Midterm Election Coverage on Best of SNO

OK, we concede. You guys are good!

We asked you to get out there and cover your local elections. Your response? Overwhelming. You had it covered from all angles, so much so that we’ve re-published close to 30 stories so far and still have more to review — and more being sent in.

Thank you for the outstanding response to this first Assignment Desk prompt of the school year. You should be proud of yourselves. It was difficult to choose, but these are some of the best stories on the topic, written and submitted by students just like yours.

Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke talks politics with CPHS Newsby Deana Trautz, Cedar Park High School

“While she was quickly jotting down questions on her phone, O’Rourke tried to get to know Mick by asking about her plans after high school. ‘He paid attention to what I had shared with him (and that made) me feel valued as a person.’”

Georgia governor’s race undecided as Democrats gain in the U.S. Houseby Joe Earles, George Lefkowicz, Dana Richie, Ellie Winer and Sam Huray, Henry W. Grady High School

“It’s troubling because Kemp was Secretary of State, so any broken voting machines or voter suppression looks bad on him.”

20-year-old runs for school board, by Sophie RylandMcCallum High School

“Zachary Price burst into Thunderbird Cafe, out of breath, in a crisply-ironed purple shirt and black blazer. The 20-year old had just come from a lecture, and to all observers he seemed like a normal college student.”

Democrats hope to pass new policies after the Midterms, by Liam Lee, Woodside High School

“At Woodside, a reassuring theme among students and staff alike was a hope that the midterms will bring positive change for issues that continue to plague the country.”

Will SCCC students vote in midterms? by Michelle Mattich, Seward County Community College

“Yet with the governor’s race being so close, young voters could make a massive difference — if they show up. Both liberals and conservatives are calling on them to do so.”

Read more great stories like these on Best of SNO.

And now … you’re next Assignment Desk topic: California Wildfires.

Rule No. 1: This is not a permission slip to put yourself or others in danger with irresponsible, on-the-ground reporting. Be smart.

Although this topic may give California schools a home-field advantage, other schools around the country should push themselves to find a local angle. When it comes to reporting on national stories, we preach localize, localize, localize at Best of SNO.

Dig into it. See what’s there. Good luck!

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!

SNO launches podcast all about journalism

Introducing SNOcast, a new weekly podcast series featuring conversations with journalism teachers, students and working professionals. We’ll discuss journalism best practices, lessons from being out in the field and everything in between.

In the beginning, we’ll also share our experiences and learned tricks, like those of anyone else, of going through the trials and errors of starting, producing and publishing a podcast, so that you, too, can explore this popular medium.

On the first episode, we sit down with former Echo (St. Louis Park High School) student newspaper editor Annabella Strathman for a discussion about creating a successful staff structure, including what it looked like for her publication, who answers to whom, which roles are responsible for what, and why separating print and online doesn’t work.

The podcast will be available wherever you get yours, so please subscribe, follow, favorite, or bookmark us, and make sure you don’t miss an episode.

SNO recognizes 27 student publications as SNO Distinguished Sites for 2017-18

At five years old, there’s more diversity than before in the SNO Distinguished Sitesprogram. Five student publications were welcomed to the winners’ circle for the first time, one of which was an early adopter of SNO (way back in 2010) and another which migrated over to SNO not even six months ago.

All 27 staffs receiving the recognition this year could tell a different story of how they got there, whether it’s their first time, over again, or after missing it for any number of years.

There was the early adopter, El Cid, of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, which improved from earning three badges a year ago to collecting all six this time.

There was the eager beaver, The Shield Online, of McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, which signed up at SNO’s table during the November convention, received an NSPA Online Pacemaker during the spring convention and earned the last badge they needed to take home SNO Distinguished Site hardware soon after.

All of them followed the same rules, subjected to the same list of requirements essential to building and maintaining a modern news site.

Riley Hetherington, the editor-in-chief of El Cid, was, like the other six members of the staff, in journalism for the first time. But no matter, adviser Chris Grazier made earning SNO badges a goal and Hetherington obliged.

“The constant motivation to reach our goal definitely improved the behind the scenes,” Hetherington said. “It felt like we had a purpose in completing our deadlines. The Best of SNO awards were a huge goal for our staff writers, and it pushed all of us to strive for better story ideas and (to) value quality of quantity.”

Beyond Best of SNO, the badges changed the way the El Cid staff prepared for publishing.

“Once the goal was on our radar, achieving it influenced both our schedule and content,” Hetherington said. “During our story pitch sessions, badges were definitely on our mind as we attempted to create articles that would fit in the requirements.”

Sophie Ryland, web editor-in-chief of The Shield Online, was partly excited by migrating their site over to SNO because of the Distinguished Sites program. “DW (adviser David Winter) and I are naturally very competitive people, so when we saw the badge system, we were very excited to win some,” she said.

But Ryland also viewed the badges as instructive building blocks for a staff on a new platform.

“Seeing the guidelines, there were some on features I hadn’t even thought about,” Ryland said, pointing to the custom favicon requirement for the Site Excellence badge. “It definitely gave us some guidance in terms of how to further develop our website and the stories on it.”

All SNO sites started with similar beginnings to The Shield Online, but not all were as proactive.

Jessica Wagner, of Owatonna High School in Owatonna, Minn., remembered her first year advising OHS Magnet, when she was still trying to find her footing and not fully confident her staff should participate in the Distinguished Sites program.

“I ignored the details in the emails until about March because I was just starting to figure out what it meant to advise a newspaper versus teach a class,” Wagner said of the 2013-14 school year. “We applied for a few badges that first year. We were such a small staff, we were delighted by anything that made it seem like we were figuring it out.

“The staff really started to grow leaps and bounds, especially when we were told, ‘No, you didn’t achieve the badge you applied for and this is why,’” Wagner continued, “The feedback for my staff was so perfect. All of a sudden, they understood what they needed to do. We did earn some badges (that year), but it made my returning kids put it as the goal for the next year.”

It’s been a goal every year since, she said, and OHS Magnet has been a SNO Distinguished Sites every year since — four years running.

OHS Magnet didn’t earn all six badges that first year — the first of SNO’s recognition program. The Kirkwood Call, of Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Mo., was one of the schools that nailed them all right away.

Kirkwood has had a SNO Distinguished Site all five years — a model of consistency — but web editor Maddie Hawes said they continue to find new ways to put the badges to work.

“After a while, it seems like no one can really give you constructive criticism on how to improve your publication’s site,” Hawes said. “But with the badges, you realize there are legitimate changes to be made that will strengthen your site.

“I think this is true for every site, each year, especially when new staffers come in and things change,” Hawes added, “SNO badges remind you and your staff that your website can be better and push you to pursue that goal.”

Whether it means inviting new staffers in or involving carryovers from years past, the consensus of those interviewed said the best way for a staff to achieve its goals in the Distinguished Sites program is to make it as inclusive as possible.

It’s ripe with opportunity to do so.

“I think because we chose to divide the badges between all kinds of staffers, not just web-oriented ones, is why our site was so successful this year,” Hawes said. “A publication’s website is significantly (more) difficult to run when a portion of your staff doesn’t appreciate it or fails to see its value, and the SNO Distinguished Sites program shows people your website deserves credit.”

In total, 117 sites from 32 states earned badges.

This year’s complete list of SNO Distinguished Sites:

Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Penn.); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City, Iowa); Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Ca.); The BluePrint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood, Mo.); The Red & Black (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, N.Y.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); The Leaf(Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); Pathfinder(Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.); OHS Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); The Central Digest (Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Periscope (Carlisle Area High School, Carlisle, Penn.); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); El Cid (Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, Ca.); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, N.J.); Farmers’ Harvest (Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas); The Rider (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); The Shield Online (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); The Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.).

The 2019 SNO Distinguished Sites program schedule will be announced in the fall with the submission period beginning in the winter.

Seventeen SNO sites awarded Pacemaker by NSPA

The National Scholastic Press Association announced its top awards for scholastic press organization Saturday, April 14. We are pleased to share that 17 of the 22 Online Pacemaker Award winners are members of the SNO community.

Those winning sites are:

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

Sixteen SNO customer sites named Gold Crown winners by CSPA

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association announced its top awards for scholastic press publications on March 16, 2018. We are pleased to announce that sixteen SNO customer websites were named Gold Crown winners in digital categories.

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

  • Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Wingspan, Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas

Fouteen 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.

Twenty-eight SNO customer sites named NSPA Online Pacemaker Award Finalists

Of the 42 finalists for the Online Pacemaker Award from the National Scholastic Press Association 28 websites are in the SNO network.

Fourteen SNO sites were recognized in the large school division:

Fourteen SNO sites were recognized in the small school division:

We’re tremendously proud of these outstanding programs.

Winners will be announced at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism convention April 12-14 in San Francisco.

The SNO Report: See the long form story page template in action

Year after year, the Story Page Excellence badge (one of the six you need to earn SNO Distinguished Site status, for which you can enter here) proves elusive to even the best newspaper staffs. Why? More often than not, it’s about the long form template.

Eventually, it clicks for everyone and they earn the badge. Just your luck, we’ve spotted a few long form templates out in the wild that are excellent, that you can use as helpful references. 

From West Side Story, Iowa City West H.S.

A group of reporters set out to tell, “The stories of foreign students finding a new home in the United States.” It makes for a good example of using the long form template to string together a few separate, in-depth interviews about the same type of experience into one long feature — and you can use the Long Form template to establish clear separation between sections.

They’ve created a super-clean, consistent design on the page. They threw a changeup using vertical featured images for each Long Form Chapter and it really makes the page pop. Each “chapter” is consistently put together — each with a large featured image, a second photo embedded, one pull quote and a related stories box. Each section has a different related story suggestion — drive that traffic!

Low key, theirs is also a good example of when you can get away with not displaying the primary featured image on the story page.

From The Harbinger, Algonquin Regional H.S.

Writing about “Vape Culture,” as this article is titled, is trending this school year. We’ve seen a lot of different versions of the same story — especially coming through the Best of SNO log — but this one really makes an impact because of its appearance and all the extras.

Notice how they’ve utilized the Long Form options from the SNO Design Options page, which allows you to put this story page template against a different colored background (off-black, in this case) than other stories. It goes really well with the lead photo, too.

The variations in text color, style and size makes the page pop, too. They’re using sidebars at an expert level, so well that there’s no sense that other photos are needed, as you’d traditionally hope for, to break up all that text. This example is pretty striking.

From The Sunflower, Wichita State University

It’s another excellent example of a story fitting the template, with staffers of The Sunflower reviewing a chain of events related to the university threatening to take away its funding because of its displeasure with stories the staff has covered. Content-wise, it’s a statement as to why journalism is important.

It’s separated into chapters, each with several headings within them to separate parts of that section, and it utilizes a good opening introduction in the Long Form Container — a good way to use that part of the template.

Also, notice the custom graphic they created for the series. There’s a lesson in it: When at first there’s not an obvious photo to get, create a graphic.

Think you have a good example the long form usage? Share it with the SNO community here.

The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Updates

On Liberty High School’s Wingspan staff, there are reporters and photographers, editors and producers, and Samantha O’Brien.

O’Brien’s in the corporate office, so to speak. Though she isn’t on the ground floor turning ideas into fully-realized, published content online, she’s upstairs, as she says, “ensuring the staff is awarded for their hard work.” She’s the Contest and Competition Coordinator.

Within a month of the SNO Distinguished Sites program being open for applications, O’Brien had Wingspan locked in as the year’s first distinguished site.

Delegating a single staff member, whether its a top editor or creating a totally separate position, to navigate awards season on behalf of everyone else… sounds like a pretty good idea, huh?

As O’Brien sees it, she’s an extension of an adviser or whoever would normally be in charge of applying for awards on staffs at other schools.

“My role is pretty easy compared to the others on the staff who bust out articles and updates on the daily, however, I do believe I play a pretty important role,” O’Brien said. “My adviser, Brian Higgins, already takes on so much with newspaper and broadcast, and it’s been nice to be able to help him out by taking over part of entering articles into contests and staying on top of those deadlines.”

It’s no throw away job. O’Brien has to stay plugged in to what’s being published, as she pretty much has free rein over which stories to enter into contests.

Relative to the SNO Distinguished Sites program, it makes applying for Excellence in Writing, Multimedia and Continuous Coverage easy — she knows the criteria and can grab any content that matches.

She’ll keep an eye on the site’s analytics to earn the Audience Engagement badge, and she helps the staff move toward Site and Story Page Excellence — the latter of which she says the staff knowingly plans content for.

“The newspaper staff is already very hard working and impressive to me,” O’Brien said, “and being able to strive towards certain awards and titles pushes them even further.”

It was the staff’s goal to achieve Distinguished Site status as soon as possible. Mission accomplished. Now, Wingspan can carry that title with them throughout the last half of the school year.

SNO Distinguished Sites program is free for all SNO customers and is still in full swing, until April 30. Here’s a bit about how it went during the first couple months:

  • Wingspan is the first, and so far only SNO Distinguished Site of the 2017-2018 school year. Another school in Texas is the next closest to getting there — The Rider Online, of Mansfield Legacy High School, has earned five of six badges needed

  • California is the state with the most schools in play — 6 having earned at least one distinction, with Scot Scoop News, at Carlmont High School, leading (4)

  • 70 total badges have been awarded so far — in 20 states, to 38 schools

Get recognized. Submit now.

The SNO Report: Students Covering St. Louis Protests

On the morning of Sept. 15, former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder charges stemming from a 2011 high-speed chase that resulted in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Shades of the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Mo., which also was sparked by a white officer’s acquittal of the death of a black man, the Sept. 15 verdict got the St. Louis community’s blood boiling again — a feeling that penetrated school walls. Student journalists were there to cover what happened next.

These are their stories…

Nick Einig had every reason to be happy. He knew there was a school assembly scheduled the morning of Sept. 15, a Friday, and he knew it was going to be a rewarding one.

De Smet Jesuit High School had reached its fundraising goal, so the school would be granting its students an additional day off as a thank you.

That was the planned announcement. The students were excited for it. It was an “uplifting and happy kind of atmosphere,” Einig said.

Then, the school’s president stood up to speak and a hush came over the crowd. That wasn’t planned, but, behind the scenes, faculty and staff had been monitoring the trial for a while and sensed a verdict was coming down the pike that day. When it did, faculty and staff, like Kevin Berns, adviser to The Mirror, De Smet Jesuit’s student newspaper, took a “very serious” approach to the assembly, compared to the students.

“The whole issue of race relations in St. Louis and even in our school … there’s a growing need to understand a relate to all parts of our school population,” Berns said. “That gave the school an opportunity to take a step back and just talk. We weren’t judging. We weren’t coming to a conclusion. We were trying to be proactive and say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on. Let’s talk about it.’ ”

So, talk they did. The assembly broke out into smaller, grade-level groups for more personal conversations about what happened. Knowing the schedule of those meetings, Berns told Einig where he could possibly go and when.

Einig was reluctant to take the story assignment at first.

“I knew it had to be done, so I took it,” Einig said. “So I stepped into some of these meetings. The kids that were speaking, they talked about how their morning was and it seemed like it really affected them in a bad way. … said things like, ‘My parents were crying in the morning,’ or, ‘I considered not coming to school.’ ”

 From there, Einig pinpointed possible interviewees. He ran into some resistance on approach.
 
“To some students, I was told to screw off, ‘Why are you even doing this?’ and talking to teachers about this and told to go somewhere else,” Einig said.

Even with those who agreed to be interviewed, Einig sensed some uneasiness. It was clear, he said, people were treading lightly, trying to avoid saying something irresponsible.

Einig had the story published online later that same day, with the headline “Students react to verdict in Stockley trial.” And a reactionary story was exactly what his story became. He wanted to write a simple reaction story — here’s what happened, here’s what people are saying about it. It hit. Online, Einig said it had almost six times as many views as the staff’s average.

“It was a topic that people cared about,” Einig said.

Then, the staff talked about what to do next.

“Nick even said, ‘Should we go downtown? Should we get into the protests?’,” Berns said. “We know some other schools around town did. I was a little hesitant to throw guys into that. Some would argue that’s real life, a good experience to do. I didn’t feel like we had a clear enough reason from our school perspective to get involved. The protests were 30 minutes away from us. We didn’t have much connection.”

The feeling was different at Clayton High School.

There, The Globe staff was in a heat of a print deadline week, but reporter Noah Brown and photographer Michael Melinger wanted to go see what was happening downtown.

They drove to the epicenter after school and “walked around for 30 minutes around downtown, when the protests started,” Brown said.

“We get down there and we’re walking and walking,” Melinger said. “We finally walk up there and you’ve got cops on both sides, protests in the middle. It really escalated right from that point. We saw it when it was calm and then when it got out of hand.”

Although Melinger brought his camera along, there was no real plan to cover the protests. But after seeing what was going on, plans had to change.

“We had our issue sketched out and planned,” Brown said.

The Globe adviser Erin Castellano said, “We didn’t really exactly know what they’d come back with. At least photos we’d run in some capacity. I wasn’t sure what or who they’d be able to talk to and what kind of sources they’d get.”

Added Brown: “I went home like, ‘I have no clue how I’m going to write this.’ We did no formal interviews while I was down there — just observed what was going on.”

Noah followed up. He and Michael returned the next day to the Central West End neighborhood, where protests had reached the night before. They went to the mayor’s house, which had been vandalized, and then they started talking to local business owners and other people in the area.

“That’s when we knew there was a story to be told here,” Brown said. “We made space in the paper and published it late Saturday night.”

Brown was a freshman when senior reporters of The Globe staff covered the protests in Ferguson. He learned from watching them do it, and this became his Ferguson.

“These are stories that we can tell,” Brown said. “We talked to Clayton students that were very involved in the protests and even got arrested on one of the nights. This stuff can hit closer to home than we realize.”

The protests in Ferguson, in 2014, became a big part of the reporting done by Richard Pfeifer for The Kirkwood Call at Kirkwood High School.

Pfeifer got a CNN alert on his phone during his second-hour class, which said what the verdict was. No more than a minute later, Pfeifer texted his editors, asking to do the reaction story.

“I remember the rest of that period, I was restless,” Pfeifer said. “I started typing up a brief for it. I didn’t go to my third-hour (class).”

Checking his Instagram that night, Pfeifer saw something going around that called for a student walkout, much like one from 2014.

Pfeifer, who is in his first year on staff, talked to the classmates he knew were leading the walkout and the school’s principal to get his reaction to the students’ plan. On Sept. 18, his story went up online.

“The editors were super involved with trying to coach me how to cover a big thing like this,” Pfeifer said. “This was my first really big, big thing.”

Click to read the students’ stories below: