SNO Flake

In student journalism, as in life, competition can incite undue stress, but its benefits far outweigh its drawbacks.


graphic by Michael Taffe

SNO's recent change to the Distinguished Sites Leaderboard program may not achieve the goals the company set out to accomplish.

Competition is human nature. The desire, nay, the need to outdo our peers is so paramount to our existence that even the evolution of life itself is based upon it.

One of the most competitive times in our lives is the high school years. Our competitive nature brings student sections to football games.  It is competition that pushes us to earn the highest grade, get admitted to the best college, and play on the starting lineup. Competition is what drives students to do better.

It’s also at the center of the mental health crisis plaguing our education system.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, around 31% of high school students suffer from depression and 17% have suicidal thoughts. A comprehensive study conducted by the University of Southern California found that “[c]ompetition in one’s learning environment may be one such environmental risk factor that amplifies mental health risks already faced by college students.” While this particular statement focused on marginalized students, the study concluded that these effects could be seen in all college students.

Considering the serious problems associated with competition, it would appear that recent changes made by The Uproar’s website host, School Newspapers Online, are directed toward alleviating some of these issues.

Removing the number of Best of SNOs from the website and as a factor the Distinguished Sites Leaderboard furthers the notion by older generations that members of Generation Z are fragile snowflakes.”

SNO is a company that hosts thousands (2,394 to be exact) of high school newspaper websites, including The Uproar. One of the programs SNO runs is called the Distinguished Sites Leaderboard. A school’s spot on this leaderboard is determined by its number of earned badges, ranging from audience engagement to site excellence. An additional factor in a school news staff’s ranking is the number of Best of SNO articles the group has won. Faculty advisers submit the articles they deem exceptional from their student staffs, after which SNO performs an evaluation and either rejects or awards the article.  Hopefully, you’ve seen a number of our own articles with “Best of SNO” headers.

But earlier this week — without notification — SNO changed the rules. Now, a school’s Best of SNO total is no longer publicly visible (though it is possible to manually count the awarded articles for a given school).  More consequentially, the Distinguished Sites Leaderboard was suddenly revised to prioritize the date on which the top programs earned all six badges — effectively locking out all other program from first place, even though we’re only a third of the way into the school year.  The program that secured its badges in mid-October is apparently invincible.

Presumably, SNO wished to reduce stress and other negative impacts the competitive nature of the leaderboard elicited. It would seem that the company is following the science and doing what they can to curtail student stress. 

Yet, I am livid.

First, by changing the rules in the middle of the competition, SNO has implemented policies that favor the schools that may have begun their years earlier than others or that may already have mature programs that do not have to work as hard for the audience engagement badge.

If that is what the competition was intended to be, that is fine.  But a rule change mid-year hardly seems fair. What’s more, the company may unintentionally dampen students’ incentive once it dawns on them that it’s now impossible to rise to first place on the leaderboard.

While it is a moral obligation for society to make the lives of its members as problem-free as possible, creating a bubble to hide from problems rather than solve them is a cop-out and a detriment.”

To be fair, a list does exist ranking schools by number of Best of SNOs, though the number of awards is omitted. But given the possible negatives of competition, that change could be forgiven. However, the implications of the change carry much stronger weight than what may be apparent at first glance.

Returning to the quote from the USC study, the word that stands out to me is “amplified.” The quote does not say “caused by.” Today, competition is often vilified as a means to discourage, denigrate, or exclude others. I’m hardly alone, however, in believing that competition is largely a healthy instrument to motivate us to excel.

The problems associated with competition often stem from depression, anxiety, and stress, which are caused by other factors. Instead of trying to eliminate extraneous variables such as competition, identifying and alleviating the root cause of crippling student stress should be the priority.

The trouble with competition is that it seems to threaten our value of inclusivity. It’s an understandable perception, but it’s misguided.

In an ever more inclusive world, the opportunity to compete and display one’s talents should be a friend, not an enemy, of inclusivity. As long as the competition is conducted in good faith and does not create a toxic environment, it should have full support. While it is a moral obligation for society to make the lives of its members as problem-free as possible, creating a bubble to hide from problems rather than solve them is a cop out and a detriment.

Removing the number of Best of SNOs from the website and as the chief factor in the Distinguished Sites Leaderboard creates this bubble. It furthers the notion by older generations that members of Generation Z are fragile snowflakes.

Competition is not the issue here. A failure to hold public discourse on the root causes of these problems is. 

To The Uproar staff, receiving a Best of SNO is the highlight of everyone’s week. We as a staff are not pressured into writing about topics more likely to win an award but rather are encouraged to write articles on subjects about which we feel strongly. Before this week, the fact that we’re not at the top of the leaderboard was hardly discouraging.  In fact, it motivated us to improve our writing and coverage.

Nevertheless, I’m determined not to let the mid-year removal of the award count and its importance in the Distinguished Site Leaderboard discourage me from trying to receive another Best of SNO.  But, in truth, a little bit of the magic and rush has been taken away.