old-school? Our SNNO Handwriting Specialist, Lauren, will be happy to painstakingly hand-write your stories. Customize with your choice of blue pen, black pen, #2 pencil, or crayon. Grammar correction and fact-checking extra.

Need your stories in print RIGHT NOW? If you’re rushing to enter a contest, or are just feeling impatient, don’t despair! Expedite your order for only $15/page, and we’ll send the printed stories to you via fax.

If you’re ready to get started with SNNO today, it’s easy–just send a tweet to @schoolnewspaper. Include the hashtag #FOOLEDYA for 10% off your first month’s subscription fee.

The SNO Report: FLOW v. Trello, CSPA Crown Awards

Chances are you’ve heard some buzz about Trello. We’ve heard it, too. Trello is nice tool for managing projects, but we believe SNO FLOW is a better fit for the needs of scholastic journalism programs like yours.

Let’s start with the obvious question: Why buy FLOW if Trello is free?

Unlike Trello, which was created as a project management tool for businesses and backed by $10.3 million in investment funding, FLOW was created specifically for the management of scholastic journalism programs, by a journalism adviser named Jason in his basement. And he’s still in the basement, cranking out updates and improvements based on the feedback from the adviser and student users of FLOW.

With any free tool like Trello, there is the ultimate expectation of profitability by investors, and that means the focus of future development will be on paying customers, likely large companies with multiple project teams. FLOW, on the other hand, costs $300 a year — a fee we charge to feed Jason and to fund on-going development and support for all FLOW users. FLOW is entirely customized to suit the needs of scholastic news publications and always will be. At SNO, journalism is what we do. It’s all we do.

Don’t take our word for it. Here’s what one adviser had to say recently about FLOW:

“Every adviser should have SNO FLOW. Hands down. It is perfectly organized, and it is one site that handles all of the needs that I have to handle my 100 journalism students and two publications. It allows us to upload articles, edit articles, grade articles, upload videos, photos, etc., in one spot. It is absolutely incredible, and it was obviously created by an experienced adviser. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Don’t take her word for it, either; try it yourself by taking a free test drive or by signing up for one of our live demos.

The hits just keep on coming
This past weekend, the Columbia Scholastic Press Associationhonored eight SNO customer websites with Gold Crown awards. For a complete list of winners, visit the CSPA website.

Check out the SNO glow on this proud staff from Shalhevet High School’s Gold Crown- winning Boiling Point:

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You’re not going to believe what these staffs did on their sites!

We’re feeling a little BuzzFeedy at the SNO office today. Blame it on this spring break list. In that spirit, check out these 12 impressive features we’ve found on sites in the recent weeks. You won’t believe what happens next!

Got something you think is worth sharing? Tweet us the link @schoolnewspaper. Maybe we’ll even pin it!
Speaking of Twitter… did your feed stop working?

We’re not pointing fingers, but Twitter made a recent change that resulted in some feeds no longer displaying on sites. Here’s the good news: there’s an easy fix.  Move your Twitter embed code from a SNO Video Embed Display widget to a SNO Text Widget. The SNO Video Embed widget resizes embed codes, and that resizing is interfering with the feed display. The SNO Text widget is super cool and we recommend it for all embeds that aren’t videos. Still need help? Send us an email.

 In case you missed it

Did you see our note this week about the 16 SNO sites named NSPA Pacemaker finalists? If you’re looking for a little more inspiration, this list of sites is a great place to start.

 

Distinguished Sites Derangement

It’s badge season at SNO Sites, and things are starting to heat up in our elongated version of March Madness. As the season is about half way over––it started in January and runs through April––we thought it was the perfect time to let you know how things were going.

So far this season, 125 badges have been awarded to 62 schools, which is about a 290% growth in awarded badges over last year at this time. Holy badges! (These numbers have been fact-checked by Lindsay, the only member of the SNO Patrol authorized to operate a calculator.)

The most commonly earned badge is the Excellence in Writing Badge, and the badge that appears to be the hardest to earn––having been awarded only four times––is the Multimedia Badge.

The most elusive award, though, is that of Distinguished Site. So far just three publications have earned this title.  Each of these Texas SNOFlakes is unique in their own way:  The Roar, The Red Ledger, and Legacy Press. The Lone Star gauntlet has been thrown.

Submissions will be accepted until May 1, 2015, and any staff that applies before that deadline with either receive the badge or get feedback on how they can make changes to achieve the badge when they apply again. So what are you waiting for? Apply today!

One more thing…

Speaking of distinguished sites, have you checked out the new website for SNO Sites and the new SNO Sites Customer Portal? As always, your feedback and praise is much appreciated.

Superb support for successful sites starts with SNO

Dumbfounded by design? Stumped by slideshows? Bamboozled by blockquotes? All alliteration aside, help is never more than a couple clicks away.

  • Our help site is full of detailed instructions and step-by-step videos to get you up to speed quickly. You can search for something in particular, or just browse at your leisure.
  • Fill out a support request and we’ll get back to you within four business hours. Click the friendly red tab on our help site or main site, or click on the big “Need Help?” box on your own site’s dashboard. Or just go here.
  • For website emergencies, or if you’re just feeling impatient, we have a new live chat feature (accessible from our help & main sites). If we’re online, you’ll be connected to someone immediately; if we’re not, leave your email address and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

Still feeling lost? A personalized training with one of the SNO Patrol can help you gain confidence and skills to master your site. Trainings are conducted via screen-share and phone, and are tailored to your ability level. Read more and sign up here.

If you’re wishing we’d just give you our brutally honest opinion, a SNO Site Reviewmight be right up your alley. We’ll inspect every inch of your website and send you a detailed report. We’ll praise you for what’s working, we’ll point out what’s not (and why), and we’ll give you some concrete suggestions for improvement. Sign up herewhen you’re ready to rock and roll. (We promise to put a pin in our pointless puns.)