At five years old, there’s more diversity than before in the SNO Distinguished Sitesprogram. Five student publications were welcomed to the winners’ circle for the first time, one of which was an early adopter of SNO (way back in 2010) and another which migrated over to SNO not even six months ago.
All 27 staffs receiving the recognition this year could tell a different story of how they got there, whether it’s their first time, over again, or after missing it for any number of years.
There was the early adopter, El Cid, of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, which improved from earning three badges a year ago to collecting all six this time.
There was the eager beaver, The Shield Online, of McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, which signed up at SNO’s table during the November convention, received an NSPA Online Pacemaker during the spring convention and earned the last badge they needed to take home SNO Distinguished Site hardware soon after.
All of them followed the same rules, subjected to the same list of requirements essential to building and maintaining a modern news site.
Riley Hetherington, the editor-in-chief of El Cid, was, like the other six members of the staff, in journalism for the first time. But no matter, adviser Chris Grazier made earning SNO badges a goal and Hetherington obliged.
“The constant motivation to reach our goal definitely improved the behind the scenes,” Hetherington said. “It felt like we had a purpose in completing our deadlines. The Best of SNO awards were a huge goal for our staff writers, and it pushed all of us to strive for better story ideas and (to) value quality of quantity.”
Beyond Best of SNO, the badges changed the way the El Cid staff prepared for publishing.
“Once the goal was on our radar, achieving it influenced both our schedule and content,” Hetherington said. “During our story pitch sessions, badges were definitely on our mind as we attempted to create articles that would fit in the requirements.”
Sophie Ryland, web editor-in-chief of The Shield Online, was partly excited by migrating their site over to SNO because of the Distinguished Sites program. “DW (adviser David Winter) and I are naturally very competitive people, so when we saw the badge system, we were very excited to win some,” she said.
But Ryland also viewed the badges as instructive building blocks for a staff on a new platform.
“Seeing the guidelines, there were some on features I hadn’t even thought about,” Ryland said, pointing to the custom favicon requirement for the Site Excellence badge. “It definitely gave us some guidance in terms of how to further develop our website and the stories on it.”
All SNO sites started with similar beginnings to The Shield Online, but not all were as proactive.
Jessica Wagner, of Owatonna High School in Owatonna, Minn., remembered her first year advising OHS Magnet, when she was still trying to find her footing and not fully confident her staff should participate in the Distinguished Sites program.
“I ignored the details in the emails until about March because I was just starting to figure out what it meant to advise a newspaper versus teach a class,” Wagner said of the 2013-14 school year. “We applied for a few badges that first year. We were such a small staff, we were delighted by anything that made it seem like we were figuring it out.
“The staff really started to grow leaps and bounds, especially when we were told, ‘No, you didn’t achieve the badge you applied for and this is why,’” Wagner continued, “The feedback for my staff was so perfect. All of a sudden, they understood what they needed to do. We did earn some badges (that year), but it made my returning kids put it as the goal for the next year.”
It’s been a goal every year since, she said, and OHS Magnet has been a SNO Distinguished Sites every year since — four years running.
OHS Magnet didn’t earn all six badges that first year — the first of SNO’s recognition program. The Kirkwood Call, of Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Mo., was one of the schools that nailed them all right away.
Kirkwood has had a SNO Distinguished Site all five years — a model of consistency — but web editor Maddie Hawes said they continue to find new ways to put the badges to work.
“After a while, it seems like no one can really give you constructive criticism on how to improve your publication’s site,” Hawes said. “But with the badges, you realize there are legitimate changes to be made that will strengthen your site.
“I think this is true for every site, each year, especially when new staffers come in and things change,” Hawes added, “SNO badges remind you and your staff that your website can be better and push you to pursue that goal.”
Whether it means inviting new staffers in or involving carryovers from years past, the consensus of those interviewed said the best way for a staff to achieve its goals in the Distinguished Sites program is to make it as inclusive as possible.
It’s ripe with opportunity to do so.
“I think because we chose to divide the badges between all kinds of staffers, not just web-oriented ones, is why our site was so successful this year,” Hawes said. “A publication’s website is significantly (more) difficult to run when a portion of your staff doesn’t appreciate it or fails to see its value, and the SNO Distinguished Sites program shows people your website deserves credit.”
In total, 117 sites from 32 states earned badges.
This year’s complete list of SNO Distinguished Sites:
Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Penn.); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City, Iowa); Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Ca.); The BluePrint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood, Mo.); The Red & Black (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, N.Y.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); The Leaf(Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); Pathfinder(Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.); OHS Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); The Central Digest (Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Periscope (Carlisle Area High School, Carlisle, Penn.); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); El Cid (Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, Ca.); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, N.J.); Farmers’ Harvest (Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas); The Rider (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); The Shield Online (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); The Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.).
The 2019 SNO Distinguished Sites program schedule will be announced in the fall with the submission period beginning in the winter.