That pretty much describes my relationship with the Liberal Democrat Voice’s Blog of the Year awards. I was around to question the idea when the awards first appeared – but then I have been blogging so long I was around to welcome the founding of Liberal Democrat Voice.
Then, in the early years of the awards, I was regularly shortlisted for Blog of the Year. More recently I have acted as a judge and even been described as “the Lib Dem blogfather”. But I have never won anything.
So I think I am as qualified as anyone to pass the judgement on the awards. And my conclusion is that they are in need of freshening up.
One reason is that the awards are not the event they used to be. Insofar as this means there is not the self-promotion and lobbying there was even two years ago, it is welcome. But it also reflects a decline in the volume and vitality of blogging in the party.
In his speech at this year’s ceremony Stephen Tall gave the figures:
even to talk about blogs now seems almost retro with generating the buzz today. Blogging is bigger than it was all those years ago, but among Lib Dems it’s on the decline. At its peak there were 250+ Lib Dem bloggers. Today there are around 200 active Lib Dem blogs curated at Ryan Cullen’s aggregator.As Stephen went on to say, technology has moved on. Blogging seems so 2000s and the cutting edge online is probably to be found on Twitter and Facebook. Certainly, ‘The Andrew Reeves award for Best use of social media/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat’ has in many ways been the most significant one for a couple of years now.
But the awards have not helped themselves either. I was going to say the categories are the same every year, but it is worse than that. This year, looking through the nominations to confirm that, as is now traditional, I had not been nominated in any categories, I realised that there was only one category that I could have been nominated in. If you are not a councillor or new to blogging, then the Blog of the Year award itself is your only hope.
Because the award for the best posting of the year has disappeared. This was, in many ways, this was the best category of all – in particular because every blogger had some hope of winning it. And also because, until a couple of years ago (which appears to be a developing theme in this post), Alex Wilcock encouraged members of an email to which most prominent Lib Dem bloggers were subscribed to nominate their best posts of the year.
I urge the Lib Dem Voice editors to bring this category back and use their site to encourage all of our bloggers to nominate their favourite posts. This would allow even the newest bloggers to have some involvement with the awards and make it closer to what it should be – a carnival of Liberal Democrat blogging.
It is true, however, that the categories do tend to remain the same from year to year, and that there is a good case for bringing in some new ones to raise interest and widen the field of bloggers with some hope of winning an award. Off the top of my head I would suggest two categories that we had in the first couple of years of the awards – the most humorous Liberal Democrat blog and the best designed Liberal Democrat blog.
There must also be something to be said for having awards for the Lib Dem Facebook page of the year and the Lib Dem tweeter of the year.
But maybe the real problem is with the Blog of the Year category itself. Long ago I identified a curse associated with the Blog of the Year awards whereby winners tended to stop blogging shortly afterwards. And that remains the case today, with most former winners having thrown in their lot with Liberal Democrat Voice, given up blogging or given up on the Liberal Democrats.
Paul Walter explained last year:
There is a reason for this. It actually takes one hell of a lot of hard work and concentration to maintain an active political blog to a sufficient level to get onto the shortlist, let alone win it.This is right, as is Tim Ireland whom Paul went on to quote: “You cannot ride the wave forever. Eventually something has to give.”
However, I wonder if Paul does not take the fact that the Lib Dems’ leading blog award has a tendency to drive people out of blogging a little too lightly.
Can we do anything about this? I think we can.
What grumblings there have been about the Blog of the Year awards have tended to suggest there is a clique who decide them and win them. I don’t know about the shortlisting procedure, but having acted as a judge I would suggest the problem is almost the reverse of this. It is not that there is a clique: it is that judges have no contact and no idea of the criteria to use in their decision.
How do we balance quality of writing against design, promoting the Liberal Democrats and original idea?s How do we balance engaging with the wider blogosphere with technical innovation and a sense of humour? When you are a judge, there is nothing to tell you.
It is well not to generalise about an award that can be won by someone writing about macroeconomics while pretending to be a stuffed toy, but I suspect the result of this lack of direction is that judges tend to favour blogs whose posts are most like comment articles in broadsheet newspapers. This is, after all, what they have grown up thinking good political writing looks like.
But is this desirable? As Paul emphasises, writing like a professional journalist while holding down a full-time job doing something else is a draining activity that few can keep up for very long. I admire those who can do this, and certainly don’t want to belittle previous winners, but it’s no wonder that the party’s blogging award come with a curse attached.
So I would urge Lib Dem Voice to be a little more open about what they are looking for in their Blog of the Year award and think about how they can encourage blogs that don’t mimic the mainstream media.
Add to this the return of the best posting category and some new, varied categories to widen the pool of potential winners, and Lib Dem Voice will have gone a long way to fulfilling its ambition of making the awards
“a fun way to celebrate the talent in the Lib Dem blogosphere, whilst introducing you to some blogs you might not have read before.”At present I am not convinced they do that as well as they should.