With the announcement earlier this year that MY.HSJ will be shutting down Sept. 15, we at JEA Digital Media wanted to take a look at some of the other website hosting options out there for staffs. This is one post, in a series, that will look at different hosting options for schools. Here is a Q and A with School Newspapers Online.
School Newspapers Online
How did this whole idea of starting a web hosting resource come about? How did you all decide on your name? How many years have you all been hosting schools?
SNO began five years ago as we teamed up to build a school news website for the newspaper that SNO co-founder Jason Wallestad advises, the Knight Errant. We realized shortly after building the site for the Knight Errant that we could build a service to help make the transition to digital publishing easy for scholastic news publications. When we set out on this project, we wanted to create professional quality websites that are fully-customizable, highly-functional, completely affordable, and absolutely easy to use.
As for the name, School Newspapers Online, we chose it because JEADigital was already taken. We thought it was the next best name.
Since building the initial site, we have launched nearly 1,200 websites for student publications. Every active SNO site is listed on our client list.
What services do you offer for schools looking to have a web presence?
Our mission is to empower scholastic journalism staffs as they begin publishing online. A staff looking to use WordPress to publish online will need three things: hosting, a WordPress theme, and support — we provide these three things in one all-inclusive service. You focus on journalism, and we’ll make sure that the technology never gets in your way.
What are the costs for those services? What all do schools get for those costs? How do you feel those costs compare to other options out there for staffs?
We charge a one-time setup fee of $300 and an annual hosting/support fee of $300. Those fees include the SNO FLEX theme — the only theme available that’s shaped around the needs of scholastic news staffs. It’s enhanced and updated regularly. Discount hosting providers like Bluehost or Godaddy cost less, but they don’t offer any support of a customer’s WordPress theme. Each member of the SNO team is an experienced journalism educator who understands the challenges facing advisers and staffs. We provide unlimited support for not just the hosting but for any question about WordPress or running an online news site.
Do you have any standalone products available for schools that don’t host with you?
We recognized early on that in order to provide support for a site, we would need to be able to control the hosting environment. For that reason, our FLEX theme is only available with our hosting and support package. All of the add-on features we’ve developed such as our Sports Center (which is a robust sports score and scheduling tool) is fully integrated throughout the FLEX theme, and that same level of integration couldn’t be created as a WordPress plugin.
What are the benefits for a school of hosting their site through you rather than on their own through space on their own school network or some other hosting company?
For years we have relied on Rackspace Cloud hosting, and we will continue to use them as our hosting provider. Our robust serving platform means that SNO sites will load quickly and won’t crash — even with a spike in traffic.
The tools in WordPress and specifically with the SNO FLEX theme allow the staff to adjust every detail of the site. It’s not a cookie-cutter theme — it’s a design framework giving each staff tens of thousands of possible combinations when it comes to colors, placement of widgets and navigation. We’ve listened to the needs and requests of scholastic journalism staffs, and we’ve tailored our WordPress theme to provide solutions. The features also align with the latest standards from scholastic press associations. FLEX isn’t adapted from another purpose. It’s designed specifically for scholastic news: staff profiles linked to bylines, slideshow tools built into the theme, ability to make over the site in an instant through a widget-based homepage. And, if you ever have a problem, we’re there to help you fix it.
We now have a robust support site with step-by-step instructions and video tutorials for every task. We updated these training materials in summer 2013 and will continue to enhance them as our FLEX theme and WordPress evolve. In 2010, we began using helpdesk software, and we’ve set a goal for ourselves to answer all support questions within 4 business hours. We even work on nights and weekends to answer questions because we know that that’s when many journalism advisers and students are working and need our help. We’ve also expanded our team to include dedicated staff just for support to ensure each site launch is successful from Day One.
What kinds of things are you working on now that we may see rolled out in the future?
In late 2012, we implemented technology that allows us to push theme updates to all of our FLEX customers, which means that as we develop new features, customers have instant access to them at no extra cost. In summer 2013, we rolled out a series of new features for FLEX including a new breaking news story treatment and a full-width story page template with techniques for features such as pull quotes, related stories, and galleries.
We’re currently in development on a long-form journalism page that will enable student journalists to tackle larger, more powerful stories and provide them with a way to showcase that work. This feature is scheduled to be released in late 2013.