At the Legacy Press, going above and beyond is the norm. So for adviser Justin Elbert, the challenge laid out by the new SNO Distinguished Sites program was just the next bar for his students to clear. As of March 19, the student newsmagazine of Klein Collins High School is the first SNO website to be named a Distinguished Site for earning all six badges in the recognition program. More than 40 sites have earned at least one of the badges, which include continuous coverage, site excellence, audience engagement, story page excellence, writing excellence and multimedia excellence. The six areas encourage online news staffs to uphold standards and excel in their publishing efforts.
“We wanted to show the other staffs out there that we were a site that others should look to in scholastic journalism,” Elbert said about the news website from Spring, Texas. But the real credit, he said, goes to Legacy Press Editor-in-Chief Megan Parman. Once he made the suggestion, she really ran with it.
“When Mr. Elbert first brought it to me, I was almost positive there was no way we would be able to do it,” Parman said. “The criteria seemed overwhelming. Then we got the first one and after that, they didn’t seem so bad anymore.”
The Legacy Press staff — 16 students in all — printed the criteria for each badge, posted the pages to the bulletin board and set to work, crossing them off one by one.
“The visual on our board helped us see what we had to do to get where we wanted to be,” Parman said.
Elbert said it was like gaming.
“It gives them a nice goal to shoot for. That’s what is really important,” he said. “It’s different than NSPA, CSPA or ILPC in Texas. They can get it piecemeal and get instant gratification.”
Parman said some of the badge criteria forced the staff members to step up their game. She also appreciated the push to engage more with the audience and to publish more continuous coverage, even though writing the 32 stories required wasn’t easy.
“I was really proud of how I saw this little staff come together and make something happen,” Parman said.
Elbert is thrilled to have a more skilled staff.
“For multimedia, we actually had to teach them how to do video,” he said. “Now we have people on our staff who can make videos — we would not have had that before.”
Elbert applauded SNO for being more than just a hosting service and for pushing schools to do better. He said the criteria outlined by SNO for each badge are spot on, and the students’ efforts will have a lasting effect.
“We looked back at the story pages and how we could improve,” Elbert said, adding that the Legacy Press culture has been changed. “Every story we have done since then has links and a sidebar.”
Looking ahead, Elbert said he thinks next year’s editors will continue the trend of excellence since no one will want to go backward. Parman is proud of her staff, noting they can find a story anywhere and tackle any topic.
“There is not an idea too big for them,” she said. “Sometimes we have a fight over who gets to cover it. They are so motivated.”
Next fall Parman will move on to study communications at Texas A&M University. It will be up to new editors to maintain the standard of excellence of a SNO Distinguished Site, but she knows Elbert will push them even higher.
“He is a person who does not like it when you think inside the box,” Parman said. “He’s always trying to get us out of the box because the box is a boring place to be. I guess that’s why we are where we are. We didn’t settle for the box.”