The SNO Report: Learn about the overhauled Widgets interface

Today, we’re releasing a FLEX theme update to all sites that includes immediate front-end redesigns of some widgets and a total rebuild to the Widget Control Panel editing interface.

Let’s talk about it.


The new editing and customization interface on the Widget Control Panel is designed to be easier to work with and make it easier to find options. It’s also been built to work seamlessly within WordPress’s Customize Live screen, which wasn’t the case in the past.

The Widget Control Panel may look mostly unchanged initially (but for some renamed widgets and a reorganized widgets list), but now when you click to edit a widget, you’ll see the new full-screen editing view. The new view removes distractions and presents your editing options in a clearer, easier to navigate space.

If you’re not getting the new view right away, try doing a hard refresh of your web browser or clear your cache. That should do the trick.

What’s changing immediately?

We’ve completely redesigned a few widgets in particular that hadn’t been touched for years. If you’re currently using any SNO sports (scores, schedules, standings), Trending Stories or Staff Profile widgets, you’ll notice these major changes right away.

Our sports widgets have taken on the biggest changes of the three and now can be customized with far more options than ever before.

Perhaps the best improvement to the SNO sports, Trending Stories and Staff Profile widgets is that they now can display content tiles side by side to maximize the space in wider areas. Better yet, they’ll automatically restructure into those column grids if you move any of them into the Wide or Full Width widget areas.

What might I notice later on?

Two widgets are being retired: SNO’s Video Category Display widget and the Display Stories by Tag widget. Though these widgets won’t be completely removed from your site until May 2021, they can no longer be edited. So you may enjoy them as they are, but we’d recommend you start replacing them before they just disappear.

They can be replaced with the SNO Story List widget (formerly SNO Category Display). The Story List widget incorporates the functionality of both deprecated ones. You can choose to display stories by tag (or still by category) and can display videos in place of Featured Images.

Tell me more about the Story List widget.

The SNO Story List widget is your new go-to as the SNO Category Display widget was. All we’ve done is rename it and give it a ton of awesome additional customization options.

Those category widgets that currently make up the majority of your homepage will not change today in a way that demands your attention or concern. Only after you edit them for the first time, after today’s update, and save their settings will it start displaying any differently on your website.

Given how important this widget is, it has had the largest overhaul. You can display stories horizontally in wide and full width areas in 1-5 columns and create dual format display areas. Photo dimensions will all be maintained in a uniform style within a widget, and you can set them to be horizontal, square or vertical.

Anything else?

Several widgets (Story List, Story Grid, Story Carousel) have nearly 100 different customization options to them. Many of those options will be hidden automatically, but each has an option to Show/Hide Advanced Options, enabling you to simplify or intensify your designing experience.

The default settings for each widget have been designed to look good automatically. By that we mean you can just drag and drop a new widget anywhere, set the category, and the widget will intuitively format itself to look nice in the allotted space.

You may also notice a simplification in the SNO Embed Code widget. Now, rather than tracking down a full iFrame embed code for social media, videos and audio, all you’ll need is the URL. Paste that in there and the widget will automatically display your Twitter feed, Spotify playlist, YouTube video or whatever else to a nice fit.

What if I have questions?

We understand you’ll probably have questions after this, no matter if it’s later today or three months from now when your next editor is sitting down for a site redesign. Don’t hesitate to ask us anything. Ask away. Or, catch one of our webinars today and tomorrow when we’ll be demoing the changes from this update.

The SNO Report: Communicating within FLOW

For FLOW to function at its best, communication is everything. That’s why it’s so important to create individual user accounts for your students on FLOW; that way, everyone is interconnected and easy to reach in the same space, and it ideally keeps everyone engaged knowing they each have a hand in the process.

So, in what ways is FLOW built to create seamless communication?

  1. Deadline Defaults and Default Checklists help you clearly communicate certain expectations. When is the rough draft of a story due? Do photographers need to upload at least three images for each of their assignments? Setting these defaults builds them automatically into new assignments so that when a student clicks on it, the deadlines and checklists of expectations are right there, clear as a blue sky.
  2. Notes and Messaging within an assignment are ways of communicating with the students involved in each assignment. Click on the talking bubble icon in an assignment window, send a message and everyone attached to that story will get a notification. Notes don’t generate notifications, but they’re clearly displayed in a fixed box on the right side of the overlay window.
  3. Email Notifications can be turned on and off for each user in their account settings. You can do whatever you want, but it’s better when they’re turned on — it’s one more way to set up automatic notifications when someone’s attention is needed on an assignment.
  4. The FLOW App is a free companion product to your desktop experience and another way of extending your reach further. As long as your students have downloaded the app, logged in and turned app notifications on, their phone will buzz or ping, or both, when their attention is needed on an assignment or when someone sends them a message.
  5. On the desktop, anyone who’s currently logged in should pay attention to their notifications in the top right corner of the dashboard. The mail icon will show them when they have a message. The bell icon will show them when they’ve been assigned something or had an assignment submitted to them.
  6. The Message Board feature is relatively new. It can be found by the mail icon that’s in the blue toolbar on the left side of the desktop dashboard, and it looks a lot like Slack. There, users can create Direct Messages with other users and Channels for larger group communication, like a channel for your editors. Advisers, or admins of the account, can see everything that’s going on in the channels and DMs on the message board.

That’s a lot of ways to communicate, we know. But, especially in these times, having one place where everyone’s able to stay connected is so important.

The SNO Report: Customize your Source App homepage

The GIF on the right demonstrates our latest update to The Source app, an effort to give you more options to personalize the way your publication looks when your subscribers open it up.

First, let’s remember how it used to work.

When a subscriber opened your publication on the app, the “Home” screen they found was a story feed from the first category in your Mobile App Menu. For many, it was News — commonly the first category in those menus. Others took control over the automation in the only way they could — moving a category to the top of the menu when its stories were what they wanted people to see first. LHS Today (pictured) had done this with COVID-19 coverage. Smart.

Our latest update improves your control over which categories (note: categories, plural) show up on the home screen, making it all much more seamless.

  • By default, your home screen will now show the five most recent stories from each of the first three categories in your Mobile App Menu.
  • Or, you take control. In “Source App Options” on your site’s dashboard, scroll down to “Home Page Options” and select any three categories to display on the homepage and the order they should be in. (Important: The options listed are based on the categories in your Mobile App Menu. So, got a new category? Remember to add it to your Mobile App Menu.)

You also have the option of setting a List Style for the home screen, which can be different or the same as your Recent and category feeds on the app.

You can see all of this demonstrated in the GIF at the top of this email.

  • Entertainment, Opinion and Sports categories are displayed on the home screen in the “Small Thumbnail” list style.
  • When navigating to the News category (or any others), the list style changes to the “Alternating Small & Large” thumbnail view.

If you prefer the old way, turn on the Legacy Home Screen. Our developers are always looking for ways to help you further personalize your corner of the app. We hope this helps make it possible.

Congratulations to SNO’s Pacemaker and Gold Crown winners!

In the last week, the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) and Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) announced their annual award winners. We are pleased to congratulate the 14 Online Pacemakers and 26 Gold Crown winners that are part of the SNO community.

The winning sites are listed alphabetically below, including their award(s) received in parenthesis:

  • Coppell Student Media, Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas (NSPA, CSPA)
  • Echo, St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park, Minn. (NSPA)
  • Fenton InPrint, Fenton High School, Fenton, Mich. (CSPA)
  • FHN Today, Francis Howell North High School, Saint Charles, Mo. (CSPA)
  • Granite Bay Today, Granite Bay High School, Granite Bay, Calif. (CSPA)
  • Harker Aquila, The Harker School, San Jose, Calif. (CSPA)
  • HHS Media, Harrisonburg High School, Harrisonburg, Va. (CSPA)
  • HiLite, Carmel High School, Carmel, Ind. (NSPA)
  • Knight Errant, Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park, Minn. (NSPA)
  • Manual RedEye, duPont Manual High School, Louisville, Ky. (CSPA)
  • Mill Valley News, Mill Valley High School, Shawnee, Kansas. (NSPA)
  • Pathfinder, Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo. (CSPA)
  • Rubicon Online, St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn. (NSPA, CSPA)
  • Scot Scoop, Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif. (NSPA)
  • Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, Nevada. (NSPA, CSPA)
  • The Black & White, Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md. (CSPA)
  • The Broadview, Convent of the Sacred Heart High School, San Francisco, Calif. (CSPA)
  • The Communicator, Community High School, Ann Arbor, Mich. (CSPA)
  • The Featherduster, Westlake High School, Westlake, Texas. (CSPA)
  • The Foothill Dragon Press, Foothill Technology High School, Ventura, Calif. (CSPA)
  • The Hawkeye, Mountlake Terrace High School, Mountlake Terrace, Wash. (NSPA)
  • The Highlander, McLean High School, McLean, Va. (CSPA)
  • The Kirkwood Call, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo. (NSPA)
  • The Muse, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of Arts, West Palm Beach, Fla. (CSPA)
  • The Review, St. John’s School, Houston, Texas. (CSPA)
  • The Rider Online, Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas. (CSPA)
  • The Shakerite, Shaker Heights High School, Shaker Heights, Ohio. (CSPA)
  • The Shield, McCallum High School, Austin, Texas. (NSPA)
  • The Southerner, Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, Ga. (CSPA)
  • The Standard, The American School in London, London, U.K. (CSPA)
  • The Tam News, Tamalpais High School, Mill Valley, Calif. (CSPA)
  • Tiger Times, Texas High School, Texarkana, Texas. (CSPA)
  • tjToday, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va. (CSPA)
  • U-High Midway, University of Chicago Laboratory High School, Chicago, Ill. (NSPA)
  • Wayland Student Press Network, Wayland High School, Wayland, Mass. (NSPA)
  • Wingspan, Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas. (NSPA, CSPA)

Congratulations to the advisers and staffs of these terrific programs.

The SNO Report: Have the Source app? Tell your readers.

You serve a vital role in keeping your school community informed. When you can’t do it in person, your website and social media pages become more important than ever. Beyond that, we have two mobile apps, the Student News Source for scholastic programs and the College News Source for college publications, to help you reach your readers where they are: on their phones.

Whether you’re already set up on the app or want to take advantage of our free extended trial, the next step once you’re on it is, of course, letting your readers know.

You need to train your readers to find you (and, from then on, their news) on the app. For them, it’s as easy as install, search, subscribe. But who’s going to download an app if they don’t know about it? Below, we’ve come up with a few ways for you to tell your readers you’re there.

  • Campaign like crazy. Make a list of all the places, besides your website, where your readers are connected to you. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email? Everything that makes your list gets a post about the app, and not just one post. Hit the trail hard.
  • Talk about it. Tell the people you’re with in quarantine about the app. Then, spread the word virtually. Text your friends about it. Talk about it on your next Zoom call.
  • Advertise. Use numerous visual cues to get your readers’ attention. Put an ad about the app on your website homepage and story pages. Put it on category pages, if you can. Use it as an image for a self-promotional post on social media. Use the ad at the top of this email or pick from the file folder sent to you when you sign up.
  • Write a story about it. It’s OK to write a story about a change in your publication, like the fact that you’re on a mobile app. Write a story that tells your readers what to download and how to find you, and reminds them to subscribe.

The SNO Report: SNO Distinguished Sites submission deadline changed

We’ll be honest. When we sent out our last Distinguished Sites email update back in February, the possibility of being thrust into the midst of a global pandemic wasn’t really on our radar. Suffice to say, we recognize that your publication program has probably been undergoing some pretty big structural changes lately, so we’re making some changes on our end to help accommodate that.

First, due to the impact that the Coronavirus is having on schools across the globe, we have decided to extend the SNO Distinguished Sites program through the end of May. Therefore, the new deadline for all badge submissions is May 31.

We also realize that many schools are closed, and subsequently, that your students may not have access to equipment that they typically would — something that is particularly challenging when it comes to earning the Multimedia Badge.

That being said, while none of the actual badge requirements are changing, it is fine to use video and audio interviews that are recorded over Skype or any other online platform in the content that you submit to us. Although the shots won’t be as pretty, and the audio won’t be as clear, our reviewers are keeping these circumstances in mind.

Despite these challenging times that we’re all currently facing, we want to continue to encourage your students to reach for that Distinguished Site status. So far, 37 schools have earned this distinction, many within the past few weeks. It can be done.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let us know.

The SNO Report: Don’t fall for these scams!

Texting “STOP” is not 100 percent effective. Often, it isn’t even an option — such is the case for the three scams our customers ask us about most. So today, we thought we’d take a few minutes to bring to light these scams and what to do about them.

Guest Post or Link

The scam: You receive an email from someone asking to place an article or link on your student news site in exchange for payment. It’s an SEO scam. The details about the payment and content of the article are usually vague on purpose, or left out altogether, in an attempt to get a response out of you. The email itself is written either in an overly formal way or in robotic, broken English — a hallmark of these email scams.

What to do: Nothing. Do not respond.

Domain Expiration Letter

The scam: A company called Domain Registry of America is sending letters to domain owners telling them that their domain is about to expire, and all they have to do is sign the letter and send in a check for roughly $80. This is not a courtesy, nor is it about a renewal. What this company is really after is a transfer in ownership of your domain. They want it, and they want you to pay them to take it. (Read more about it here.)

What to do: Do not respond; do not send them any money. Contact SNO Support to verify that we have the domain registered or we’ll help you locate it.

Threat of Legal Action

The scam: You receive a letter, email or phone call from a law firm threatening to sue you for using a copyrighted image by a photographer they represent. To avoid a lawsuit, they’ll tell you, your school just needs to make a payment of roughly $2,000. These threats are likely being made by companies that have designed software to scan the internet for these images, so it’s likely then someone on your staff may have used a copyrighted image. (Read more about it here.)

What to do: You should take down the image from your website, for sure, because you should have read our advice on avoiding copyright infringement, but don’t immediately engage with the company. Consult with the SPLC or your school’s attorney first, before paying anyone anything.

It’s important to exercise caution with anything like these scams and good to practice messaging awareness. If it sounds weird, looks weird or makes you feel weird, chances are it’s weird.

If you’re not sure, it’s OK to ask. Maybe we’ve seen it before. Just ask us.

The SNO Report: Developing a News Digest

The earliest news digests were cave paintings. Newspapers? Humongous news digests.?Post Reports,?the?Washington Post?podcast, is an audible news digest for your morning commute.?NextDraft, from Dave Pell, is a news digest landing in your email every afternoon.?Fresh Powder, from us? The?best?news digest. The?magazine your city sends you four times a year… you’re really going to make us say it?

News digests come in all shapes and sizes?but are the same at their core. They roundup the news and make it more easily digestible.

Some are interview-based, others are all business. One adds a level of quirky commentary that can’t be found anywhere else, others aren’t written by us.

Do you have one?

Before you answer that, ask yourself, “How can we say we’re curating our news for a generation of readers with shorter attention spans and higher click rates than ever before, if we don’t?”

Here are five examples?of news digests you can copy (three written, one emailed, the other spoken):

Wayland Student Press Network

In case you miss them, news editor Meredith Prince summarizes the top stories of each week, but makes sure the readers get a small taste of everything. That’s why the blurbs are organized neatly into News, Sports, Features, A&E and Multimedia sections. As is the core function of a publication’s news digest, she takes the whole website and shrinks it. A skilled, concise writer, Meredith leads readers into stories with her reporters as the subjects of her writing, incorporating clean hyperlinks and, at times, more than one plug within a single paragraph.

The Daily Eastern News

Written by editor-in-chief JJ Bullock, here’s a news digest that wastes no ink. It’s five things. It’s everyday. It’s just the news; by that I mean it’s just the facts. What did they do? When is the event? What was the score? Where’s the link to the story? Therein lies one of the luxuries of the college paper: Each nugget is tied to a story the?DEN?published.

The Poynter Report

Delivering a digestible summation of the news is a challenge. Adding commentary and perspective that expands upon that news is quite another. But when you’re doing it daily and for as long as Tom Jones has been, you’re going to develop a unique voice and deep knowledge of history that enables you to accomplish both.

The Rider Online

Fittingly titled “The Round Up,” this almost-weekly podcast threads together the top local news in a flash. No episode is longer than five minutes — few are longer than four — but there’s so much packed into them. Each episode is well-written and confidently narrated, in that nothing feels rushed through, and the added external soundbites from interviews are a perfect bonus. By?The Rider Online, this an excellent, succinct example of a news briefing to play while you wait for your morning coffee to finish brewing.

The Booster Redux

If you want to retain your readers, don’t count on them coming back to your website unprompted. Don’t even count on them spotting your one tweet in their sea of a thousand others. Meet them in their inbox.?The Booster Redux’s?email is eye-catching yet easy, combining excellent art, bold headlines and bolder click-through buttons. Click, click.

The SNO Report: SNO Distinguished Sites update

Although it’s only mid-February, the deadline to apply for our six SNO Distinguished Sites badges is quickly approaching. So, before your spring calendar becomes consumed with end-of-the-year exams, celebrations, and other obligations, it’s wise to have a plan in place if you’re vying to reach “Distinguished” status.

To help you out, we’re answering your FAQs and compiling all of the essential information you’ll want to keep in mind over the coming weeks so you can proudly display that?SNO Distinguished Site emblem?on your website and?the plaque in your classroom?for the world to see.

Wait, what is the SNO Distinguished Sites recognition program again?

The?SNO Distinguished Sites recognition program?gives news staffs six standards to help their publications excel online. As each standard is met, that site is awarded a badge on the?SNO client list. If a site earns all six badges, it is awarded the honor of being named a SNO Distinguished Site. Plus, it’s free to participate for all SNO customers of any level.

Why should we participate? What’s in it for us?

At SNO, we want to do all that we can to help you succeed online. The six badges we created as part of the program, formed around journalistic best practices, are meant to do just that.

Whether your website is brand new this year or has been around for a while, we invite you to apply for those badges that highlight your site’s strengths, while working to achieve the others. Complacency can be a curse, so our badges can help re-focus and motivate your staff as well.

If your staff is more motivated by tangible incentives, SNO Distinguished Site recipients also receive a press release, letter to the principal or PR department and a plaque to honor their achievements.

How much longer do I have to apply for the badges?

The application period for 2019-20 closes on April 30. There is no limit to the number of times that a site can apply for an individual badge before the deadline. So far,?200 sites?have received at least one badge, and?20 schools?have achieved Distinguished Site status.

How can I apply for a badge?

Thanks to the work of our savvy developers, it’s now easier than ever to apply for a badge, to track the badges you’ve earned, and to see which areas you’re still working towards.

Simply login to your website and look for the SNO Badges section in your SNO Dashboard. Click on the badge you wish to apply for, review the guidelines, fill out the required fields, hit “Submit,” and voilá, you’re up and running!

Make sure to periodically check back in on your submissions as well so you don’t miss notifications from our awards coordinator.

What badge requirements are tripping people up so far?

Out of the six badges you can earn, the three that we’ve seen staffs commonly struggling with this year are for Story Page Excellence, Excellence in Writing, and Multimedia. Here are some helpful tips for each one.

Story Page Excellence:?Although you can click the “Long Form Container” button and create a simple long-form story, technically that’s not how that template was intended to be used. In other words, we want to see that you know how to attach chapter stories to it and really maximize its potential. The same goes for the Side by Side and Grid templates — ?they’re nothing without their corresponding chapter stories.

Here are some resources on?how to construct each of those templates?on your website, as well as?ideas on how to utilize them?to get started.

Excellence in Writing:?The only way to earn this badge is to have at least three stories published on?Best of SNO. However, it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. So far this year, we’ve reviewed close to 12,500 stories and have published about 15 percent of them (about 2,000 total). Suffice to say, the writing needs to be top-notch.

Check out our?publication tips?to improve your chances of getting published, and our?past Best of SNO newsletters?to get a better idea of the types of content our reviewers are looking for.

Multimedia:?Without a doubt, the Multimedia badge has been the most challenging one for staffs to earn because, to be honest, we’re picky about the submissions. Sure, anyone can record or take photos of an event and upload it online, but we want a bit more refinement.

We’re looking for?slideshows?that display visual variation and have substantive captions. We want to see?videos?that contain at least two interviews and are more than just raw footage. We want to hear interview-based?podcasts?that avoid copyrighted music and contain a formal intro and outro. (Pro tip: the?multimedia category on Best of SNO?is a good place to gauge if your content fits the bill.)

Now what?

Time to get going! Last year, there were 49 Distinguished Sites total. This year we want to top that. And as always, if you have any questions or issues, don’t hesitate to?let us know.

The SNO Report: What are the rules for using photos you find online?

The Super Bowl just ended. Your staff is writing a little story about it and want a photo. Knowing what they’ve been taught about copyright laws, your staff is cautious. What can they do?

For a photo from Sunday’s big game, the options are extremely limited.

— If you subscribe to a wire service (AP, Getty, Reuters, USA Today), you’re probably set. But those services are?seriously?expensive.

— Getty Images offers?free access to its entire library via embeds, which is nice but isn’t as perfect as it sounds. This allows you to embed a photo into the text of your article, but that’s not a Featured Image and you have no control over the size that photo displays at in the story.

— Email is a long shot but if you’re a local school in Kansas City or the Bay Area reaching out to a local photographer employed by the local paper, it’s worth a shot.

— A?Google search for images?from the game (images specifically labeled for reuse)?will turn up only a few images of a football field from this decade, and none of this year’s game.

The point is, it’s hard to get your hands on?those?photos. But that’s not the case for everything.

Chances are, the photos you’re using come from one of three sources: a member of your staff, a submission, or an internet search. Let’s focus on that last one: the internet. What are the rules for using photos you find online?

Saving images from Google searches or other websites and republishing them on your website is illegal.?Potentially, your publication would be liable to pay compensatory damages to the copyright holder; in fact, there are companies with the sole mission of finding these illegal uses and threatening lawsuits. You don’t want that. Just because you see a photo in a Google image search doesn’t mean it’s the world’s to use, so don’t tempt yourself.

Specify rules for your Google image search so that the only images it turns up are ones you can use. From the image search results page, click on “Tools,” then “Usage Rights,” then “Labeled for Reuse.” These are the photos you’re allowed to use.

If those searches don’t give you enough options, we’d suggest visiting the?Creative Commons?or?Wikipedia Commons, both large databases of free and legal photos you can republish.

One big exception to these rules is photos for reviews of movies, music or TV. Under copyright law, these on-screen stills and promotional posters are free to use. Websites for those movies, musicians and TV shows may also have press kits — images from those are also free.

No matter what, writing a photo credit for each one you’re putting on your site is the next step. You still need to identify your source. So, if it’s a musician’s album cover, credit the record label. Be clear that you’re using it with permission from the local photographer or the Commons.

Exercise caution during your image searches. Take the appropriate steps to avoid legal trouble. If you don’t know, ask, but always credit where credit is due.