Over the past eight months, more publications participated in and earned SNO Distinguished Sites status than ever before in the program’s seventh year.
And while meeting the requirements to obtain each of the six badges is already challenging enough, a handful of these first-time winners faced an additional obstacle: Locking down the remaining badges while in a literal lockdown — working remotely due to COVID-19.
Take The Boiling Point, at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, as an example.
Heading into the year, as in years past, the Distinguished Site badges weren’t really on the radar of the staff. However, due to the fervor and proactivity of a few enthusiastic staff members, that quickly changed. By March, they had only the Multimedia badge to go.
Then came COVID-19, distance learning, and some serious contemplation from staff members on how to be an effective newspaper while working remotely.
“We realized that something we missed severely was that feeling of camaraderie and being in a room with one another,” said Jacob Joseph Lefkowitz Brooks, the editor-in-chief of The Boiling Point. “We had lots of conversations about this, but we ended up coming to the decision that we needed to do as many multi-member projects as possible, because really, that collaborative environment is what we’ve always found to be most effective when working on our paper.”
Through the creation of an “Anti-Inertia Task Force,” a multitude of group chats, and some strategic restructuring, staff members quickly adopted an all-hands on deck approach, allowing them to push out an abundance of COVID-19 coverage including a new podcast series that not only earned them Distinguished Site status, but garnered attention from a local television news station as well.
In the case of The Boiling Point, COVID-19 turned out to be just the push they needed to dial up innovation and find new ways to connect with their readers.
“It’s a little bittersweet because nobody wants this situation at all, but I’m really proud of the students that they took a challenge and made something significant for our readers and our viewers and our listeners,” said Joelle Keene, faculty adviser of The Boiling Point. “They conveyed news and information that needed to be conveyed, they did it at their normal level of expertise and intelligence, but they also went into new media that they honestly may not have done this year if not for COVID.”
For Joseph Lefkowitz Brooks, finally becoming a Distinguished Site in the midst of the pandemic represents a testament to the hard work of everyone involved in the publication.
“I think it worked out far better than I could have imagined, and I think that we will always have this actual achievement to remember all of the hard work that we did this year and especially in these times of isolation,” he said.
The multimedia badge also proved to be tricky for the staff of Granite Bay Today, at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, Calif. Especially after coming up only a few podcasts short of becoming a Distinguished Site last year, they were dead set on not letting that happen again.
“We managed to get at least one podcast in before the end of the fall term, and it was like ‘Oh my gosh, we can do this,’” said Bella Khor, senior editor on Granite Bay Today. “Then the pandemic happened, but I was like we can still do this. It will be different, but we can still do it.”
In the words of Karl Grubaugh, faculty adviser of Granite Bay Today, what transpired next was a “weird, pandemic, COVID, do it from your bedroom, do it from your house situation.” Yet, by means of the Remind App, Zoom meetings, Google Drive and a meticulous organizational system, the staff of Granite Bay Today ultimately came out successful.
“It was definitely a learning experience working from home,” said Mareesa Islam, assistant editor on Granite Bay Today. “We did separate Zoom calls for interviews and then we had to mash it all together into one podcast. It was a new experience for us, but it was really fun to get to do that and we got it done.”
While the Granite Bay Today staff is finally walking away with some SNO Distinguished Site hardware this year, from Grubaugh’s perspective, it’s about more than just winning an award for an award’s sake.
“We’re all about trying to do good journalism, and what I’m appreciative of is that that plaque represents the fact that these guys have gotten better and better at taking what we do and making it work in a web context,” Grubaugh said. “I’m the old fart who you’re going to have to pry a hard print copy from my cold, dead fingers. That’s how I roll. But that’s not how the world rolls, so the fact that this sort of framework exists and these guys have jumped into it and gone for it has been great.”
And because COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based on borders, across the pond, staff members of The Standard, at The American School in London, faced additional challenges as well.
At the beginning of the year, Louisa Avery joined The Standard as the publication’s new faculty adviser. After using SNO at previous schools over the past 10 years, she not only encouraged the staff to migrate their existing website over to SNO in the fall, she also introduced them to the Distinguished Site badges shortly after.
“I’ve always liked the badges because it gives the kids a checklist of something to look at and focus on,” Avery said. “I really think that just that structure of knowing that this is what your site needs to succeed, that they really took that on and made it happen.”
While Jonathan Novak, deputy editor-in-chief of The Standard, was hesitant towards the badges at first, by the end of the first semester they already had three under their belt. In fact, they were two weeks into posting towards the Continuous Coverage badge when COVID-19 forced their school to shut its doors.
Determined to persevere despite the circumstances, The Standard staff adapted to the pandemic quickly. Through a myriad of text messages, FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings, staff members took advantage of the opportunity to cover new Coronavirus-related content, causing their website analytics to skyrocket in the process.
“It was really encouraging to see that yes, they were working towards the badges, but their audience was really engaging with the material,” Avery said. “We could see how many views each story was getting and that motivated them to keep going.”
While the plaque they’ll be receiving is an added bonus, Novak said the Distinguished Site title really speaks to the planning, organization and commitment of staff members throughout the year towards transforming the website.
“We had always considered print to be our strong suit as a publication, and when we achieved the badges it really felt like now the website was pulling its weight properly,” Novak said. “I really think that our website would not be what it is today if we didn’t have that as a way to structure our growth.”
The folks at NSPA seemed to agree. The Standard placed second in the Best of Show small high school website category in April, up from not placing at all in November — a huge jump over a span of only five months.
Congratulations to all of the winners for the 2019-2020 academic year. This year’s complete list of SNO Distinguished Sites:
Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif.); El Estoque (Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, Calif.); Granite Bay Today (Granite Bay High School, Granite Bay, Calif.); Portola Pilot (Portola High School, Irvine, Calif.); The Boiling Point (Shalhevet High School, Los Angeles, Calif.); El Cid (Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego, Calif.); Harker Aquila (The Harker Upper School, San Jose, Calif.); LHS Epic (Lynbrook High School, San Jose, Calif.); The Wildcat Tribune (Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, Calif.); The Paw Print (Woodside High School, Woodside, Calif.); Inklings News (Staples High School, Westport, Conn.); CavsConnect (Coral Gables Senior High School, Coral Gables, Fla.); The Stampede (Wiregrass Ranch High School, Wesley Chapel, Fla.); The Southerner (Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, Ga.); The Prowler (Starr’s Mill High School, Fayetteville, Ga.); Metea Media (Metea Valley High School, Aurora, Ill.); 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, Iowa); PLD Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.); The Black & White (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); The Green Wave Gazette (Abington High School, Abington, Mass.); 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.); The Vision (The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Columbus, Miss.); Pathfinder (Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); The Messenger (Marquette High School, Chesterfield, Mo.); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.); LHS Today (Wentzville Liberty High School, Lake St. Louis, Mo.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); The Mirror (De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Mo.); The Wildcat Roar (Westminster Christian Academy, Town and Country, Mo.); The Lancer Feed (Lafayette High School, Wildwood, Mo.); The Catalyst (Millard West High School, Omaha, Neb.); Lancer Spirit Online (Londonderry High School, Londonderry, NH); Eastside Online (Cherry Hill High School East, Cherry Hill, NJ); Maroon (Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, NY); The Leaf (Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); WLHS Now (West Linn High School, West Linn, Ore.); The BA Blueprint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); The Purbalite (Baldwin High School, Pittsburgh, Pa.); Mountaineer (Stroudsburg High School, Stroudsburg, Pa.); Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Pa.); The Uproar (North Allegheny Senior High School, Wexford, Pa.); The Central Digest (Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Dispatch Online (James Bowie High School, Austin, Texas); The Shield (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); Vandegrift Voice (Vandegrift High School, Austin, Texas); Westwood Horizon (Westwood High School, Austin, Texas); The Wolfpack (Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park, Texas); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); The Marquee (Marcus High School, Flower Mound, Texas); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Cain Live (Klein Cain High School, Klein, 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), The Standard (The American School in London, London, United Kingdom).