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.

The SNO Report: Password Maintenance 101

If you haven’t seen them yet, you will: prompts from the happy folks here at SNO, telling you it’s time to change your password. You’ll roll your eyes, maybe groan a little, then click away to do something else. We know. It’s annoying and we’ve never asked you to do it before. But, while we totally understand the impulse to avoid the password-hassle, we still want you to take a minute or two to change your password.

Here’s why:

Some of your passwords (we won’t name names) are too weak. It’s tempting to use something you know you won’t forget (all you Password1 folks, we’re talking to you!), but easy passwords make for easy hacking, and nobody wants that. And actually, since we’ve started this whole password maintenance thing, we haven’t had even one hack. You’re welcome.

Need another reason? Your paper is a dynamic organization; news staff change over all the time. And unless old staff accounts are manually disabled, past staff still have access to your site. Now, we won’t accuse your old staff of harboring nefarious motivations, but it’s always better to have strict control over who can log in to your site, and who can’t.

So here’s what’s going to happen: when you’re sixty days out, you’ll get a prompt to change your password. All you have to do click on your profile, select “generate password,” and type in your new password. Boom. Then you don’t have to think about it again for 365 days. It’s so easy! To avoid password-algorithm related frustration, pick a password that has at least eight characters, and uses an uppercase letter, a lowercase one, a number, and a punctuation mark. It’s a demanding algorithm, but it’s worth it, because it keeps your site safe.

Pro-tip: if you’re worried about forgetting your new password, check out LastPass or 1Password, and never worry again.

We know you’re busy, so if you do decide to skip the password reset, we’ll keep reminding you. And your reminders will get bigger. Like, the words will get bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER. If you really wait until the last minute, they’ll take up the whole page, so you don’t have to worry about missing the reminder.

If you do run into difficulties, though, or if you get locked out, we’re happy to help. Just fill out a support ticket and we’ll get right on it. Another pro-tip? If you do need our help with your password, please be polite; our support staff will thank you.

The SNO Report: When a Story Blows Up (in a good way)

Sarah Elbeshbishi is an Editor-in-Chief at Watkins Mill High School’s publication, The Current. She’s smart, she’s well-spoken, and she’s passionate about journalism. So when her adviser, Sara Confino, brought a must-tell story to the editorial team, Elbeshbishi jumped on it.

The story? Watkins Mill junior Je’Nan Hayes was benched during a basketball game for wearing a hijab. The ref, pulling a regulation that would require Hayes to produce a signed state document in order to wear the hijab, said she couldn’t play without the document. Hayes had already played 22 of 24 season games, all while wearing the head covering.

So, yeah. It was a big story.

Elbeshbishi got on it right away. She interviewed Hayes and the Athletic Director at Watkin’s Mill, then she put her story together. It ran a few days later. Instantly, the story spread like crazy. Elbeshbishi says she was totally swamped on social media; everyone was sharing the story, and their outrage.

But then it got even bigger.

When she published the story, Elbeshbishi also sent it out to other publications. She sent it local news outlets, and bigger ones, like Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post. And she sent it to a mentor of hers, an employee at The Washington Post. She didn’t really think anything of it; the team at The Current had never sent their work out like that before, and she didn’t really think it would go anywhere. But WaPo picked up the story and ran it three days later. And so did CNN, Fox, Seventeen magazine, and not a few others.

“It was amazing,” Elbeshbishi says. “My social media was all clogged up because people were tagging me in things. They were saying, ‘I googled Watkins Mill and a Washington Post story came up.’”

Seventeen used a quote from the original article, and WaPo credited The Current for first reporting the story. Elbeshbishi says she thinks timely coverage made a difference: “If we hadn’t gotten the story out when we did, I don’t think it would have made as big an impact.” Her story ran within a week of the game, and the rest of the stories came out just days after that.

When I asked Elbeshbishi what she learned from this experience, she said, “Never second-guess yourself on an article. You’re going to make some kind of impact. I helped Je’Nan get her story out, and now she’s able to help other student athletes. Everything is impactful.”

Bravo, Sarah. We couldn’t agree more.

The SNO Report: Spring Refresh

Daylight savings time is this weekend, can you believe it?! That means more light (thank goodness!), warmer temps, and fresh air. And with the new season will come the pushing-up of sleeves everywhere as we freshen our homes and lives. So, since you’ve got all that spring energy anyway, why not apply the same vigor to your site? You’ve got tons of fresh design tools at your disposal, and there couldn’t be a better time to try some of them out.

Updates:

First things first: make sure your software is up to date. We’re rolling out new features and updating the FLEX platform all the time. Most updates run behind the scenes, but some you have to run manually. To make sure you’ve got all the latest tools and the coolest features, make sure to run updates anytime they show up on your dashboard. Only users with Administrator level roles can run updates, and don’t worry, you won’t break anything.

Teaser Bars:

Teaser Bars are old news, and they’re going away. With the advent of the new full-width widget areas on the homepage, and with the new carousel widget option, Teaser Bars have become obsolete. The good news is that you can replicate the teaser bar using the carousel widget and the full-width widget areas. The better news is that when you do, you’ll have WAY more design control, and you can flex some style muscles that weren’t available in previous versions of FLEX. So go ahead, be brave. Deactivate those Teaser Bars.

Showcase Carousel:

The Showcase Carousel is cool, and the preset configurations for the area are an easy way to get started with site design. But if your publication is getting more sophisticated, or if you simply can’t find a Showcase Carousel that fits your aesthetic, ditch it. You’ve got options. You can use the home top full-width widget area to replace the Showcase Carousel, and using the grid, carousel, or category widgets, you can build some really cool stuff. And the risk is low–– we’re keeping the Showcase Carousel, so if you dig in and find you’re not feeling the full-width widget area, you can just re-activate the Showcase Carousel. Boom.

Category Landing Pages:

We’ve talked about them a lot, but that’s because they’re super cool. Basically, now you can design each category page just like you design your homepage–– using widgets. Just switch your category page view to “widget-based,” and off you go. It works best with categories that contain 10 or more stories, and they have to be parent categories. After that, the design possibilities are pretty rad. Check it out, and if you don’t like it (but we think you will), you can always go back to the old design.

The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Update

Oh, man. SNO Distinguished Sites submissions have kicked into high gear, and you guys are really bringing it. Last week, Knight Errant, The BluePrint, The Rider, and The Patriot all earned their places on the list of 2017 SNO Distinguished Sites.

And this week, The Lance and Central Digest each earned their fifth badge, putting them neck and neck for next Distinguished Site. Who will get there first? We can’t wait to see! Maybe it will be The Outlook, OHS Magnet, or The Black and White–– they’re all sitting pretty at four badges each. So exciting!

But let’s check back in with the whole reason for the Distinguished Sites program: yes, it’s cool to earn badges and a plaque and all that, but the real rewards of participating in the program are the skills your team will develop. By earning Distinguished Sites badges, staff members master best practices of online journalism, learn versatility in content creation, and flex their style muscles, all using the tools and support provided by SNO. And these habits have a way of sticking. So not only do Distinguished Sites get a nice, shiny plaque to hang on the wall each year, they get a nice, shiny, well put together website. And that’s a way bigger deal.

Check out the badge requirements for SNO Distinguished Sites–– they make really great guidelines for best practices, even if you’re not participating in the program (but you totally should, because who doesn’t want a great website AND a plaque?!).

 

SNODrift Webinars

SNODrift webinars happen every Thursday at 2pm CST, they last around 20 minutes, and they’re super easy to join. Just visit join.me/snowebinar, and you’re in! You can also access the webinar archive, so you can watch the ones that interest you, and you can do it on your own time.

This week, we’re talking about Homepage Design Best Practices–- it’s going to be a fun one. Here’s our schedule for more upcoming topics:

  • 3/9/17 – Basic Story Templates
  • 3/16/17 – Utilizing SNO Story Elements
  • 3/23/17 – Long Form Template
  • 3/30/17 – Grid Template
  • 4/13/17 – Side by Side Template
  • 4/20/17 – Exit Path Strategy
  • 4/27/17 – Staff Page Design
  • 5/4/17 – Widget Styles