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.

The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Update

Oh, man. SNO Distinguished Sites submissions have kicked into high gear, and you guys are really bringing it. Last week, Knight Errant, The BluePrint, The Rider, and The Patriot all earned their places on the list of 2017 SNO Distinguished Sites.

And this week, The Lance and Central Digest each earned their fifth badge, putting them neck and neck for next Distinguished Site. Who will get there first? We can’t wait to see! Maybe it will be The Outlook, OHS Magnet, or The Black and White–– they’re all sitting pretty at four badges each. So exciting!

But let’s check back in with the whole reason for the Distinguished Sites program: yes, it’s cool to earn badges and a plaque and all that, but the real rewards of participating in the program are the skills your team will develop. By earning Distinguished Sites badges, staff members master best practices of online journalism, learn versatility in content creation, and flex their style muscles, all using the tools and support provided by SNO. And these habits have a way of sticking. So not only do Distinguished Sites get a nice, shiny plaque to hang on the wall each year, they get a nice, shiny, well put together website. And that’s a way bigger deal.

Check out the badge requirements for SNO Distinguished Sites–– they make really great guidelines for best practices, even if you’re not participating in the program (but you totally should, because who doesn’t want a great website AND a plaque?!).

‘The Best Teacher’–– Sue Skalicky on Teaching From Experience

It’s a temperate day in October and there’s a man standing in a pond, thigh deep in cold water. He’s a Dakota Access Pipeline security guard checking on equipment as protesters are being told to leave the north protester camp near Cannonball, North Dakota. The camp has just been shut down, and security is escorting protesters to the south camp on foot. It’s a volatile situation, and a scattered one. The guard, weapon in hand, flees to his vehicle when protesters chase him. Then, with police back-up more than a quarter mile up the road, he drives to the pond and walks in: an act of desperation, and one of fear. A handful of protesAL NEUHARTH FREE SPIRIT AND JOURNALISM CONFERENCEters drive his truck to the top of a hill and set it on fire. Before long, they’ll push another car into the flames, and light the prairie on fire, too. The guard will stand in the cold pond for nearly an hour and a half, watching the sky turn black with smoke. Probably, he’ll never forget this day. Neither, turns out, will Sue Skalicky.

Sue’s a journalism adviser at Legacy High School in Bismarck, North Dakota. She’s a journalist and a freelance writer and a mother of seven. She’s got a lot going on. So when she received an email from New York Times national desk editor, Mark Getzfred, she figured it was spam. But when she opened it and found a request for her services as a stringer at the DAPL protest, she got on the phone right away. Some paperwork, an ethics manual, and a last-period English class later, and Sue was on the road driving the forty miles to the protest, still wondering how the Times got her name in the first place.

At the protest site Sue drove right up to the front lines. Two hundred officers in riot gear stood shoulder to shoulder across Highway 1806, pressing protesters away from the North Camp one step at a time. There were no press passes to be had, but no one stopped Sue, either. She blended in with the protesters. Men dressed in all black wore face masks and rode in the back of pickup trucks, a dozen at a time. They held homemade weapons and shields at the ready. People threw homemade bombs. It was one of the worst days of the protest to date.

From her vantage point on the inside, Sue dashed off texts to a Times editor in Chicago, documenting everything she saw a couple hundred characters at a time.

“I always wondered how big newspapers like that got spot-on, immediate news. Well, they have stringers.”

Sue’s never worked as a stringer before. She’s been a journalism adviser for 12 years. Before that, she worked as a Features writer for a Wyoming weekly. Reporting from the DAPL protest was unlike anything she’d ever done. “What they hired me for mostly was observation. And so that’s the role I played,” Sue says.

The stand-off goes on past dark, with protestors building fires of scrap wood and any other available materials.

The day wore on and Sue watched as protesters covered a bridge with any wood they could find. At dusk, they lit the bridge on fire. From a dark hillside, surrounded by protesters, Sue watched the blaze. It was a scary place to be; when some protesters saw Sue take a photo, they demanded she give them her phone. All she could do was walk away. “I was a little naive,” she says, “I had to make some split second decisions, put my safety first.”

But she felt supported, she says, by the Times staff. “My safety was her main priority,” Sue says of one of the Chicago editors she worked with. “They said that to me several times throughout the day: ‘Are you safe?’”

Officers and protestors face off as the north protester camp is shut down near Cannonball, ND.

Sue stayed at the protest for seven hours, in constant contact with the editors in Chicago. The next morning, before class, Sue and the Chicago editor co-wrote the story over the phone. It was posted online in just hours and came out in print the next day.

“It was such a learning experience,” Sue says. And it’s one she brought back to her students. In class, they talk about reporting from the front line, safety, and ethics, and now they can use Sue’s experience to learn from, too. “As a teacher, it just gave me something to share with my students that will make their education that much richer. Life experience is the best teaching tool there is.”

These days, Sue’s back to her normal life. She’s grateful for the experience and it’s one she’ll never forget. She’s not worried about it going to her head, either; the editor at the Times made it clear that he hires stringers all the time and often never works with them again. He also told her that stringers rarely get a byline. But Sue? She got a byline. So there’s that.


The SNO Report: Distinguished Sites Update

It’s on. 2017 is in full swing, SNO’s Distinguished Sites program is open for business, and you guys are really bringing it this year. Badge submissions opened just two months ago, but already we’ve handed out 63. 63! Submissions are coming in all the time (like, literally all the time,) and we’re up to our elbows with great work to review.

Texas is killing it, with six different publications earning a total of 15 badges, and Frisco’s Liberty Wingspan claiming the honor of the first Distinguished Site of 2017 back in December. (And no big deal, but two, yes two, local Frisco papers ran the story of Wingspan’s big score, so they’re like, kind of famous now. Just sayin’.)

When it comes to individual schools with badges under their belt, Minnesota is claiming second place right now, with four publications earning badges. But it’s their neighbor to the south that snuck in to claim the title of second Distinguished Site of 2017: Iowa City West’sWest Side Story scooped up that honor yesterday, earning their sixth and final badge for the win. And we’ve got to assume the competition is fierce in Iowa City, because Iowa City High’s paper, The Little Hawk, tweeted this photo just last week:

And let’s not forget about our friends to the east: Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland all have papers with three or more badges right now. (Maryland’s got more than one, even. Blam.) Clearly, the competition is stiff.

So, are you ready to get into the game? It’s fun, it’s challenging, and, as Wingspan adviser Brian Higgins says: “Whether or not the goal is to become a SNO Distinguished Site, participation in the program will make for a better site.”

So there you go. Let’s see what you’ve got.

Ethics, Freedom of Expression and Mind-Boggling Brutality: this week on Fresh Powder

The Ethically Invisibile

Trauma is a thing. So is PTSD. Journalists witness and report on trauma everyday, and if they’re worth their salt, they do it ethically (though the handling of trauma reporting is a skill that is woefully under-taught, turns out). And journalistic integrity is upheld not only by journalists but by the people keeping an eye on them (which is everyone). So there’s a measureable degree of dissonance if we stop to consider that while we’re so busy keeping journalists ethical (and simultaneously demanding to know ALL THE THINGS), many journalists who witness trauma receive no support from the news outlets who buy their stories. We expect them to be there, on the scene, getting us the news, but then conveniently forget that journalists are people, too, and that even journalists can get PTSD. Like, duh. It’s time news outlets check their own ethics, and start supporting the reporters who keep them afloat.

The Freedom Fight

Most journalists and journalism advisers are going to run into the old problem at one point or another: censorship. A conservative school administration, a nervous publisher, censorship is a thing that’s not going away. And the naysayers won’t go away either; there will always be people who want to minimize the value of our right to freedom of expression. This is a fight for the bold, and it’s a tough one, but it’s one worth staying engaged in. Because if you don’t, who will?

Social Media Assault

It’s tough being the most popular kid on the block, and Facebook got that message (yet again) last week when four people in Chicago used Facebook Live to broadcast themselves torturing a man with special needs. It’s awful, stupid and disgustingly cruel, and unfortunately, it’s the nature of the live-streaming beast: Facebook Live can be used to broadcast anything. So what now? Last month Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft talked about creating a shared database to track and remove terrorist propaganda using digital fingerprints, but unless companies offering live-streaming video services also invest in diligent editors, the database might not be enough to keep this kind of thing from happening again. Facebook is all about innovation, but it looks like now it’s time to pay the ethical-responsibility piper.

But, Why Though?

While Facebook bangs it’s head against a wall trying to figure out the problem with live-streaming video service, we can scratch our own heads and wonder: why in the world would those kids commit such a terrible act in the first place, let alone stream it? How much of it was just that they could- that all they needed to do was open an app and the whole world could watch them torture someone? Would it have happened if there were no audience? Is this a matter of life imitating… access? Technology? What?? Whatever the rationale, it’s disturbing, and not ok.

This Also Happened: The Golden Globes happened, and Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech to call out the president-elect for mocking a disabled reporter. Then she she asked the press to safeguard the truth, especially in the face of the new administration. And that’s why we love her. Streep ‘20. But if award shows aren’t your thing and you just want a 2016 throwback hit from before things got really weird, here are some classic dog-or comparisons. Enjoy.

The SNO Report: New Year, New Features

Alright, it’s 2017 now. Everybody take a breath. You made it through last year, you kept it pretty much together, and you and your newspaper staff even managed to run a pretty killer online publication. From us to you: bravo. Seriously. You and your staff have big jobs and we admire the hard work you do generating awesome material and designing super cool sites.

We’ve been hard at work, too. It’s cold in Minnesota, but we’re keeping warm by coming up with new ideas and building new tools to help you make your site even more extra. We think you’ll like our brand new features, and we can’t wait to see what you do with them.

Custom Category Pages

You guys wanted more options for category page displays, and your wish is our command. Now you can customize category pages to your liking, and you can make a custom view for each category. Awesome. And what’s better than that? The new category page design options are widget-based –– any widget can go there. That means you can design each widget any way you want, and you can do it on every category page. And the widgets utilize a drag and drop interface, so changes are super easy to make. So cool. And one more thing: we added a carousel widget for category pages, so you can make them look just as bodacious as your home-page. You’re welcome.

New and Improved Slideshow

We know slideshows are awesome, and we just made SNO slideshows even better. Now, instead of remaining in a static location within your story and showing thumbnails, your slideshow will be interactive. Readers can click on the collection of photos, and a pop-out slideshow window will open automatically so readers can click through at their own pace. This format automatically sizes photos from within, so vertical pictures show up nicely even alongside horizontal ones, without changing the size of the window. And you get your choice of a dark or light background. Neato.

MORE Homepage Widget Areas!

No longer are you bound by prescribed Showcase Carousel or Teaser Bar aesthetics! With three new, full-width widget areas, you can customize your site even more than you already have. The new widget areas are located at the top, middle, and bottom of your page, and you can use as many or as few of them as you like. Use the same, super easy drag-and-drop interface you’re used to, and add any widget you want. Pair the new widget areas with the new carousel widget, and the design possibilities are out of this world.

Story Scroll Bar

Aka: “teasers galore.” The Story Scroll bar is a horizontal bar of thumbnail story suggestions, and you can apply it to the top of your homepage, or the bottom of your story pages, or neither, or both! It’s totally up to you. When you add it to story pages, it’ll appear at the bottom of a story when your reader scrolls up, suggesting more content based on category, tag, or writer. When you add it to the homepage, it acts as a mini-carousel in the header area, and it’ll grab your reader’s eye with story suggestions. Wherever you put it, you’ll have attractive thumbnail photos next to teaser text, and you can apply a light background or a dark one, whichever suits your fancy. You decide what to display, and you can change your mind as often as you want, no sweat.

Cool stuff, right? We thought so, too. To see the new features on your website today, simply click the Updates link in your FLEX dashboard and upgrade to version 6.7.  Need help upgrading, just drop us a line.

SNO recognizes Liberty Wingspan as a 2017 SNO Distinguished Site

Each year School Newspapers Online (SNO) offers student newspaper programs with outstanding online journalism the opportunity to apply to become a SNO Distinguished Site. This past month, the staff of Liberty High School’s publication, Wingspan, earned this status.

Before being awarded the title of SNO Distinguished Site, Wingspan earned online digital badges in the areas of site excellence, story page design, writing, multimedia, coverage, and audience engagement.

Representing what SNO sees as the six components of a modern news website, these six individual badges make up the SNO Distinguished Sites program.

SNO started the SNO Distinguished Sites program to eliminate ambiguity and delineate standards of excellence for an online student news site. Last year, 27 schools earned all of the badges and the honor of becoming a SNO Distinguished Site.

To see the outstanding work of the journalism staff of Wingspan, please visit  

The SNO Report: New Voices

Let’s start with the obvious: the first amendment is a vital component of our democracy. As Americans, we have protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Or, some of us do. Unfortunately, these basic rights aren’t universally applied, and it’s a problem for student journalists. Thanks to the precedent set by the 1988 Hazelwood decision (which ruled that a St. Louis high school student’s rights were not violated when they were censored by school administration) school journalism programs, students and advisers are operating in an environment that does not recognize students’ first amendment rights. Shockingly, the Hazelwood decision has even been applied to student journalism at the collegiate level. It’s a problem, and it’s got to stop. There’s a silver lining, though: people are paying attention, and there’s a movement afoot. It’s called New Voices, and it’s important.

What is it?

The New Voices Act is legislation that protects student freedom of expression within the school environment, and seeks to address and serve students journalists in three ways, all aimed at meeting the varying needs of student journalists at all levels. First, the Act seeks to restore the Tinker standards, which protect student speech so long as: “it’s not libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a ‘clear and present danger’ or a ‘material and substantial disruption’ of the school”. Secondly, the Act supports the protection of students at public colleges from becoming subject to Hazelwood-based rights violations. Finally, the Act would extend those same rights to protect college students at private schools.

Who are they?

Steve Listopad, Founder of New Voices, and Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, head up the New Voices movement. They’re taking it state by state, proposing legislation with the goal of earning protection for student rights. This October, the Society of Professional Journalists got behind the effort, too.

From an adviser’s POV:

Mitch Eden, journalism adviser at Kirkwood High School in Missouri who has testified twice in front of the Missouri Legislature, says New Voices is important because it would show students the value of their voice. Students, he says, learn and model civic action when they collaborate, evaluate, and communicate, and protecting their right to do so has to be paramount. Fortunately for Mitch and his newspaper staff, Kirkwood High administrators support student expression, but his advice for students and advisers facing administrative adversity is to seek help. “Any questioning of administrative policy must be student-led,” he says. “And it shouldn’t be combative. Student editors need to show administrators how they can be responsible journalists.” It’s good advice, and he’ll keep working to promote the campaign in the name of student rights.

What can I do about it, anyway?

Get involved. And get the kids involved. There are many ways to get into it, and if yours is a state that has already adopted legislation protecting student expression, awesome. Talk about it. Share it on social media. Put it on the radar of the people, not just journalism students and advisers. New Voices is gaining momentum and that’s because it’s important. We support New Voices, and we hope you do, too.