SNO’s Distinguished Sites national recognition program, developed six years ago in an effort to more-clearly outline a set of standards for online student journalism excellence, saw more participation and success than ever before during the 2018-2019 school year.

SNO recognized 49 student publications as distinguished sites, compared to 27 last year, and awarded a total of 219 publications at least one badge, up from 117.

Beginning the year, SNO changed the way publications would apply for badges in an attempt to make the program more accessible (applications and badge information was available from the dashboard of each publication’s website) and user-friendly (publications could save their progress on an application to return to it later).

Considering the final participation numbers, that change was successful.

“We’re excited that our new simplified and streamlined submission process has made it easier for more journalism programs to work on best practices and get feedback about the direction of their website,” said Jason Wallestad, SNO co-founder.

The sentiment was echoed by award winners.

“We have been working towards this achievement for the past three years and were so excited to finally accomplish our goal this year,” said Ashley Swain, adviser to The Stampede at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla. “The new format for submitting our individual badges and our Best of SNO submissions really helped us stay focused and organized this school year. I really appreciated that when we began submitting for the badges.”

The student publications pursue six badges that outline standards of excellence in areas of website design, audience engagement, story page layout, multimedia, writing and overall coverage. This year, as an additional and trending test in multimedia, SNO required that students produced and published podcasts to earn the badge.

“All five publications classes contributed to the goal of achieving the Distinguished Site recognition,” said Jonathan Hall, adviser to LHS Today at Liberty High School in Lake St. Louis, Mo. “Each class worked hard to improve the overall content of the site this year and promote it. Students were excited about becoming a Distinguished Site and the effort created a stronger sense of unity within the publications program.”

The badges are not to be passively applied for, as Hall’s five-class effort can attest to; rather, successful publications review the standards and plan for what it’ll take to meet them. When rejected, applications return to students with feedback and the opportunity to reapply.

“The badges forced my students to think more critically about what they covered and how they covered it,” said Mary Long, adviser to The Blueprint at Downers Grove South High School in Illinois. “It was an excellent learning experience for them. They were so filled with pride when the plaque arrived in the mail.”

Each of the 49 SNO Distinguished Site winners received a plaque in the mail — an occasion usually cause for celebration.

“Two administrators just burst into our classroom, read a letter, shook our hands and gave us a plaque,” wrote Lisa Roskens, adviser to Eagle Nation Online at Prosper High School in Texas.

A nice moment for first-time winners, for sure. Each publication interviewed for this article finally did get that plaque this year.

This year’s completed list of SNO Distinguished Sites:

Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif.); The Sage (Sage Creek High School, Carlsbad, Calif.); El Cid (Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, Calif.); The Paw Print(Woodside High School, Woodside, Calif.); The Stampede (Wiregrass Ranch High School, Wesley Chapel, Fla.); The Tribe (Santaluces High School, Lantana, Fla.); The Southerner (Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, Ga.); The Blueprint (Downers Grove South High School, Downers Grove, Ill.); Spartan Shield (Pleasant Valley High School, Bettendorf, Iowa); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City High School); The Little Hawk (Iowa City High School, Iowa City, Iowa); The Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.); The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); Wayland Student Press Network (Wayland High School, Wayland, Md.); The East Vision (East Grand Rapids High School, Grand Rapids, Mich.); The Lantern (Cannon Falls High School, Cannon Falls, Minn.); OHS Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Echo (St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); Pathfinder (Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); Marquette Messenger(Marquette High School, Chesterfield, Mo.); The Globe (Clayton High School, Clayton, Mo.); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); LHS Today(Wentzville Liberty High School, Lake St. Louis, Mo.); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, NJ); The Red & Black (Patchogue-Medford High School, Medford, NY); The Leaf(Sycamore High School, Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The BluePrint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); Periscope (Carlisle Area High School, Carlisle, Pa.); The Purbalite (Baldwin High School, Pittsburgh, Pa.); Mountaineer (Stroudsburg High School, Stroudsburg, Pa.); Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Pa.); The Central Digest(Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Shield Online (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); The Dispatch Online (James Bowie High School, Austin, Texas); Vandegrift Voice(Vandegrift High School, Austin, Texas); CPHS News (Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park, Texas); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Cain Live (Klein Cain High School, Klein, Texas); Farmers’ Harvest (Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Rider Online (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); Eagle Nation Online (Prosper High School, Prosper, Texas)