The SNO Report: SNODrift Webinars!

It doesn’t feel much like winter in Minnesota (and we’re all secretly a little ok with that…) but that doesn’t stop the SNODrifts from piling up! Not real snow, of course. We’re talking about webinars! It’s SNODrift season, and that means we’re covering cool topics with instructive video demos that you can watch live, or access at your own convenience. Sweet.

SNODrift webinars happen every Thursday at 2pm CST, they last around 20 minutes, and they’re super easy to join. Just visit, and you’re in! You can watch the demo for step-by-step instruction on cool new features and new ideas about how to use the features you’ve always had. It’s pretty cool.

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 building a better slideshow–- it’s going to be a fun one. Here’s our schedule for more upcoming topics:


  • 2/23/17 – Building a better slideshow
  • 3/2/17 – Homepage Design Best Practices
  • 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

And we’re open to suggestions, too, so if you have an idea for a webinar, let us know! We’d love to cover anything you can imagine.

The SNO Report: Exit Paths and Fluffy Stuff

We know your newspaper staff are hard hitting journalists, for sure. They’re covering the tough stuff, and with the current political climate, there’s no shortage of tough stuff. They’re on scene, asking all the questions, and keeping the public informed. And that’s awesome.

But it’s almost spring, and that means stories about prom, and graduation, and class trips, and all of that. The fluffy stuff! And we’re willing to bet that if you looked at your site analytics (and you should), you’d find that a lot of traffic actually comes from the fluffy stuff. And that’s totally cool, too. Another cool thing? You can use fluffy, high interest pieces to drive traffic and keep readers on your site. Think: exit paths.

Exit paths are avenues suggested by you, to your reader, to other content they might enjoy. And there a few ways to do it.

Story Scroll Bar: The Story Scroll Bar is a horizontal bar of story suggestions including thumbnails and titles, and you can apply it to the top of your home page, or the bottom of your story pages, or neither, or both! Any way you choose to do it, you can decide what category shows up in the Story Scroll Bar, and you can choose a dark or light background.

Side Rails Template: The Side Rails story page template is a great way to suggest content to your readers. You can add a left-hand side rail to any story page you want, and you can suggest content based on tag, category, or author. You can add thumbnail photos or not, and you’ve got tons of control over what shows up and how.

“Related Stories” SNO Story Element: SNO Story Elements are fun and add visual interest to your stories, and you can add them to any story you want, place them anywhere within your story, and base them on any keyword you can think of. Try it! It’s a super cool way to keep readers engaged and clicking on your awesome content.

Pro-tip: Hyperlinks are a great way to add broader context to your local stories, and you can totally hyperlink your own stories, too, so your reader can keep up with all your killer coverage.

Join us for SNODrift

Here’s a reminder to join us for our weekly webinar series, SNODrift – if you’ve got 30 minutes to spare, you can join us at 2 p.m. CST on Thursday to learn all about category landing pages. To join, simply follow this link.

The SNO Report: BONUS! Brand New Grid Widget

So you’ve had a few weeks to play around with the new Full-Width widget areas on your homepage and on your category landing pages. You’ve figured out how to do some pretty cool stuff to make your page even more extra, and you’ve even figured out how to replicate and improve the Showcase Carousel and the Teaser Bars using the new Carousel and Category widgets.

It’s good to be free.

And now, the programming whizzes at SNO headquarters have something even cooler to add: the Grid widget. That’s right. It’s a photo block widget, and you’re in total control of the size, content, configuration and design of it. No longer are you bound to the pre-programmed grid options of the Showcase Carousel. AND, you can put the Grid Widget anywhere on your site. Like, anywhere. You can even use it on your category landing pages. Cool, right? We thought so.

Combine the Grid Widget with the new Carousel and Category widgets, and utilize the new Full-With widget areas, and you can build a site that’s unlike anyone else’s. And that’s awesome.

To see the new features on your website today, simply click the Update link in your FLEX dashboard and upgrade to version 6.7.  Need help upgrading? Just drop us a line.

We’ll demonstrate the new Grid widget, along with the Carousel and Category widgets and the Full-Width widget areas in a SNODrift webinar this Thursday, February 3rd, at 2pm, CST. You should tune in! But if you can’t make it, don’t worry, we’ll post the webinar on our site, so you can watch it anytime you want.

The SNO Report: Broadcast-only Sites

You’re pretty savvy with your SNO site. You know how to build a killer design and write awesome stories. You know for sure that SNO sites work for student news. Maybe you even know that SNO sites work super well for yearbooks, too. But did you know that Broadcast-only sites are a thing? Because they totally are.

Broadcast journalism isn’t new: since the inception of the television we’ve been glued to our screens, eagerly craving the latest from on-scene correspondents and the guy at the weather map. But broadcast journalism by students? That’s new. We are the lucky crew living in the age of the ubiquitous cell phone, and we’ve got high def video cameras in our pockets at all times, so it’s only natural that students are sticking their toes in the pool of broadcast journalism.

Enter: SNO Sites.

Using the very same FLEX WordPress platform you use for your student news site, you could build a broadcast site. More and more schools are featuring regular video segments, vlogs and live-stream video coverage, and some are even going broadcast-only. It’s radical, in a totally good way. You can use story pages to post video stories and interviews, and with the multimedia tools you can even build a dynamic video display that will grab your audience with your latest and greatest videos. And, because all the tools you already use on your site are still available, you can choose to add polls, a breaking news ticker, anything you want.

It’s cool, it’s next, and you should totally think about it.

The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Update

It’s on. 2017 is in full swing, SNO’s Distinguished Sites program is open for business, and you guys are really bringing it this year. Badge submissions opened just two months ago, but already we’ve handed out 63. 63! Submissions are coming in all the time (like, literally all the time,) and we’re up to our elbows with great work to review.

Texas is killing it, with six different publications earning a total of 15 badges, and Frisco’s Liberty Wingspan claiming the honor of the first Distinguished Site of 2017 back in December. (And no big deal, but two, yes two, local Frisco papers ran the story of Wingspan’s big score, so they’re like, kind of famous now. Just sayin’.)

When it comes to individual schools with badges under their belt, Minnesota is claiming second place right now, with four publications earning badges. But it’s their neighbor to the south that snuck in to claim the title of second Distinguished Site of 2017: Iowa City West’sWest Side Story scooped up that honor yesterday, earning their sixth and final badge for the win. And we’ve got to assume the competition is fierce in Iowa City, because Iowa City High’s paper, The Little Hawk, tweeted this photo just last week:

And let’s not forget about our friends to the east: Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland all have papers with three or more badges right now. (Maryland’s got more than one, even. Blam.) Clearly, the competition is stiff.

So, are you ready to get into the game? It’s fun, it’s challenging, and, as Wingspan adviser Brian Higgins says: “Whether or not the goal is to become a SNO Distinguished Site, participation in the program will make for a better site.”

So there you go. Let’s see what you’ve got.

The SNO Report: New Year, New Features

Alright, it’s 2017 now. Everybody take a breath. You made it through last year, you kept it pretty much together, and you and your newspaper staff even managed to run a pretty killer online publication. From us to you: bravo. Seriously. You and your staff have big jobs and we admire the hard work you do generating awesome material and designing super cool sites.

We’ve been hard at work, too. It’s cold in Minnesota, but we’re keeping warm by coming up with new ideas and building new tools to help you make your site even more extra. We think you’ll like our brand new features, and we can’t wait to see what you do with them.

Custom Category Pages

You guys wanted more options for category page displays, and your wish is our command. Now you can customize category pages to your liking, and you can make a custom view for each category. Awesome. And what’s better than that? The new category page design options are widget-based –– any widget can go there. That means you can design each widget any way you want, and you can do it on every category page. And the widgets utilize a drag and drop interface, so changes are super easy to make. So cool. And one more thing: we added a carousel widget for category pages, so you can make them look just as bodacious as your home-page. You’re welcome.

New and Improved Slideshow

We know slideshows are awesome, and we just made SNO slideshows even better. Now, instead of remaining in a static location within your story and showing thumbnails, your slideshow will be interactive. Readers can click on the collection of photos, and a pop-out slideshow window will open automatically so readers can click through at their own pace. This format automatically sizes photos from within, so vertical pictures show up nicely even alongside horizontal ones, without changing the size of the window. And you get your choice of a dark or light background. Neato.

MORE Homepage Widget Areas!

No longer are you bound by prescribed Showcase Carousel or Teaser Bar aesthetics! With three new, full-width widget areas, you can customize your site even more than you already have. The new widget areas are located at the top, middle, and bottom of your page, and you can use as many or as few of them as you like. Use the same, super easy drag-and-drop interface you’re used to, and add any widget you want. Pair the new widget areas with the new carousel widget, and the design possibilities are out of this world.

Story Scroll Bar

Aka: “teasers galore.” The Story Scroll bar is a horizontal bar of thumbnail story suggestions, and you can apply it to the top of your homepage, or the bottom of your story pages, or neither, or both! It’s totally up to you. When you add it to story pages, it’ll appear at the bottom of a story when your reader scrolls up, suggesting more content based on category, tag, or writer. When you add it to the homepage, it acts as a mini-carousel in the header area, and it’ll grab your reader’s eye with story suggestions. Wherever you put it, you’ll have attractive thumbnail photos next to teaser text, and you can apply a light background or a dark one, whichever suits your fancy. You decide what to display, and you can change your mind as often as you want, no sweat.

Cool stuff, right? We thought so, too. To see the new features on your website today, simply click the Updates link in your FLEX dashboard and upgrade to version 6.7.  Need help upgrading, just drop us a line.

Now, the next step is learning to use the new features. Join us for a live SNODrift webinar on Tuesday, January 9th at 10 am, CST. We’ll walk through all the new features. Can’t make it? No prob! We’ll post the webinar on our website, too, so you can watch at your leisure.

The SNO Report: New Voices

Let’s start with the obvious: the first amendment is a vital component of our democracy. As Americans, we have protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Or, some of us do. Unfortunately, these basic rights aren’t universally applied, and it’s a problem for student journalists. Thanks to the precedent set by the 1988 Hazelwood decision (which ruled that a St. Louis high school student’s rights were not violated when they were censored by school administration) school journalism programs, students and advisers are operating in an environment that does not recognize students’ first amendment rights. Shockingly, the Hazelwood decision has even been applied to student journalism at the collegiate level. It’s a problem, and it’s got to stop. There’s a silver lining, though: people are paying attention, and there’s a movement afoot. It’s called New Voices, and it’s important.

What is it?

The New Voices Act is legislation that protects student freedom of expression within the school environment, and seeks to address and serve students journalists in three ways, all aimed at meeting the varying needs of student journalists at all levels. First, the Act seeks to restore the Tinker standards, which protect student speech so long as: “it’s not libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a ‘clear and present danger’ or a ‘material and substantial disruption’ of the school”. Secondly, the Act supports the protection of students at public colleges from becoming subject to Hazelwood-based rights violations. Finally, the Act would extend those same rights to protect college students at private schools.

Who are they?

Steve Listopad, Founder of New Voices, and Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, head up the New Voices movement. They’re taking it state by state, proposing legislation with the goal of earning protection for student rights. This October, the Society of Professional Journalists got behind the effort, too.

From an adviser’s POV:

Mitch Eden, journalism adviser at Kirkwood High School in Missouri who has testified twice in front of the Missouri Legislature, says New Voices is important because it would show students the value of their voice. Students, he says, learn and model civic action when they collaborate, evaluate, and communicate, and protecting their right to do so has to be paramount. Fortunately for Mitch and his newspaper staff, Kirkwood High administrators support student expression, but his advice for students and advisers facing administrative adversity is to seek help. “Any questioning of administrative policy must be student-led,” he says. “And it shouldn’t be combative. Student editors need to show administrators how they can be responsible journalists.” It’s good advice, and he’ll keep working to promote the campaign in the name of student rights.

What can I do about it, anyway?

Get involved. And get the kids involved. There are many ways to get into it, and if yours is a state that has already adopted legislation protecting student expression, awesome. Talk about it. Share it on social media. Put it on the radar of the people, not just journalism students and advisers. New Voices is gaining momentum and that’s because it’s important. We support New Voices, and we hope you do, too.

The SNO Report: Promote your yearbook with a website from SNO

Oh man, you guys. We can’t stop. First it was online newspapers, then it was lit mags. Now: yearbooks. Yep. We’re bringing you the digital platform for your yearbook program. With your brand new website, you can promote and advertise your book, and show off the incredible photography your team has been working on all year. It’s a great way to stir up excitement and to engage a broad audience both within the school, and in the community at large. You can even add a click-to-buy link to make your yearbook site a one-stop shop. Sweet, right? It’s not a replacement for the physical book–– you’ll still have that. It’s an enhancement. Check out some of the options you’d have at your fingertips:

Immersive Splash Page: Think of it–– you’ve got a great photo. We mean great. And you want everyone to see it. With the Immersive Splash Page, your audience will land on that exact photo when they visit your page. They can feast their eyes on your awesome picture, and when they’re ready, click through to the home page. And you can change the image on the splash page as much as you want, it’s super easy.

Showcase Carousel: When students (and their parents, and their grandparents, and their grandparents’ friends, and their grandparents’ friends’ book club) go to the site, they’ll be greeted with an appealing display of the yearbook staff’s best work. And the staff will have eight different Showcase Carousel configurations to choose from, so they can pick the perfect one to show off their work. Nice.

Photos, Photos, and MORE PHOTOS!!: We’ve got slideshows, we’ve got grid-style templates, we’ve got immersive long-form templates, we’ve even got widgets specially designed for videos, if that’s what you’re into. Yearbook staff are great photographers, and prolific ones. With a yearbook site, you’ll have a place to show off all those great photos that don’t make it into the book.

Tagging and Search: With all those photos, you’ll want to be able to identify all the beautiful and awesome student subjects. Our tagging feature makes it easy to pin a name to a photo, and the search function means that Grandma’s friend’s book club mate can look up that nice picture of Suzy and her Homecoming date. Boom.

Staff Profiles: You’ll also want to connect photographers and yearbook staff to their work: there’s a page for that. We have lots of design options for making your staff profiles super cool, and if you don’t believe me, check out this rad staff page. And staff profiles will link to photos on the site, so it’s like having an online portfolio, which is awesome.

Cool stuff, right? And it’s super easy to get started! Just contact us to learn more, or place an order, and we’ll get right to work.

The SNO Report: Fight the Fake

If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention, (and we know that you have, you newshounds, you) you know about the problem with fake news. It’s everywhere, with its salacious headlines and promises of shock and sensation. And now the entire nation is abuzz about fake news, as if it’s suddenly come into being. But fake news has been a thing for a long time. Think: The National Enquirer. Nobody ever really worried about it. But thanks to our beloved and ubiquitous social media networks, this election season proved that fake news can have real life ramifications, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. So the new challenge for journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students? Learning to recognize the fake news, analyze sources, and continue to promote journalistic integrity. It’s a tall order, taller than it has been in the past. Let us get you started:

What it is:

There’s the blatant stuff: totally fabricated, usually hosted by websites with credible-sounding names, and ones that don’t identify themselves as satirical. There’s clickbait: sensational headlines with lots of caps and punctuation and shocking or appealing photos, because you just have to know what caused that horrifying skin condition, right? Right?? But when you get there the content has nothing to do with the photo. And then there’s the sneaky stuff: half truths, misleading stories, speculations and “satire”, all shared online over and over again. For an illuminating take on how these stories go viral, consider this timeline of a speculative tweet that went viral, sparking a widely shared conspiracy theory right before the election.

How to recognize it:

Again, some of it’s obvious, some of it’s not. The important thing is to continue doing your due diligence, checking out sources, and consuming news with a critical eyes. But if you’re into lists, here’s one that delineates the hallmarks of news fakery.

How it spreads:

This one’s easy: social media. We’re uber connected right now, and we love to share, because everyone you know should get to read that one article you read, right? But there’s a major lesson here: sharing isn’t caring, not when it comes to dubious news. Investigate before you share, and try not to engage in reckless liking.

What to do about it:

Investigate. Think. Be critical. Demand facts and don’t accept sensation. And practice. Jonathan Rogers from Iowa City High put together a lesson plan about fake news, it’s pretty cool, and it’s right here.

The SNO Report Student Profile: Nina Elkadi

Yes, we all know journalism advisers are great: they’re smart, they know all about reporting the news, and they probably wear matching socks without even having to think about it. But they get like, all the glory. So we thought we’d shine some light on the real stars of the journalism game, at least as far as we’re concerned: the students. This week, we’re profiling student journalist Nina Elkadi. She’s a junior at Iowa City West, and she’s pretty cool.

Nina’s been in the newspaper game forever. Or at least, for a significant portion of her life so far: she started her own newspaper when she was just a kid. The elementary news start-up revolved around stories about Nina’s school and about Shadow, the class fish. And people liked the paper–– Nina can still remember the pride she felt when people would talk about the “Shadow Books” that lived next to the fishbowl.

As a teenager, Nina’s interest in journalism is a bit more sophisticated–– both of her parents were raised in countries where the news was censored, so they’ve taught her to appreciate and take advantage of the freedom of speech and press she enjoys as an American citizen. And she does: she doesn’t know for sure what she’ll study in college yet, but her dream is to become an international reporter. “The entire world should care about journalism,” she says, “because it’s how we learn.” One thing we’d put money on? Nina’s going to be keeping us informed, long into the future.

When she’s not Lois Lane, she’s a bit of a naturalist. If you can’t find her on a day off, she’s probably unplugged, paddling down the river on a kayak. She’s a bit of a purist, too. Her favorite bugs are leaf bugs, because, “they just look like they’re supposed to be in nature.” And when it comes to sandwiches, keep your mayo and mustard, man, she’d rather taste her food than drown it in condiments.

Ultimately, she says, “telling the stories that aren’t always easy or happy is so important, and allowing those that are usually in the shadows to have the chance to tell their story is what I love.” And so even though she’s come a long way since those first stories about the school fish, she’ll still there, a voice for the Shadows.

To read some of Nina’s recent stories, visit the following links: