The SNO Report: Follow us around this summer

At our Minnesota base, it snowed in record-breaking sums in February. That has us longing for warmer days — the ones we’re expecting this summer.

We’ll be popping up at workshops all over the country this summer, delivering on-site, SNO-focused digital media training. Meet us there? Check out our schedule below and feel free to send us a care package to lift our snowed-in spirits.

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 the basics and get into the advanced tools that’ll take your site to the next level. You’ll be introduced to the most up-to-date features and master the best practices for web, analytics and social media.

Can’t make it to a workshop? That’s OK. Order a personalized SNO training session or unlimited training subscription and we’ll meet up virtually.

Or consider hosting a SNO Day involving members schools in your area and we’ll come to you personally. SNO Days are all about getting a close-up with your publication. We’ll bring the expertise, you bring the willingness to learn. If you’re interested in learning more about setting up a SNO Day, get in touch with us.

Bonus points if you show up wearing some sort of SNO merch this summer.

The SNO Report: Slam dunk story grids you can do

When the calendar hits March 1 this week, you’ll have only two months left to earn SNO Distinguished Sites badges and the whole enchilada.

To earn the Story Page Excellence Badge, you’ll have to submit correctly-assembled Grid, Side-by-Side and Long Form templates among other examples. In some cases, those are templates you have to plan in advance for.

Let’s help you out with a few ideas for Story Grids that ANYBODY can do.

New teachers at school


A grid’s natural purpose is to package together content that goes together, giving your reader one place to find all of it. A story grid of new-teacher features is an easy get. The Little Hawk profiled nine new teachers at Iowa City High School. How many does your school have?

Clubs and organizations

Who says you have to write a full profile? A story grid of clubs and organizations at your school is a good way to be a basic informational resource for your student readers. The East Vision assembled a grid of 48 tid-bits, including club sponsor and student leaders, meeting times and a brief description. Now that’s valuable.

Seasonal sports previews

Here’s an idea for three separate grids throughout the year. Assemble a grid with previews of the fall sports at your school, later the winter sports, and finally the spring ones.

P.S. Check out our new merchandise store for SNO swag!

The SNO Report: Starting A Podcast, Part 2: Time To Do It

Last week, in Part 1 of this series, we coached you through everything to setup a podcast, from generating an idea to picking an eventual home for it and an audio editing program.

Now is the best part. Now, it’s time to actually do it.

Producing your content involves selecting theme music, determining a general structure for each episode and, finally, being an interviewer. This is our advice:

Where do I get music legally?

Podcast music is never music you hear on the radio. It’s instrumental, or tones, but you can get in trouble for stealing Kenny G’s music, so you’ll need to find music labeled for free-use.

Google it. There are several free-use music sites online, some that are totally free and some that you’ll actually end up paying for.

The one we use is the YouTube Free Music Library. It’s free and has a huge library of music and sound effects to download.

The best part? They’re labeled by both genre and vibe. For example, “Curb Stomp,” by Underbelly, is labeled as “Hip Hop/Rap” but also, “Dark” — naturally.

How funny is that?

To use the music in your podcast, download the MP3 file and import it into your audio editor (like Audacity) when you’re editing each episode. Or Anchor, for example, has its own library for you to use, if you’re using its web-based editor instead of a program on your computer.

How should it be structured?

The best advice for this is to model it after podcasts you like and make a list of the things you like about each one.

  • How is music used? When does the music come in?

  • How does each episode begin? How does it end?

  • How long is each episode?

When we talk about the structure, or an outline, we’re specifically thinking about those three things listed above.

  • Length is important because it can intimidate people. Consider this: If you’re looking for a new podcast to try for the first time, are you more likely to click on the one with its first episode 15 or 90 minutes long?
  • Podcast episodes often include a consistently-structured greeting to welcome listeners and tease what’s to come and a not-so-strictly defined farewell that may include a call to action of some kind, like asking people to subscribe on iTunes.

  • Music comes into a podcast at a variety of different points around the greeting and farewell. It may be the first thing you hear. It may create a natural break between the introduction and interview. It may play quietly underneath the entire episode. Again, consider the podcasts you listen to and mimic them.

What about interviewing tips?

Doing an interview for a podcast is not unlike any other type of interview. So, if you’ve done a few in any arena, you know a little about how to handle yourself.

The difference, perhaps, is that with a podcast interview, you’re probably pretty concerned about the length vs. an interview for a printed article. This is because interviewees don’t expect you to use every single one of their quotes in an article. But for a podcast, they probably expect to be heard in full — it’ll sound better if they are, too.

Keep yourself reasonably within the expected length of your episode by outlining everything.

  • Script the intro and outro you’ll record for each episode. Reading from such a script makes you less likely to ramble on walking in circles around yourself

  • Prepare and write down interview questions ahead of time. Anticipate their answers in order to script a few likely follow-ups. This will give you a direction and something to fall back to should you lose track of the conversation.

  • Write those questions in a conversational way, rather than like questionnaire you’d ask someone to fill out. That way, if you need to, you can read from your list and still have the interview sounding natural and unscripted.

Depending on your experience level and the person you’re interviewing, you may feel more or less obliged to script it all. That’s fine.

All of this advice goes with the way we’ve tried to create SNOcast. Listen to some of our episodes to hear it all in action.

Also, shop our new merchandise store for new SNO swag!

The SNO Report: Starting A Podcast, Part 1: Laying The Foundation

It’s true, you know, what they say. Anyone who wants a podcast can have one.

You don’t need any specific college degree or expensive equipment to make your voice heard on the almighty iTunes. You don’t even need a “radio voice.” Trust me, you guys, I know this. All you really need is an idea, something that’ll record you and a place to publish it.

That’s called laying the foundation, and that’s where this lesson begins. When printed out and attached with a piece of tape (only then!), this and next week’s SNO Report will, hopefully, be a helpful guide to starting a podcast, essentially with nothing more than stuff around your house.

This week, before you call Stephen A. Smith to be your first guest (mad props!), let’s talk about generating an idea and the two things you need to make it a reality — a tool to record it and place to upload it.

What’s the big idea?

This has to be your first step. It makes no sense to start decorating a recording studio (or to have one in the first place) or to be scheduling interviews when you don’t have an idea.

You need an idea that makes sense, in a couple ways.

 

  1. Is it reasonable to expect that you can execute a series from the idea? If your idea is to interview professional athletes about what it’s like to be professional athletes, consider how achievable that is. Perhaps your school has an alum in the NHL, making him reasonably within reach. That’s one episode. What’s left after that? A series interviewing educators, in comparison, gives you much greater opportunity.

  2. Who is your audience and what interests them? Consider it a criminal offense not to consider this specific question. Knowing your audience drives everything you do. It may seem silly that people are tuning in, by the thousands, to live streams to watch other people play video games, but those gamers know that the audience — on that specific website — will be interested.

To the first point, it’s equally as important that you can project your idea for several recurring episodes, but that it’s not too rambly that you can’t train your listeners to know what to expect every time they tune in. Your podcast is likely to be more popular when staying within your main theme than if you’re trying to have the freshest take about the New England Patriots one week and counting on your listeners to come back to listen to you review cereals next week.

It helps to plan. Make up a schedule for the first bunch of episodes (three, at least) and finish them before ever publishing the first one. This gives you as much time as you need to get together with your buddy to debate about sports or to schedule, reschedule and complete that interview with the local dog catcher.

You’ll feel the heat of deadlines plenty in your day-to-day journalism. Give yourself a cushion just once. It’ll mean you’re setting yourself up to succeed.

How do I record it?

Let’s pretend you don’t have a radio or broadcast program at your school with all the know-how to produce your show — that it’s just you and a couple other big dreamers figuring it out at your average high school. You’ll need a computer program to record to, edit with and export from.

Sure, the same as there are knock-off Photoshop solutions online, you could probably find free audio editing, too. Or, there are tons of professional audio editing software programs you can buy but at the price of 100 tacos from Chipotle. (Your move.)

Instead of those, here are two options that each combine that Free-99 price tag with an authentic editing experience:

 

  1. Audacity is a free, downloadable application for Macs and PCs that we use to produce SNOcast. We learned how to use it pretty quickly.

  2. GarageBand is a stock application on Macs. Its editing is over-simplified, which may be easier to learn if you go to it first. It’s not our favorite, but it’s an option.

The option to import audio into these is vital because not all interviews happen in front of a computer — or they’ll happen on a computer but using a separate program, like Skype. So, whether it’s recorded remotely as a voice memo on your phone or using a digital recorder, you need to have the option to import “tracks.”

One recent enhancement coming from the websites where you’ll ultimately upload your podcast to, like Soundcloud and Anchor FM, is downloadable, all-in-one apps.

These podcasting platforms are allowing you to do it all in one place. On Anchor, for example, you can record through your phone, import additional tracks, edit them together, add music from their free library, even add transition sounds (woooosh!), and then publish it.

Where does it go online?

You can go through the steps of setting up an account for iTunes and Spotify if you want, but each time you’ll run into the requirement to provide a link to your podcast feed.

So, after you have your idea and start producing episodes, you need to pick a site that creates a feed for you and, often, sends your episodes off to iTunes and others automatically.

There are many options out there, each with important factors to consider. Here are the four we looked into, to publish SNOcast, why one won out and the others didn’t:

 

  1. ART19 was the first place we looked, but with it you’re in for an investment right away because you’re paying for is their marketing of your series and data tracking.

  2. Soundcloud was next. In fact, we created an account and uploaded our first episode to it because while it’s extremely well known, what wasn’t clear at sign-up was that you’ll have a cap on your free account. You can only upload so many minutes of audio before you have to start paying up, so one 25-minute podcast really put a dent in that space right away. Remember, Soundcloud was created for musicians, who may only be uploading an album that’s no longer than 25 minutes total.

  3. Podbean is another well-used option. Unlike Soundcloud, it’s made for podcasters. Like Soundcloud, you’ll be paying an annual fee for more space.

  4. Anchor is what we went with. It’s 100 percent free and has worked well so far.

Next week, we’ll talk about a few of the things that separate your podcast from being just another in the crowd to being memorable.

In the meantime, check out some of the new SNO swag we’re selling!

The SNO Report: Lessons in writing reviews

There are a million and a half of them out there.

Of course I’m talking about entertainment reviews, talking heads weighing in on this new Ariana Grande album and that “Crazy Rich Asians” movie. You publish your take and enter the fray.

When we sat down with Detroit-based music journalist Gary Graff in October and asked him about his work, having the confidence to be yourself in your review writing was a big takeaway.

Honoring that, we don’t want put any pressure on you to change the way you write your criticisms, but we thought a lot of what he said could help you get even better and applied to writing beyond just music reviews.

Here are some of the highlights:

REVIEWING A CONCERT

“When you’re talking about sound, that’s the hardest thing to write about of all the arts. Movies have plots and visuals, theater has plots and visuals, even visual art has visuals you can describe. Sound is its own beast, and to be able to convey what something sounds like and interpret and contextualize it, it’s a great challenge.”

EDUCATING YOURSELF

“To do anything that involves criticism, you do need a critical vocabulary, the right words to not only describe but to put things into context and give the reader a sense of what’s going on.”

“You need to dig even deeper than you have. Yeah, you know what happened in the 90s, but you need to know what happened in the 1890s — or when we’re talking about music, the 50s and 60s. Go listen to all those Beatles albums. Know who the Rolling Stones were. Know who Chuck Berry was.

“Perspective and context are everything. Your review needs to be authoritative. You need to write with authority and authority comes with a knowledge of history … of context, and a real perspective on that artist, the genre and the overall history of the art, whether it’s music, movies or whatever.”

“You need to read about where these artists came from, who were their influences and go back and listen to those. … There are original pieces of music but there is no original music anymore. So, do the leg work. Dig in and find out where your music came from.”

TRYING TO BE ORIGINAL

“You can drive yourself crazy if you try to do that, just like you can drive yourself crazy trying to be the first one out. You have to divest yourself from worrying about what the rest of the world is doing and just do your truth. Do your article your way. Don’t compromise your criticism just to be the first or to be vastly different.”

INTERVIEWING A BAND

“I want to know where the creative motivation is. What drives them? What makes them tick? Really delve into that. That comes from asking about how did you get into music? When did you start playing? What did it feel like the first time? How long did it take you to get good at it? Did you ever think about giving up? The most important thing is listening. Be ready to swerve off. If they say something that sounds interesting, follow that rabbit hole as long as you can.”

The SNO Report: Recruiting and marketing your class

You don’t have enough students in your journalism class for it to be an elective, technically, but the guidance office is looking the other way; at least, they are this year. So, you know you need to step up your game.

The future of journalism is at stake here!

That’s the situation Chris Grazier, adviser to El Cid at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, Calif., found himself in last year.

This year, his class has grown by three times as many kids and the publication is thriving.

How’d it happen, and what can you do to grow your own publications staff? It’s all about knowing what buttons to push. It’s all about recruiting the marketing. At least that’s what Grazier told us, when we talked to him on our podcast recently.

Here are the best tips for how to do it:

1. Spread the word in other classes you teach and have your staff do the same
“You’ve got to continually be selling your product and selling your class. … My big sales pitch to my other English classes as well … ‘Hey, there’s only one cat on this campus that can get you published and help you start building a for-real portfolio.’ Once you get one byline, you want another. I can see it now, ‘By Tommy Smith, El Cid staff writer!’”

2. Go out recruiting in classes during and leading up to registration week
“I send out the editors. We gotta get out to those English classes, particularly those honors and AP English classes. So, the kids go out and sell it in the classes and sometimes I’ll pop in unannounced and give them a little two minute fire-them-up spiel of the importance of the written language, being a good writer.”

3. Push your awards when talking about the class and publication
“Once you start winning awards, word spreads. Writing good stories and having those lead to awards … The SNO Distinguished Sites platform really gave us a platform to toot our own horn.”

4. Market the site through other school-related communications
“We made it into a little news story in El Cid. I worked closely with our communications director, who then promotes it not only on the school website but in her different communications, quarterly newsletter or updates through an email blast. Word got out that we were a SNO Distinguished Site.”

5. Be visible teachers and students — everyone should know who you are
“I’m standing out in the hall, outside of my door, like a fruit cake every day.”

6. Develop good relationships with people who can help you spread the word, like counselors
“I bumped it up with the counseling department. We talk about networking. You have to be good to people. We have a pretty big slate of electives that we offer here. … I think the counseling ladies sold it a bunch.”

The SNO Report: What Is A Caption?

What is a photo caption?

Not knowing is going to cost you several of our SNO Distinguished Sites badges, or at least delay your attempt to earn them. In asking there to be captions and credits on all images and graphics — original and outsourced — we’re not just asking you to fill space. We want you completing real photo captions.

The photo displayed at the top of this email is an example of doing everything right.

What’s right about it?

  1. The subjects of the photo are identified by name and grade.
  2. The caption is written in active voice. Phoebe, Evie and Emma are rehearsing the song. The song is not being rehearsed by Phoebe, Evie and Emma.
  3. Along the same lines as the last point, there’s an action happening in the photo that’s being described in the caption.
  4. It’s clear in what setting the action is happening (“during tech week”) and even why (“for the fall musical”).
  5. The photographer is credited. Nice pic, Emily Ziessman, of St. Louis Park High School!
  6. Taking the caption a step further, there’s added context for a reader who may just be looking toward the caption for information. That reader now knows, “Opening night for ‘9 to 5 the Musical’ is Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., with more performances to follow next week.”

That’s a full photo caption and credit.

Writing full captions and credits is part of how you prove you care about the way a story looks online. Paying attention to those details influences how your reader thinks of your publication.

Now, what is NOT a caption?

  1. No caption is not a caption. Read that a second time, if you have to.
  2. A caption is not just a list of names. “Phoebe, Evie and Emma.” is not a caption.
  3. A caption is more than a statement about a photo. “Rehearsal for the musical” or, worse, “Rehearsal photo,” is not a caption.
  4. A caption is not just a photo credit, but it DOES include one. “Photo by Emily Ziessman” is not a caption.

The same rules apply to original art, graphics and outsourced photos.

In those instances when art, graphics, album covers and other borrowed materials don’t portray an action happening, how do you write a caption?

  1. A summary sentence or one that provides context works best. Examples include:
  2. Maybe you have a photo of a painting. A summation of the corresponding story, such as “Students submitted work for Saturday’s community art show, where Phoebe McKinney won first prize,” works really well.
  3. Maybe your photo is the movie poster for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Context such as “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ opens at Random Local Theater on Friday” is great to have.
  4. Each of these examples, and any that are similar, need a photo credit, too. What studio produced “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Whose painting is it?

Here’s an added primer on crediting borrowed photos.

Now that you know, stress that your staff always writes full captions and credits on all images. Then, at least one requirement that shows up on several Distinguished Sites badges shouldn’t be such a problem any more.

The SNO Report: Did you see those galleries?

Late last week, we bought our photo galleries new clothes and new toys. Did you notice? The display and function of them got an upgrade. Here’s what changed:

When viewing in full screen, we reformatted the space to allow for a larger area where your photos can really pop. The big changes in this view, however, are in how your readers will interact with the gallery from now on…

  • We got rid of the old left/right arrows in the top corner and replaced them with the new carousel arrows that display on hover on the left and right edges of the screen
  • We incorporated a clickable thumbnail row of images that can be placed above or below the primary display area — a different way for readers to engage
  • A cool effect: When the reader is done with (or tired of) the gallery, they can get out of the full-screen view by scrolling down on their mouse or trackpad

You can format slideshow options — like using a dark or light color scheme, picking a highlight color and location for the thumbnails — on your SNO Design Options page, under “Story Page Extras.” There, you’ll also have an option to pick between Overlay and Inline gallery displays.

Inline galleries allow the reader to engage with them without going full screen…

  • The new carousel arrows will hover over the photos in inline, allowing the reader to move between images without going full screen; whereas, in the old days, readers had to click a button on the photo before they could start interacting in full screen
  • In the Design Options, there’s an option to activate auto scrolling, so as soon as the reader gets to the story page, the carousel is queued to start moving
  • The reader can still take the gallery full screen at any time and won’t lose their place

There are also more functions that ever for a working slideshow on the homepage, using, as always, the SNO Photo Gallery Widget…

  • We’ve made it interactive without clicking to go full screen, same as inline galleries
  • There are three main options in the widget for functionality — Slideshow, Slideshow with Thumbnails, and Thumbnails — while you can also setup auto-scrolling settings
  • The “Thumbnails” option displays the photos as small thumbnails (a carryover feature) that can be clicked and enlarge to full screen. The difference is that the thumbnail sizes are automatically configured based on the size of the widget area you’re putting it in

You can find our new SNO help site article about these changes, right here.

The SNO Report: 5 things your site should have

The days are so few between holiday breaks, which means you’re running out of time to actually accomplish the things you set out to, on your student news site this semester.

Whether you splurged and bought a site this year or simply committed yourself to recommitting to it, we sure hope you’ve been successful.

However, we also know how overwhelming it can be to get started — or restarted. It’s great to want your site to look like any of our Award Winners, to not be satisfied until it does, but those schools have been tinkering for years to get to where they are. It takes time, people!

We’re not going to magically send you there in one email, but we want to help you meet that New Year’s resolution. You wanted to actually make a difference in the appearance of your site. The best way to do that is by configuring a site design that’s functional. That doesn’t mean looking like any one of our Distinguished Sites necessarily. If you strip away their decoration, these are five things every functioning site has going for it…

Five fixes you can make before you begin Christmas shopping.

CUSTOM HEADER: Your site should have a brand — an identity. You do that with a color palette, often your school colors or black, white and gray. Those colors often come from your custom header image at the top of your site. You may call it a logo, banner or flag. Go away from the basic Text Header and design a custom header graphic — often done in Photoshop, working from a canvas that’s no bigger than about 200 pixels tall.

SHOWCASE: But not that showcase. Get rid of the Showcase Carousel and replace it with a far more customizable and user-friendly SNO Story Carousel or SNO Story Grid widget, commonly placed in the Home Top Full Width or Home Top Wide area of your website. This is where you ought to be displaying your best stories — not only that, your best photos. Create a category, like “Showcase” or “Top Stories” to be selective of what goes into that space. Take your pick of carousel and grid configurations in our own little shopping mall here.

YOUR PILLARS: We’re talking about the categories (or sections) in which you’re publishing most. Those should be displayed on the homepage of your site using Category Display Widgets. You don’t need to go crazy having 20 categories out on your homepage. Do whatever your capable of. Displaying 3-5 categories is exactly as many as you need, and those are typically your bread and butter categories — News, Sports, Features, Opinions. Well, whatta ya know, there’s four right there!

SQUARENESS: The places you put all your widgets should ideally come to a pretty even (or squared) endpoint at the bottom of your homepage. You should create a homepage that, when sketched out as boxes, looks like a square made up of smaller squares or rectangles. It helps sometimes to sketch out a plan for your site, or to sketch out your site as it currently looks and diagram where you could move blocks or where you could add something else to create a squared homepage. It’s OK to act like you’re John Madden or something. An underrated issue to getting and sustaining the square: Using horizontal photos as often as possible.

How about a quick example? Let’s say you have those four main categories and a carousel for Top Stores, as we’ve discussed. Carousel goes in Home Top Wide, pick a category to align next to it in Home Top Right, and then put the remaining three across the page in Home Top Left, Center and Right.

Boom. Roasted.

INTERACTION: If it’s an extra block your missing to fill that last remaining blank space on the homepage, consider something that can be done online only. Maybe it’s a widget displaying a Twitter or Instagram feed. Maybe it’s a reader poll. Maybe it’s a video widget.

This list is just five things. There are 23 requirements total for the Site Excellence Badge, of the SNO Distinguished Sites program. That’s #goals. Start with these five and you’re site will be fully functional, so now you can focus your attention on publishing content.

Your site already checks off all five? Well, then, what are you even doing here! Get out there and publish more content.

The SNO Report: It’s SNO Distinguished Sites Season

Your favorite time of year is back, the time of year when you can begin applying for our SNO Distinguished Sites badges.

Like Best of SNO, this year you’ll submit for badges on your own site dashboard, in the tab for SNO Badges. There, you’ll get started, track your progress, submit to Best of SNO, and receive notifications from our awards coordinator.

It’s easier than ever before to track the badges you’ve earned and what still needs improvement from the others you’re still working towards.

As is the case every year, each badge has a few minor adjustments to its requirements.

But there are a couple notable biggies.

Site Excellence Badge

Worded differently in the past, your homepage must be customized beyond the basics (i.e. the template you started with). Specifically, many of your homepages still use the dated technology of the Showcase Carousel, Teaser Bar A, Teaser Bar B, and Top Story Display Area.

To earn this badge, you’ll have to replace those features (found on your SNO Design Options page) with features available on the Widget Control Panel.

Multimedia Badge

It’s time you tried podcasting. To earn this badge, you’ll need three podcast episodes that meet all seven of our requirements. Those include episodes being interview-based, 5-15 minutes long, using music and including a structured intro and outro.

Those are two of the most significant changes to the game this season. Good luck!