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:

Fifty-two SNO customer sites named Crown Award hybrid finalists

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association recently released the list of 2018 Crown Award finalists for publications using a hybrid format, and 52 members of the SNO community have been named finalists.

Crown Awards are given for overall excellence in student news publication. Hybrid publications earn finalist ranking by achieving excellence in both online and print formats and are judged in head-to-head comparison. Judges consider design, photography, concept, coverage, and writing.

The list of finalists will be divided into publications earning a Silver Crown and those earning a Gold Crown. Final results will be announced at the CSPA ceremonies in March.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. Here are the 52 SNO customers that have been named finalists:

High School Hybrid General Magazines

High School Hybrid Literary, Literary/Arts Magazines

Middle School Hybrid News

  • Digit |, Gorzycki Middle School, Austin, TX

High School Hybrid News

Middle School Digitals

  • Canyon Chronicle |, Cactus Canyon Junior High School, Apache Junction, AZ

High School Digitals

The SNO Report: Going in-depth on graduation gowns, private schools, startups and more: last month on Best of SNO

October was a loaded month for Best of SNO. While the other kids at school were out trick-or-treating, student journalists were going deep on interesting topics. The investigative team at Simpson College looked into the enrollment challenges of private schools. A change in graduation traditions caused a stir, original thinkers started projects of their own, and our Assignment Desk topic, Protests in Sports, yielded interesting returns. These are some of the best stories of October, written and submitted by students just like yours:

Go big or go home: Private colleges fight waning enrollment, Jetstream Staff, Simpson College
“The competition is stiff, and we’re all competing for a shrinking slice of the pie.”

Cam High to change more than 50 years of tradition with graduation gownsChloe Schicker, Adolfo Camarillo High School
“It is not about gender equality as much as it is about being respectful to everybody’s choice to select a gender or not select a gender, and we have students who choose not to.”

Senior creates community service projectEliza Benyaminova, Mayfield High School
“Haircuts for Care provides women and children in shelters with a way to feel confident and empowered.”

Let’s talk business: Student starts fashion companyNeelansh Bute, Marquette High School
“He created his fashion apparel company, Maestro, in October 2016, in the comfort of his own home, while sick with the flu.”

Standing up — or sitting or kneeling — for what’s rightStaff Reports, Watertown High School
“They are standing up for the right that people have died for, but as long as they don’t turn their back, I have no issue with it.”

Read more great stories like these on the Best of SNO high school and collegeeditions.

Assignment Desk: Everyone’s writing articles, and Best of SNO’s here to recognize the good ones. But this year, we want to see who’s doing more than that and still doing great work. Consider this our first push.

This month’s topic: Multimedia. Send us your best video stories and photo galleries, all of which should align with our requirements for the SNO Distinguished Sites Multimedia Badge. (That’s our primary requirement). These should be interesting. Videos shouldn’t be news broadcasts or two minutes of raw footage spliced together. They should be interview based… multiple camera angles… B-roll… you know the drill. Photos shouldn’t be blurry or pixelated, they should have captions and credits. Also, don’t send us any gallery larger than 15 photos.

We know these will be different to submit than a story. For videos, there’s your usual area for the embed code. For galleries, paste your link in the Body Text space. For both, attach a Featured Image and give it a headline and byline.

Any submission without all these elements, will not be considered.

And, as always, categorize it as Assignment Desk in the dropdown menu of the form.

Good luck!

SNO Report: Mark your calendars! SNO Distinguished Sites season is coming

So you’ve had a couple months now to get reacquainted to your online publication.

Your new staffers are trained. You’ve got recent stories up, new photo galleries displayed. You’ve submitted to Best of SNO. You’ve made a few design upgrades. You’ve read every SNO Report and incorporated each lesson into your day-to-day operations.

You’ve played in a big pile of leaves. You went to the Homecoming dance and didn’t spill anything on your dress. Your fantasy football team was a bust. (Dude, mine, too.)

But your website doesn’t have to be! Coming Monday, Nov. 6, we’re reopening our SNO Distinguished Sites awards program.

We recognized 28 student publications as Distinguished Sites (the granddaddy of them all) last year and awarded 90 sites and total of 268 badges. Don’t miss out on getting your piece of the pie this time. Once it’s open, you can apply for any of six badges as many times as it takes until you get our stamp of approval. Earn all six, and you’re a SNO Distinguished Site.

Here’s a rundown of what those six badges are:

Continuous Coverage: We want to see you doing frequent and sustained reporting — crucial to being a valuable online resource for your readers. So we’re looking at how you develop a story over time, what you do to follow up a story, and how quickly you post updates following an event (hint: within two days).

Story Page Excellence: Combing over our recent SNO Reports will help you out here, but essentially we’re looking for story pages that aren’t messy or error-ridden, that use SNO Story Elements and use our different story templates appropriately.

Excellence in Writing: Some of you eager beavers have already earned this little guy. If you’ve submitted to Best of SNO this year and been published three or more times, you’re in.

Multimedia: It’s no help to have well-written articles with this one. Nope. We’re looking at your videos and photo slideshows, and judging how well done they are based on length, quality, interest level and other such things.

Audience Engagement: For this, we’re measuring how popular your site is and judging your social media footprint. The two aren’t unrelated.

Site Excellence: How’s your homepage looking? You must have customized your site beyond the preset design you got in the beginning (no matter how long ago or recent that was), and that customization should look good. There’s a 23-step guide that breaks down exactly what we’re looking at for you to earn this badge.

For more in-depth explanations of the requirements, and to start applying on Nov. 6, see the Distinguished Sites page of your website.

Good luck!

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.”