The SNO Report: What’s New from SNO

Hello, you! Welcome to another school year with the SNO Patrol. Summer’s been fun, hasn’t it? But it’s time to get to work.

Here are a couple of new toys and another change we want you to know about:

The new FLOW

A new version of FLOW is here to hopefully help make overseeing your journalism program a little more manageable. That’s why we created the all-in-one newsroom management system five years ago. Now we’ve rebuilt it, using recommendations from advisers just like you.

The new version has customizable assignment types, filters and workflows, automated publishing to your website, Google Docs integration, chat, notifications and photo storage, just to name a few features — not to mention the companion apps we’re working on.

It’s $250 a year as an add-on to your SNO website subscription, but you can get to know FLOW right now with a four-week free trial or by scheduling a FLOW demo.

Student News Source app

We announced a full overhaul of our SNOMobile platform last spring. Unlike our old platform that relied on expensive-to-build, difficult-to-support individual apps, the Source app is more of a hub of student journalism across the country. Users can choose to follow one or many student publications as they want to keep up on. (So far, 104 publications are on it.)

The app features push notifications by category, staff profiles, photo galleries, article comments, video, social sharing and design control from your WordPress dashboard. 

It’s $250 a year as an add-on to your SNO website subscription but free to download on iOS and Android devices to explore as an end user. Go on, give it a try — leave us a review on your app store and rate it five stars.

Design Options

Over the years, so much has been added into or taken out of the SNO Design Options page. This summer, we made a real effort to reorganize where tools were grouped there.

There are new and renamed sections. “Links” gives you a centralized place to change the color and functionality of all links on your website.

Other tools have moved. Your “Site Width Options,” for example, moved into a “General Settings & Structure” section, and favicon and bullet point settings are now in a section titled “General Settings.” The spot where these settings had been housed before is gone altogether.

SNO Recognizes 49 Student Publications As SNO Distinguished Sites For 2018-19

SNO’s Distinguished Sites national recognition program, developed six years ago in an effort to more-clearly outline a set of standards for online student journalism excellence, saw more participation and success than ever before during the 2018-2019 school year.

SNO recognized 49 student publications as distinguished sites, compared to 27 last year, and awarded a total of 219 publications at least one badge, up from 117.

Beginning the year, SNO changed the way publications would apply for badges in an attempt to make the program more accessible (applications and badge information was available from the dashboard of each publication’s website) and user-friendly (publications could save their progress on an application to return to it later).

Considering the final participation numbers, that change was successful.

“We’re excited that our new simplified and streamlined submission process has made it easier for more journalism programs to work on best practices and get feedback about the direction of their website,” said Jason Wallestad, SNO co-founder.

The sentiment was echoed by award winners.

“We have been working towards this achievement for the past three years and were so excited to finally accomplish our goal this year,” said Ashley Swain, adviser to The Stampede at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla. “The new format for submitting our individual badges and our Best of SNO submissions really helped us stay focused and organized this school year. I really appreciated that when we began submitting for the badges.”

The student publications pursue six badges that outline standards of excellence in areas of website design, audience engagement, story page layout, multimedia, writing and overall coverage. This year, as an additional and trending test in multimedia, SNO required that students produced and published podcasts to earn the badge.

“All five publications classes contributed to the goal of achieving the Distinguished Site recognition,” said Jonathan Hall, adviser to LHS Today at Liberty High School in Lake St. Louis, Mo. “Each class worked hard to improve the overall content of the site this year and promote it. Students were excited about becoming a Distinguished Site and the effort created a stronger sense of unity within the publications program.”

The badges are not to be passively applied for, as Hall’s five-class effort can attest to; rather, successful publications review the standards and plan for what it’ll take to meet them. When rejected, applications return to students with feedback and the opportunity to reapply.

“The badges forced my students to think more critically about what they covered and how they covered it,” said Mary Long, adviser to The Blueprint at Downers Grove South High School in Illinois. “It was an excellent learning experience for them. They were so filled with pride when the plaque arrived in the mail.”

Each of the 49 SNO Distinguished Site winners received a plaque in the mail — an occasion usually cause for celebration.

“Two administrators just burst into our classroom, read a letter, shook our hands and gave us a plaque,” wrote Lisa Roskens, adviser to Eagle Nation Online at Prosper High School in Texas.

A nice moment for first-time winners, for sure. Each publication interviewed for this article finally did get that plaque this year.

This year’s completed list of SNO Distinguished Sites:

Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif.); The Sage (Sage Creek High School, Carlsbad, Calif.); El Cid (Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, Calif.); The Paw Print(Woodside High School, Woodside, Calif.); The Stampede (Wiregrass Ranch High School, Wesley Chapel, Fla.); The Tribe (Santaluces High School, Lantana, Fla.); The Southerner (Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, Ga.); The Blueprint (Downers Grove South High School, Downers Grove, Ill.); Spartan Shield (Pleasant Valley High School, Bettendorf, Iowa); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City High School); The Little Hawk (Iowa City High School, Iowa City, Iowa); The Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.); The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); Wayland Student Press Network (Wayland High School, Wayland, Md.); The East Vision (East Grand Rapids High School, Grand Rapids, Mich.); The Lantern (Cannon Falls High School, Cannon Falls, Minn.); OHS Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Echo (St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); Pathfinder (Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); Marquette Messenger(Marquette High School, Chesterfield, Mo.); The Globe (Clayton High School, Clayton, Mo.); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); LHS Today(Wentzville Liberty High School, Lake St. Louis, Mo.); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, NJ); The Red & Black (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, NY); The Leaf(Sycamore High School, Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The BluePrint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); Periscope (Carlisle Area High School, Carlisle, Pa.); The Purbalite (Baldwin High School, Pittsburgh, Pa.); Mountaineer (Stroudsburg High School, Stroudsburg, Pa.); Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Pa.); The Central Digest(Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Shield Online (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); The Dispatch Online (James Bowie High School, Austin, Texas); Vandegrift Voice(Vandegrift High School, Austin, Texas); CPHS News (Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park, Texas); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Cain Live (Klein Cain High School, Klein, Texas); Farmers’ Harvest (Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Rider Online (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); Eagle Nation Online (Prosper High School, Prosper, Texas)

The SNO Report: Best of SNO Superlatives

Alright, so automating Best of SNO really worked. It created a project (new jobs!) for a full-stack developer and a few gray hairs (who’s counting!) for an education/training specialist. It had an MVP-caliber year. Here’s proof:

At the time of this email, Best of SNO had…

It was a highly-competitive year, with less than 20 percent of submitted stories being selected. That level of excellence made selecting these Best of SNO superlatives most challenging.

Of the thousands of stories published on Best of SNO this year, here’s a sampling of our favorites. And because news can be so angering, depressing and plain sad these days, let’s start here:

Best Feel-Good Video Story
Spreading the love on Valentine’s Dayby Rachel Hunter, Carlmont High School

Best New Reporting
Sizing Downby Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos and Jesse Hausknecht-Brown, Iowa City High School

Best Trendspotting
Cashless food services increase in numberby Zachary Khouri, Carlmont High School

Best Theater Story
One Act casts Inouye, Cummings as oppositesby Grace Miller, Harrisonburg High School

Best Photo Essay
24 hours across West Highby the Pathfinder Staff, Parkway West High School

Best Assignment Desk Story
46 collected articles about the midterm elections are all worth re-reading. Special mentions for:

Best “UGH!” Explained
How cold is too cold for schoolby Grace LeGars, Tyrone Area High School

Best of Both Sides
Missouri abortion bill strikes up controversyby Sabrina Bohn and Lydia Roseman, Parkway West High School

Best of Colleges

Best Opinion Writing
How will you be rememberedby Ella Sinciline, North Allegheny Senior High School

Best on Film and Culture
Asian-American representation in media trends upwardby Tyler King and Ella Chen, St. John’s School

Best Sports Story
Everyone has a roleby Noah Schwartz, Pascack Valley High School

Best on Teachers Striking
30,000 educators all over LAUSD strike in efforts to help schoolsby Itzel Luna, Casey Wanatick and Farah Faiza, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School

Best Body Art
Spilling ink: Teachers reveal the tales behind their tattoosby Megan Tsang and Sarah Kim, Dougherty Valley High School

Most-Read Story
Freshmen triplets are turning heads in varsity sportsby Nathan Wong, Pleasant Valley High School (more than 1,100 views since March)

The SNO Report: Tasks to End the Year

Whether your school’s still making up for a bunch of snow days or you’ve already been dismissed for the summer, we hope we can ease your brain a little bit with a straightforward list of tasks to do before your website goes to sleep.

  • Turn your site’s departing staff members into subscribers. Doing this retains all the great content those students produced this year but takes away their access to the backend of the website.

  • Run any available updates. Check to make sure your site is running the latest version of WordPress and your plugins are up-to-date as well. Doing this protects the site over the summer and gives you fewer updates to run when you get back.

  • Save a Snapshot of your site. It can’t hurt to save a Design Snapshot of the design of your site that you’re ending the year with, especially if you’re planning on testing out some design changes over the summer.

  • Departing adviser? Tell us. We’d love to welcome the new adviser to the SNO community in proper fashion. So if you’re leaving the job, notify us.

  • Put us to work. Summertime is the best time to order a SNO Site Review or SNO Site Overhaul. We’ll make it a summer project, and you’ll have a newly refurbished site or detailed written analysis ready to review when you get back.

  • Maybe think about a training. Our trainer conducts personalized hour-long virtual sessions for advisers, students, students and advisers, advisers and their pets — whatever. Think about when you want your incoming staff trained. Order a training session and schedule it whenever it makes sense, before the end of the year, during summer downtime or hold onto it until the fall.

  • Join us on the road. SNO will be at several regional summer workshops and you can be, too. See you there?

As always, we want to express our sincere appreciation for letting us build and support your websites this year. We hope you enjoy your summer break and we look forward to another great school year just around the corner.

Introducing Student News Source: The new mobile app for SNO customers

Several months ago we announced that we were working on a complete overhaul of our SNOMobile platform, and we asked for help in shaping the new app.

Over 100 SNO customers took the time to provide feedback, and here’s what they said: Make the new app seamlessly integrate with SNO websites, fill it with useful features like photo galleries, automated push notifications and story commenting, and above all else, make it affordable.

Today we are pleased to announce the launch the Student News Source app for SNO customers. Unlike our old platform that relied on individual apps that were expensive to build and difficult to support, the Source app functions as a hub of student journalism around the country. Think of it as the Apple News of student media. Users of the app can follow one or many journalism programs in one place.

The Source is full of features we think student journalists are going to love, and we’re excited to offer it for $250 a year as an add-on to a SNO website subscription.

Here are just a few of the features included in the first version of the Source:

  • Latest stories from your SNO website automatically added to the app
  • Design control from your WordPress dashboard

  • Push notifications by category

  • Photo galleries

  • Staff profiles

  • Story commenting

  • Video

  • Search

  • Social sharing

The app is available today in the iOS and Android app stores. And we have added several programs to it already to give everyone a sense of how it will work for their journalism team. Get out your mobile device and search for the Student News Source in the app stores to give it a trial run today.

By taking the entire development in-house and transitioning away from standalone apps, we’re able to continuously add new features to the app that all subscribers will benefit from. In the coming months, we’ll integrate SNO’s Sports Center tools in the app and add reporter-based push notifications, allowing users to receive a notification when their favorite writer publishes a new story.

Current SNO customers can fill out this form to add their program to the Student News Source app today.

The SNO Report: Meeting the SNO Developers

Noah and Travis are our two undercover guys. They lurk in the shadows (when their overhead desk light is off), living in the matrix, making sure your sites are up, running and doing all the things they’re supposed to be doing.

They automate this, app that… migrate this, maintenance that. None of it makes any sense to us Normals. Just say, “Thank you.”

Meet Noah, server and site technician

Q: Explain what you’re always doing behind those computer screens over there?
A: Everything from managing databases and servers to writing your favorite SNO Plugins.

How does one become a tech developer?
Years and years and years of watching YouTube videos and copying other people’s code from the internet.

Who beat who last time you played ping pong?
I won, obviously.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Play soccer and basketball, bow hunt, play guitar, and write code.

You can pitch one app to the App Gods. What’s your app?
An app that keeps track of all the food and ingredients that you have in your house and provides you with a list of recipes for meals that you can make.

If you could automate anything in the entire world, what would it be?
Working out … Nobody has time for that.

What’s the famous tech innovation idea you wish you’d come up with?
The Nokia cell phone.

So, what is the internet really?
A bunch of 1s and 0s floating through space.

You’re coders. What’s your code name?
Seicho (pronounced: Psycho)

Should we be concerned about robots?
Yes … Have you seen the movies!?

Favorite thing of all the things? 

Favorite OS?
Mobile: Android. Desktop: Linux.

Say something Minnesotan?
I’m from Wisconsin. I do not speak the native tongue.

Meet Travis, app developer

Q: Explain what you’re always doing behind those computer screens over there?
A: Working on building a new app platform that will give clients more fine-grained control over their mobile presence, and it will allow us (SNO) to control how everything works.

How does one become a tech developer?
Going to college for computer science is the most common route, but people can also self-teach themselves. Regardless of the approach, the most important thing is enjoying the learning process and being passionate about it.

Who beat who last time you played ping pong?
Noah beats me pretty much every time we play.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy being outdoors, camping, hiking, rock climbing.

You can pitch one app to the App Gods. What’s your app?
An augmented reality app that lets you see new furniture in your house before buying. One that actually works well!

If you could automate anything in the entire world, what would it be?
The laundry.

What’s the famous tech innovation idea you wish you’d come up with?
Uber. Being the largest ride-sharing/taxi service but not owning any vehicles. Genius.

So, what is the internet really?
A bunch of computers talking to each other, super, super fast.

You’re coders. What’s your code name?
I don’t have any particular “code name,” but I do have about 100 various usernames online for different things that I can never keep track of.

Should we be concerned about robots?
… maybe.

Favorite thing of all the things? 
When I spend a long time trying to solve a coding problem and finally figure it out.

Favorite OS?

Say something Minnesotan?
“It was 70 degrees on April 9 and I hear we are getting up to 20 inches of snow on April 11.”

The SNO Report: Eighteen SNO customer sites named Gold Crown winners by CSPA

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association announced its Gold Crown winners this week with 18 of 24 winners in online media categories coming from the SNO community.

The SNO winners are:

In Digital News:

Pathfinder, Parkway West High School (Ballwin, MO)

Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy (Las Vegas, NV)

The Red Ledger, Lovejoy High School (Lucas, TX)

Wingspan, Liberty High School (Frisco, TX)

In Hybrid News:

El Estoque, Monta Vista High School (Cupertino, CA)

Fenton InPrint, Fenton High School (Frenton, MI)

North Star, Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, MO)

Panther Prints, Plano East Senior High School (Plano, TX)

The A-Blast, Annandale High School (Annandale, VA)

The Black & White, Walt Whitman High School (Bethesda, MD)

The Broadview, Convent of the Sacred Heart High School (San Francisco, CA)

The Kirkwood Call, Kirkwood HIgh School (Kirkwood, MO)

The Muse, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts (West Palm Beach, FL)

The Newsstreak, Harrisonburg High School (Harrisonburg, VA)

The Rubicon, St. Paul Academy and Summit School (St. Paul, MN)

The Tam News, Tamalpais High School (Mill Valley, CA)

The Tom Tom, Antioch Community High School (Antioch, IL)

Tiger Times, Texas High School (Texarkana, TX)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

The SNO Report: Get to know the mobile homepage

SNO sites come completely mobile responsive out of the box, always have and always will, so you’re basically all set.

But depending on the size of your mobile audience, which you should assume is bigger than you imagine but that you can know for sure by studying your analytics, you may want to focus more attention on how your homepage looks on your phone.

That’s where the Widget Control Panel’s “Mobile Homepage” widget area comes in.

For example, maybe you’re one of the many sites featuring a SNO Story Grid widget of your best stories at the top of your desktop homepage. That’s really great, but you may not like the way it looks when you pull it up on your phone.

Just a hunch, but go check yours out.

That’s how it is for the order of everything else on your desktop view, too. You’ve built your homepage one way for a reason; commonly, for your readers to enjoy some version of a left-to-right reading experience. But on a phone, you don’t get three columns across the screen, nor widget areas with distinctly different widths (i.e. Full Width vs. Wide vs. Left, Center or Right). You get one column for your reader to thumb through, top to bottom.

In its responsiveness, SNO sites will stack your widgets vertically in the order in which the areas appear on the Widget Control Panel. So, whatever’s in Home Top Full Width gets put at the top, above anything in Home Top Wide. From there, Home Top Left, then Center, Right, and so on.

With that in mind, it’s important to think about what you’re hoping to prioritize. After all, if you’ve built a homepage where the most important pieces of content are presented horizontally, like Home Top Full Width, then Left, Center and Right, you’ll end up seeing everything you stacked into Home Top Left before anything in Home Top Center. Maybe there’s five lesser things under News in Home Top Left — those five will display first on a phone before your reader can ever get to what you wanted them to see next — the thing at the top of Home Top Center.

Is this making sense?

What’s also important to know: the mobile homepage is an all-or-nothing feature.

What we mean: the SNO Story Carousel looks much better than a SNO Story Grid on mobile, so maybe you’ll want to switch by adding a SNO Story Carousel widget to your Mobile Homepage widget area. But you cannot stop there. The first thing you add and keep in your Mobile Homepage area overrides everything else. So, if you only add that Carousel, that’s the only thing you’ll see the next time you view your site on a phone.

This is not to say that ignoring the Mobile Homepage area altogether makes your site unresponsive in some backwards universe. As we’ve said, it all works automatically. You don’t have to use the widget area at all.

Here are some publications that do. Can you reach your phone? Check out Rubicon OnlineThe MuseThe Kirkwood Call and HiLite.

  • Notice on Rubicon Online that their desktop carousel with a thumbnail navigation row underneath it is instead a carousel with text below it on mobile. Also, notice how they smartly show the Widget Title on that carousel, “Top Stories,” on mobile, to more concretely label it for their readers.
  • Notice on The Muse how they’ve reworked what takes priority on mobile vs. desktop. On desktop, a lot of real estate is devoted to Upcoming Events, Podcasts, their print issue, a poll, and a countdown. On mobile, they stick with Upcoming Events (high-value info) but then get straight into their content categories and that’s it.
  • Notice on The Kirkwood Call how they’re offering a totally unique reader experience on mobile. Their desktop homepage is so much more dense. Mobile includes Recent Posts, a Twitter feed, Trending Stories, and then the road ends. Perhaps their thinking here is that readers use their phone for quick updates; they’ll go to the desktop if they really want to engage in depth. They’re not wrong.
  • Notice on HiLite that their carousel on mobile gets labeled “Top Story” and includes text below the photos (both like Rubicon). It’s nice to be able to see the images, rather than displaying headlines on top of them. Then, they give their readers a ton from Recent Posts (like Kirkwood) before getting into their content categories with modern uniformity in the formatting of those (like Rubicon and Muse as well).

All of these mobile experiences were designed with the Mobile Homepage widget area. You can do it, too. You just have to commit.

Let us know how we can help.

The SNO Report: Story formatting no-nos

You know how on cop shows the detectives always show the crime scene photos to the person they believe to be the perp to see if it triggers a reaction?

Below, we’re going to show you a bunch of images of things that are wrong when formatting stories on your news site — little things you’d likely be called out for if applying for our Story Page Excellence badge.

These are things we’ve seen enough times to know they’re commonly overlooked. For fixes, follow the hyperlinks, when present, or instructions outlined for each one.

And now, the photos from the crime scene:

  1. THAT’S NOT A HEADLINE. It’s not even a good title. A headline should have a subject and verb and give the reader some representation of what the story is about. When using a title instead (something like “State Champs”), add a deck, or secondary, headline (the third to-do in Step 1 here) that keeps to the subject-verb best practice and keeps your reader in the know.

  1. NOBODY WINS THAT BATTLE. Hierarchy matters and it’s easy to control. When you have several forms of media for a story, pick one to dominate. The others are secondary. Is it a great photo, or is the video the essential part of the story? In Featured Image and Video Location options (look to Step 5), set one to “Above Story” and one to “Beside Story.” Assigning both to the top looks bad; I mean, I couldn’t even fit all of both pieces in my one screenshot.

  1. VIDEOS DON’T GO THERE. Use the custom field for Video Embed Codes (half of the write-up here), instead of adding it as media within the text area — frequently caught before or at the end of the story. Doing it the bad way, the video is never the width you need it to be and it creates a headache next to your Featured Image.

  1. LOST IN SPACE. Sometimes your site’s text editor will add an additional break between paragraphs when pasting your story into it. But just because it happens, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it. In each case, backspace from the beginning of the next paragraph. Or, for goodness sake, add the break. Neither style — extra breaks (first part of the picture) or “single-spaced” (second part) is doing you any favors. (P.S. Don’t indent the beginning of paragraphs either.)

  1. NOT SNO’S WAY. Yes, WordPress has its own pull-quote formatting tool built into the text editor. (You get there by clicking the quotation mark next to the alignment icons.) SNO’s pull quotes (by way of the “Add SNO Story Element” button) is the prettier version of it and gives you full control over the alignment, backgrounds and borders of it.

  1. DON’T STACK LIKE THAT. Imagine there were 10 more photos stacked below the two that are pictured. Yeesh! Avoid nonsensically stacking photos, one right above another, anywhere in your story. Instead, pick a couple to embed throughout the text, and then use the rest in a photo gallery. (Learn all about it here.)

  1. PICK A BETTER PLACE. The Related Stories box (another SNO Story Element) is a great tool to keep readers moving throughout your site — but maybe not at the bottom of the story, especially when it’s a tease to one or two stories. Such a small box should be highlighted higher up in the story. After all, what if the reader doesn’t finish the story in the first place? Catch them before they’re gone.

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.