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.


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, 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

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.