Although it’s only mid-February, the deadline to apply for our six SNO Distinguished Sites badges is quickly approaching. So, before your spring calendar becomes consumed with end-of-the-year exams, celebrations, and other obligations, it’s wise to have a plan in place if you’re vying to reach “Distinguished” status.

To help you out, we’re answering your FAQs and compiling all of the essential information you’ll want to keep in mind over the coming weeks so you can proudly display that SNO Distinguished Site emblem on your website and the plaque in your classroom for the world to see.

Wait, what is the SNO Distinguished Sites recognition program again?

The SNO Distinguished Sites recognition program gives news staffs six standards to help their publications excel online. As each standard is met, that site is awarded a badge on the SNO client list. If a site earns all six badges, it is awarded the honor of being named a SNO Distinguished Site. Plus, it’s free to participate for all SNO customers of any level.

Why should we participate? What’s in it for us?

At SNO, we want to do all that we can to help you succeed online. The six badges we created as part of the program, formed around journalistic best practices, are meant to do just that.

Whether your website is brand new this year or has been around for a while, we invite you to apply for those badges that highlight your site’s strengths, while working to achieve the others. Complacency can be a curse, so our badges can help re-focus and motivate your staff as well.

If your staff is more motivated by tangible incentives, SNO Distinguished Site recipients also receive a press release, letter to the principal or PR department and a plaque to honor their achievements.

How much longer do I have to apply for the badges?

The application period for 2019-20 closes on April 30. There is no limit to the number of times that a site can apply for an individual badge before the deadline. So far, 200 sites have received at least one badge, and 20 schools have achieved Distinguished Site status.

How can I apply for a badge?

Thanks to the work of our savvy developers, it’s now easier than ever to apply for a badge, to track the badges you’ve earned, and to see which areas you’re still working towards.

Simply login to your website and look for the SNO Badges section in your SNO Dashboard. Click on the badge you wish to apply for, review the guidelines, fill out the required fields, hit “Submit,” and voilá, you’re up and running!

Make sure to periodically check back in on your submissions as well so you don’t miss notifications from our awards coordinator.

What badge requirements are tripping people up so far?

Out of the six badges you can earn, the three that we’ve seen staffs commonly struggling with this year are for Story Page Excellence, Excellence in Writing, and Multimedia. Here are some helpful tips for each one.

Story Page Excellence: Although you can click the “Long Form Container” button and create a simple long-form story, technically that’s not how that template was intended to be used. In other words, we want to see that you know how to attach chapter stories to it and really maximize its potential. The same goes for the Side by Side and Grid templates —  they’re nothing without their corresponding chapter stories.

Here are some resources on how to construct each of those templates on your website, as well as ideas on how to utilize them to get started.

Excellence in Writing: The only way to earn this badge is to have at least three stories published on Best of SNO. However, it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. So far this year, we’ve reviewed close to 12,500 stories and have published about 15 percent of them (about 2,000 total). Suffice to say, the writing needs to be top-notch.

Check out our publication tips to improve your chances of getting published, and our past Best of SNO newsletters to get a better idea of the types of content our reviewers are looking for.

Multimedia: Without a doubt, the Multimedia badge has been the most challenging one for staffs to earn because, to be honest, we’re picky about the submissions. Sure, anyone can record or take photos of an event and upload it online, but we want a bit more refinement.

We’re looking for slideshows that display visual variation and have substantive captions. We want to see videos that contain at least two interviews and are more than just raw footage. We want to hear interview-based podcasts that avoid copyrighted music and contain a formal intro and outro. (Pro tip: the multimedia category on Best of SNO is a good place to gauge if your content fits the bill.)

Now what?

Time to get going! Last year, there were 49 Distinguished Sites total. This year we want to top that. And as always, if you have any questions or issues, don’t hesitate to let us know.