SNO Distinguished Sites Badge Tips

As we approach the end of 2023, we are a little over one third of the way through the Distinguished Sites badge submission season. Dozens of schools are participating, and, at the time of publishing, we’ve already had nine earn Distinguished Site status!

It’s not too late to make this a goal for your site in 2024, so we’re reaching out to provide a few tips, both from our team of reviewers and from an experienced Distinguished Site adviser. Whether you’re striving to earn all six badges and become a Distinguished Site this year, or you’re just working toward earning a few, we hope you’ll find these tips helpful.

Adviser Tips 

Over the summer, we spoke with Nate Stemle, adviser of Xavier News at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky, about his staff’s SNO Distinguished Site journey. Last year, Nate and his staff earned Distinguished Site designation for the first time. Nate talked about how he tapped into his staff’s competitive nature and used the Distinguished Sites program as a goal that they could achieve.

Nate said that his students would keep an eye on other local schools’ badge progress and challenge themselves to keep or exceed that pace. According to Nate, the external motivator was huge in generating staff buy-in for the badges. He had some tips for schools looking to earn Distinguished Site in the upcoming school year:

  • Celebrate – Stemle brought in donuts and threw a party to celebrate earning Distinguished Site status.

  • Display your success – In the Xavier newsroom, the staff displays their Distinguished Site plaque and any Best of SNO certificates the staff earns throughout the year.

  • “Just follow the guidelines” – They are really clear, and once you know how to achieve production based on the guidelines, your staff will then be able to do additional work that may veer from those to better fit what your school’s community is looking for.

Thanks again to Nate Stemle for giving up some of his summer to talk with us about his program!

SNO Sites Reviewer Tips

In addition to the tips shared above, our Distinguished Sites reviewers have a few recommendations and specific things to keep in mind as you work toward your badges.

Audience Engagement

  • Make a plan to post to social media every weekday over a four-week period. If possible, try to choose a period where you won’t be interrupted by a major school break.


  • Check the Best of SNO Audio and Video categories for examples of the style and substance of podcasts and video stories we are looking for – they should develop a compelling storyline, include multiple interviews, etc.

Story Page Excellence

  • For guideline #8, we are looking for adjustments to the design settings on an individual story (not just the addition of SNO Story Elements). You can now adjust select design settings on the story editing interface by checking the box that says “Customize Story Design.” Make a couple of changes in that area (e.g. increase the headline size, add a drop cap, etc.) and describe those changes in the textbox located below the guidelines.

Continuous Coverage

  • Developing stories should follow a single event or topic over a period of time (e.g. three stories about the implementation, impact of and reaction to a new school rule.)

  • Quick coverage stories should be written no more than two days after the event has occurred.

Site Excellence

  • The Design Draft should be noticeably different when viewed next to your live site, but it should also still meet design guidelines #1-7 for this badge. We are looking for your staff to do a major redesign to become familiar with the design tools, but remember, they do not have to push the draft live after getting this badge.

  • Watch out for unauthorized use of copyrighted content and make sure things like Creative Commons or Wikimedia photos are being attributed properly, which often requires links back to the original content.

General Advice 

  • Nate said it best: “Just follow the guidelines.” And if you have questions about any of them, please send us a support ticket!

We hope that Nate’s thoughts and our tips inspire you to shoot for some of the badges in 2024, even if you haven’t started yet. Wherever you are in your badge journey, we look forward to seeing your work throughout the rest of the year!