SNO Adviser Profile: John Vitti

John Vitti was only trying to help his then-elementary school-aged daughter with her essay. Write about your favorite day, the assignment demanded.

“A person of any age wants to be correct,” Vitti said. “The hard part about writing is there’s 85 different versions of correct.

“She didn’t know what to put in. You need some description, a lead, who, what, where, when. I realized I was talking about journalism. You’ve gotta come with a big bag of information and you have to cherry pick what you’re going to use. That’s hard.”

But it may not be so hard if she, or anyone else, had more practice at it, Vitti thought.

So, he approached the administration at Cunniff Elementary School, in Watertown, Mass., about starting a newspaper for the students, pre-K through fifth grade, in December 2007. Out of it came Cunniff Kids News, a platform for anyone interested in any topic to practice writing with a purpose. Their skill level didn’t matter. It would better prepare them for the future.

“If a kid wrote more, and then had their book report, college application, you don’t have to like it but you can lump it out and muscle through it,” Vitti said. “If we’re on a boat and all fall overboard in a lake, I don’t need you to be Michael Phelps, but I need you to be able to swim to shore. The more you do it, the better you are at it.

“If we had a paper, then that gives a kid a reason to write, an audience, a deadline, a format.”

Eleven years later, Vitti’s advising three separate student newspapers in the Boston area — Cunniff Kids News, Watertown Splash (Watertown Middle School), The Raider Times (Watertown High School) — the last of which, at the high school, he took over five years ago. He oversees about 275 kids pre-K through 12th grade.

He also recently earned his teaching certification, allowing him to teach a real journalism class daily at the high school, whereas his other two programs are extra-curriculars.

Plus, he continues to work as a copy editor and page designer at the Boston Globe, where he’s worked since 1999.

What he’s learned, especially with his youngest students, is that having a newspaper to write for has been big educationally.

“You have kids of all ages who can learn about things they’re interested in, with a real reason to,” Vitti said. “In a history class, you’re gonna learn about 1776, the Civil War, whatever, but you won’t have a reason to meet Hillary Clinton or the lady running for city council.

“You can if you’re in newspaper. You can write about food, movies, fashion, dress code, Black Lives Matter, whatever you want to write about.”

And having those newspapers online unlocks an even broader range of topics to write about because the audience could be so much larger.

“If I have a third-grader who really likes dogs, well, heck yeah, let’s do a poll on who’s got what pet, let’s do a story about the vet around the corner with an animal shelter, let’s do a story on Puppy Bowl,” Vitti said.

It’s teaching them, Vitti said, how to talk to people, how to present themselves, the value of different types of questions, of being nice, of spelling names correctly. It’s teaching them skills in editing, photography, design, writing and websites.

That seemed like all the right reasons to get into it in the first place.

“Because I could,” Vitti said, “and because it seemed ridiculously worthwhile.”

SNO Report: Advanced story pages in action

We know you’re spending a bunch of time thinking about how your homepage looks. We get it. It’s your front page. You want to pull it up and be proud of it. You also want your readers to like it enough to come back, to spend some free time perusing.

But the real challenge in becoming an exceptionally designed news site is in how you take care of your story pages — not only the words on the page, but what’s around those words. That’s why we give you options with Story Page Templates — the Non-Home Sidebar, Full Width and Side Rails versions of which you’re probably pretty familiar. (Either the Sidebar or Full Width layout can be set as your default in SNO Design Options.)

If you want to look real good — like, going-to-Senior-Prom good — you’ll use the advanced layouts on occasion (i.e. when applicable for a type or length of story).

We’re talking about the Side-by-Side, Grid and Long Form templates, which can be selected in the same area of your Edit Story screen you select the other template options.

These take a little more work to build.

You need to plan for them, which is why we have Online and Web Editors on our staffs.

Then, you need to execute it, and that can be confusing without practice. It involves creating a Container Story, which is what’s going to show up on your site, and then attaching separate Chapter “stories” to it and leaving those Chapters “Uncategorized.” There’s great information about templates here, and even more helpful guides about building them herehere and, oh yeah, here. Go slow your first few times through it.

It helps to see them in action, too, to understand when to use them. So, here you go…

Side-by-Side
by Peninsula Outlook, Peninsula HIgh School

Ideas for using this template should come pretty easy. All you’re doing is presenting naturally paired content side by side, like the Peninsula Outlook has done to showcase reviews of The Martian — the book, then the movie. Another clear use for this: Pro/Con columns or any kind of opposing viewpoints.

Here, the Peninsula Outlook built a Container Story featuring only a Featured Image and main headline. It gets you right into the two reviews, each a Chapter Story featuring a photo and several pull quotes. They also ensured the two stories were similar in length to create a nice, balanced page — strive to do that as well.

Grid
by Clark Chronicle, Clark Magnet High School

The way to do a “Humans of Clark” series (but your school’s version) is split, it seems. Some publish stories within a category for it. Others do what the Clark Chronicle did here. And it makes good use of the Grid template!

All they did was create a Container Story — in this case, it’s only the headline — and then continually add Chapter Stories (or “Humans”) to it throughout the year. With nice feature images of each person and your black background Color Overrides on, you get a pretty slick photo grid to show off your series.

These grids are packages, collecting similar stories. They’re not photo galleries. Each photo on the grid links to a live story. So, use it for a “Best of” showcase at the end of the year, package together all your Homecoming content into one space. You could also do something like this other school did.

Long Form
by Pathfinder, Parkway West High School

This is one, big, in-depth story — or, in Pathfinder’s case, a kind of running reporter journal that turns into a good feature piece.

As a running journal, they attached further Chapter stories to their Container (the top and first part of the article) consistently. They incorporate tons of graphics to really make this piece stand out, including the top Immersive Image and several other photos.

If you have a multi-part feature story (maybe one with several subheads or chapters within the story), this template is for you. Some use only the Container, just to get the Immersive Image feature. You can, too, but that won’t get you points when you’re applying for the SNO Distinguished Sites Story Page Excellence Badge later this year.

Using all three of these templates appropriately is required for you to earn that Story Page Excellence Badge. That’s right — you can earn a badge for knowing and using this stuff. That’ll just get you one step closer to becoming a SNO Distinguished Site.

Do you have your own great examples of the SNO story page templates in action? Share them here.

And now, one last thing…

Are you attending any fall journalism conferences over the next couple months? We are, too. We’ll be teaching and mingling. Here’s where you could find us:

  • October 10: MHSPA, Minnesota

  • October 13: KEMPA, Wisconsin

  • October 19: CSMA J Day, Colorado

  • October 25-27: ACP/CMA, Dallas, Texas

  • October 26: IHSPA, Iowa

  • November 15-18: NSPA/JEA, Dallas, Texas

New wrinkles to Best of SNO

Starting today, it’s open season for Best of SNO submissions.

Wait! Stop! Don’t leave!

Before we lose 98 percent of you rushing to the site we’re promoting from that opening sentence alone, let us first warn you — you’re going to notice some big changes.

The first will occur to you as soon as you get there. BestofSNO.com isn’t the catch-all site it used to be. It’s something better — a shiny new launch pad to take you to one of two Best of SNO sites now accepting new content.

Best of SNO H.S. Edition is the site you’ve always known, though with a slick makeover. (Pause, while I pat myself on the back).

Best of SNO College Edition operates all the same, except for one obvious difference: the name. Best of SNO U is the new and exclusive club for student journalists at colleges and universities to submit work that will be judged against other reporters, photographers, and videographers at their level.

This year, we really wanted to bring all of those non-writers into the equation like never before. So, we’re encouraging students across the entire SNO realm to submit exceptional individual photos and videos as well, showcasing the great multimedia work you’re doing.

Finally, a challenge. Each month, we’ll be putting out a bat signal for submissions relating to a specific topic or theme (coverage of the solar eclipse, for example). You send us a story you’ve already written about that month’s topic or theme, or maybe you use it as a story prompt to write something new, and we’ll collect the best content and feature it in on the Best of SNO homepage. We’re calling it the Assignment Desk.

This month’s topic: Hurricane Coverage.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have affected millions of people in communities all across the country. For weeks, journalists have been on the ground sharing stories about everything that happened before, during and after the devastating weather events. Share with us your coverage about your community, and come back at the end of the month to see a sampling of the great work student journalists have done.

SNO recognizes 27 student publications as SNO Distinguished Sites for 2016-2017

Finishing its fourth awards season, the SNO Distinguished Sites program continues to grow — this year, by 10. Of 27 student publications to earn the distinction during the 2016-2017 school year, 10 newcomers cracked the award winners list.

Each school earned the title after being awarded six badges equating to what SNO considers essential components of a successful, modern news site — excellence in writing, multimedia, continuous coverage, audience engagement, story page design, and overall website design.

Overall, 89 sites received 266 badges. SNO received more than 400 submissions.

It gave the staff of West Side Story, at Iowa City West High School, reason to celebrate. Earning top recognition for the first time, adviser Sara Whittaker said she felt the process “empowered” her leaders in the newsroom.

“I loved the program, especially how transparent it is and how it serves as a sort of checklist for good journalism,” Whittaker said.

The publication’s web staff formed teams to work toward obtaining individual badges.

“It was empowering for editors to be in charge of obtaining a certain badge,” she said, “and motivating to all of us to work towards a clear goal.”

Many advisers, like Whittaker, say they continue to use it as a teaching tool.

The staff of The Clark Chronicle, at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, Ca., and its adviser, Christopher Davis, earned its second consecutive distinguished site honor.

“I’d like to think that my high school students become better journalists and online content providers because of what I teach them,” Davis said. “I have come to understand that SNO’s approach to online news website hosting encourages student journalists to strive towards excellence. Their distinguished sites program sets high standards for all aspects of an online news site.

“My job then becomes to provide students with the criteria SNO has established and to help them achieve those high standards during the course of the school year.”

Kirkwood High School adviser Mitch Eden and the staff of The Kirkwood Call have collected all six badges each year of the program’s existence. Year after year, his staff continues to build off of what it has already accomplished.

“It’s significant for The Kirkwood Call staff because it equates to sustained excellence. To meet all the requirements, the staff must run our media website at optimal level for months,” Eden said. “The program is designed to get staffs to improve all phases of their digital media and that, in turn, benefits the audience, the staff and website.

“I believe it is designed to make programs better.”

This year’s list of SNO Distinguished Sites newcomers:

Farmers’ Harvest (Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas); The Eagle’s Eye (Akins High School, Austin, Texas); The Central Digest (Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Leaf (Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The Red & Black (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, N.Y.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); Pathfinder (Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City, Iowa); and The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.).

And capping off another school year as SNO Distinguished Sites:

Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Ca.); Clark Chronicle (Clark Magnet High School, La Crescenta, Ca.); The Little Hawk (Iowa City High School, Iowa City, Iowa); The Patriot (John Carroll School, Bel Air, Md.); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); The Lantern (Cannon Falls High School, Cannon Falls, Minn.); Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, N.J.); The BluePrint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Rider (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); The Bear Facts (Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School, Orange, Texas); and The Outlook (Peninsula High School, Gig Harbor, Wa.).

The 2018 SNO Distinguished Sites program schedule will be announced in the fall with the submission period beginning in the winter.

The SNO Report: Best of Best of SNO

Oh man, we’re already in the homestretch of the 2016/17 academic year. That means that even though the breezes are getting warmer, you’re probably just trying not to pull your hair out as finals bring the school year to a close. And, it means we’ve got nine full months of killer Best of SNO publications to look back on. So what better time than now to share some of our favorite Best of SNO stories from this year? To the Best of Best writers and staff mentioned below: a huge bravo. To any reader using this email as a welcome distraction from studying/grading/stress eating: you’re welcome. To those of you who were published in Best of SNO this year, but don’t see your name on the list: don’t worry, we love your work, but we’d have you here for days if we listed ALL the stories that stand out.

So, without further delay, we present the 2016-2017 Best of Best of SNO.

Best Local Coverage:
Kearsley students from Flint still struggle with their water – Katelyn Elumbaugh, Kearsley High School

Best Human Interest Story:
Student project gives homeless a chance to show their world  – Ma’ayan Waldman, Shalhevet High School 

Best Continuous Coverage:

Best Localized News Coverage:
EpiPen Cost Inflation Causes Conflict Among Consumers – Izza Choudhry  Southern Lehigh High School

Best Breaking Coverage:
Day after encampment sweep, refugees return to central Paris – Allegra Knox and Tailor Liedtke, American School of Paris

Best Niche Interest Story:
Tautology Club bonds over one quirky interest – Manar Ansari, St. John’s School

Best Students Are People Too Story:
The affected – Katie Judd, Kirkwood High School

Best Teachers Are People Too Story:
The story of a miracle – Fenna Semken, Iowa City West High School

Most Likely To Make An Adult SNO Employee Go “Huh”:
REALITY CHECK: So-called ‘finsta’ accounts bring a different view of teen life to Instagram –Hannah Jannol, Shalhevet High School

Best Local Health Coverage:
Battling Cancer: Three students share journeys – Pearl Sun Walt Whitman High School

Best Niche Sports Coverage:
Art and fun in the form of parkour Arman Antonyan, Anderson W. Clark Magnet High School

Best National Health Coverage:
Three viruses, one mosquito – Harsimran Makkad, Sycamore High School

Best Political Coverage:
Presidential election sparks a week of mixed reactions from BSM students – Leo Driessen and Grace Gyolai, Benilde-St. Margaret’s

Best Killer-Creative Topic:
T-Shirt Epidemic – Amelia Vanyo, Coppell High School

Best Story About Writing:
On the Way to 50K: Discover the author inside yourself during NaNoWriMo –Elizabeth Anderson, Linganore High School

Best Community Editorial:
Column: Mental health in the South Asian community – Nimat Hossain, Lewisville High School  

Best Student Profile:
In the Middle: A Refugee’s Journey From Congo to Iowa – Molly Liu and Nova Meurice, City High School

Best Local Entertainment Profile:
Rock Stars of K-Park Emily Humble, Sarah Martell, Kylee Wing, Kingwood Park High School

Most Heartwarming Story:
Community helps senior reunite with mother – Grace Mottley and Caroline Cooney, The John Carroll School

We hope you enjoy reading the Best of the Best of SNO stories as much as we did. And hey! We’re still reading, so keep sending us your stuff. We can’t wait to read it.

The SNO Report: Get ready for a summer SNO storm

This summer, SNO is taking the show on the road to deliver SNO-centric digital media training at regional workshops throughout the country. Check out our summer schedule, make plans for you or your staff members to join us on tour, and get your frequent flyer miles ready, because summer is SNO season.

Our workshop sessions are designed to help you grasp the creative power you have over your SNO site and use it to transform your publication. We’ll cover all the basics, and get into the advanced tools that’ll help you take your site to the next level. You’ll get the most up-to-date education on SNO’s latest features (you trendy kid, you!), learn how to study analytics, and master best practices for the web and social media.

Can’t make it to a workshop? That’s OK. Order a personalized SNO Training session and we’ll come to you, virtually.

Better yet, host a SNO Day for member schools in your area, and we’ll come to you, personally. (Check out how it worked this spring in St. Louis.) SNO Days are all about your publication; think of it as your close-up. We’ll bring the expertise, you bring the willingness to learn. At your SNO Day, we’ll go over the latest SNO features, and you’ll get hands-on instruction along with live, expert advice. Nice.

Want to know more, or interested in hosting a SNO Day at your school? Get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you.

SNO Special Assignment: WaPo Call for Student Coverage

Ok. This is a big one. Congress is on April recess, and the Washington Post wants to know what members are telling their constituents back home. In an effort to hold public officials accountable, they’re fact checking the Congress kids.

That’s where your kids come in. SNO reached out to WaPo to suggest that we put the word out to the hard-hitting student journalists in the SNO network. And they bit. They’re totally into it, actually, and they’re just as stoked as we are to work student journalists.

So here’s how to get involved: send some kids out to a local town hall meeting or two and have them report on it. WaPo is most interested in audio and video recordings, so students will need to include one in every submission. When they’ve got a report put together, they can submit here. It’s an awesome way to promote civic engagement and journalism, and it’s a total bonus if WaPo wants to use it. Win win win.

Alright, you’ve got your assignment, now get after it; WaPo is eager to hear from the SNO Patrol.

Twelve SNO customer sites awarded the Pacemaker by NSPA

On Saturday, April 8, 2017 the National Scholastic Press Association announced its top awards for scholastic press organizations.  We are pleased to share that 12 of the 17 Online Pacemaker Award winners are members of the SNO community.

The winning sites are:

Congratulations to the advisers and staffs of these tremendous programs.  For a complete list of winners, please visit the NSPA website.

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.

Nine SNO customer sites named Gold Crown winners by CSPA

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association announced its top awards for scholastic press publications on March 17, 2017. We are pleased to announce that nine SNO customer websites were named Gold Crown winners in digital categories.

Four SNO customers were awarded Gold Crowns in the digital division:

Five SNO customers were awarded Gold Crowns in the hybrid division:

Congratulations to the advisers and staffs of these tremendous programs. For a complete list of Gold and Silver Crown winners, please visit the CSPA website.