‘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 http://libertywingspan.com.  

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.

Promote your yearbook with a website from SNO

Oh man, you guys. We can’t stop. First it was online newspapers, then it was lit mags. Now: yearbooks. Yep. We’re bringing you the digital platform for your yearbook program. With your brand new website, you can promote and advertiseyour book, and show off the incredible photography your team has been working on all year. It’s a great way to stir up excitement and to engage a broad audience both within the school, and in the community at large. You can even add a click-to-buy link to make your yearbook site a one-stop shop. Sweet, right? It’s not a replacement for the physical book–– you’ll still have that. It’s an enhancement. Check out some of the options you’d have at your fingertips:

Immersive Splash Page: Think of it–– you’ve got a great photo. We mean great. And you want everyone to see it. With the Immersive Splash Page, your audience will land on that exact photo when they visit your page. They can feast their eyes on your awesome picture, and when they’re ready, click through to the home page. And you can change the image on the splash page as much as you want, it’s super easy.

Showcase Carousel: When students (and their parents, and their grandparents, and their grandparents’ friends, and their grandparents’ friends’ book club) go to the site, they’ll be greeted with an appealing display of the yearbook staff’s best work. And the staff will have eight different Showcase Carousel configurations to choose from, so they can pick the perfect one to show off their work. Nice.

Photos, Photos, and MORE PHOTOS!!: We’ve got slideshows, we’ve got grid-style templates, we’ve got immersive long-form templates, we’ve even got widgets specially designed for videos, if that’s what you’re into. Yearbook staff are great photographers, and prolific ones. With a yearbook site, you’ll have a place to show off all those great photos that don’t make it into the book.

Tagging and Search: With all those photos, you’ll want to be able to identify all the beautiful and awesome student subjects. Our tagging feature makes it easy to pin a name to a photo, and the search function means that Grandma’s friend’s book club mate can look up that nice picture of Suzy and her Homecoming date. Boom.

Staff Profiles: You’ll also want to connect photographers and yearbook staff to their work: there’s a page for that. We have lots of design options for making your staff profiles super cool, and if you don’t believe me, check out this rad staff page. And staff profiles will link to photos on the site, so it’s like having an online portfolio, which is awesome.

Cool stuff, right? And it’s super easy to get started! Just contact us to learn more, or place an order, and we’ll get right to work.

Take a Minnesota SNO Day and improve your website

Join us for an intense workshop packed with training and designed to help you learn and immediately put into practice methods to improve your website. The entire SNO Team will be on hand to meet you where you are and take you to the next level.

When: Tuesday, Jan. 31 • 9:15 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Where: SNO Global HQ, Bloomington (2626 East 82nd Street, First Floor Conference Room)

Price: $150 per school team
One adviser plus one or two students. Add a student for $50.
Fees include refreshments and a pizza lunch for each person.
To assist with planning, please reserve your spot by Jan. 15.

This kind of SNO Day doesn’t involve bad weather. It’ll be nothing but useful information, experienced guidance and a chance to focus on your website without distractions. Oh, and we’ll have cookies and pizza for lunch.

The day’s group instruction will concentrate on showing you methods to keep your site fresh, manage the content on your home page, improve the look and utility of your story pages and how to pluck relevant information from your analytics to make decisions about coverage and promotion. You’ll have time to interact with other schools and to practice what you’ve learned.

End the day with a personalized critique just for your site from a member of the SNO Team, starting at 1 p.m. You’ll leave in time to beat traffic and return to school.

Register here: https://snosites.com/snoday/

The SNO Report: Fight the Fake

If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention, (and we know that you have, you newshounds, you) you know about the problem with fake news. It’s everywhere, with its salacious headlines and promises of shock and sensation. And now the entire nation is abuzz about fake news, as if it’s suddenly come into being. But fake news has been a thing for a long time. Think: The National Enquirer. Nobody ever really worried about it. But thanks to our beloved and ubiquitous social media networks, this election season proved that fake news can have real life ramifications, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. So the new challenge for journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students? Learning to recognize the fake news, analyze sources, and continue to promote journalistic integrity. It’s a tall order, taller than it has been in the past. Let us get you started:

What it is:

There’s the blatant stuff: totally fabricated, usually hosted by websites with credible-sounding names, and ones that don’t identify themselves as satirical. There’s clickbait: sensational headlines with lots of caps and punctuation and shocking or appealing photos, because you just have to know what caused that horrifying skin condition, right? Right?? But when you get there the content has nothing to do with the photo. And then there’s the sneaky stuff: half truths, misleading stories, speculations and “satire”, all shared online over and over again. For an illuminating take on how these stories go viral, consider this timeline of a speculative tweet that went viral, sparking a widely shared conspiracy theory right before the election.

How to recognize it:

Again, some of it’s obvious, some of it’s not. The important thing is to continue doing your due diligence, checking out sources, and consuming news with a critical eyes. But if you’re into lists, here’s one that delineates the hallmarks of news fakery.

How it spreads:

This one’s easy: social media. We’re uber connected right now, and we love to share, because everyone you know should get to read that one article you read, right? But there’s a major lesson here: sharing isn’t caring, not when it comes to dubious news. Investigate before you share, and try not to engage in reckless liking.

What to do about it:

Investigate. Think. Be critical. Demand facts and don’t accept sensation. And practice. Jonathan Rogers from Iowa City High put together a lesson plan about fake news, it’s pretty cool, and it’s right here.

The SNO Distinguished Sites Application Season Is Now Open!

Between now and May 31, 2017 you can (and really should) apply for any (or all) of the SNO Distinguished Sites badges representing six key components of a modern news website:


To earn this badge, a news staff must update their site regularly and demonstrate a commitment to timely online journalism.


To earn this badge, a news staff must customize their homepage beyond the initial SNO design with a clear sense of purpose for every element on the homepage.


To earn this badge, a news staff must submit eight fully-developed stories from the current school year that go beyond the text to enhance the reader’s experience.


This badge is automatically awarded to news staffs with at least three stories from this school year published on Best of SNO, a site dedicated to excellence in student journalism.


To earn this badge, a news staff must submit at least three videos and three slideshows published during the current school year that meet standards of excellence in multimedia production.


To earn this badge, a news staff must meet a minimum traffic threshold, use social media to engage their audience, and study analytics to measure their readership.

News staffs are welcome to tackle the badges in any order, striving to earn as many as makes sense for their publication. A site that earns all six badges will be awarded the honor of being a SNO Distinguished Site for the calendar year. In addition, Distinguished Sites will receive a certificate, a press release, and a letter will be sent to the school’s principal or PR department.

Last year, in the program’s third season, 102 sites piled up individual badges, with 27 programs earning the honor of Distinguished Site.

If you’re a new program and just starting out, you can use these standards to chart your course. If you’re an experienced program already doing these things, then what are you waiting for? Apply for your badges today.

Submissions will be accepted through May 31, 2017, and you can reapply as often as necessary. Badges will be published on our client list as soon as we review your site.

To learn more and to apply, please visit the the SNO Distinguished Sites page.