Monday, October 01, 2012

Time to freshen up the Blog of the Year awards

Michael Foot once accused David Steel of having "passed from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever".

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.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

13 comments:

Mark Pack said...

You've raised some very good questions Jonathan.

One other I'd add, which extends your point about Twitter and Facebook, is whether having 'blog of the year' awards is the right focus. There is of course a certain logic to a blog running awards for blogging. However, over the last few years the rise of other forms of online communications (Facebook and Twitter particularly) means blogging has a smaller role overall than it used to.

Even with the category for non-blogging, I wonder if overall the awards are a bit too much like giving out awards for best A4 black and white literature - an important, long-standing format yet also a format that isn't as dominant as it used to be?

Anonymous said...

"a curse associated with the Blog of the Year awards whereby winners tended not to stop shortly afterwards."

Surely "to stop" (with the exception of Millennium Elephant, which I've always found so pretentiously affected in style as to be unreadable, and which could happily never have started so far as I am concerned.)

Jonathan said...

Thanks Anon. I have changed that sentence.

Louise Shaw said...

Might it be worth asking what do we want blogging to do for the party?

Presumably that's the aim to which we are all aligned.


What does the party need (our aims)?

Direction ?
Identity ?
Support ?

What are the objectives of Lib Dem blogs. Do we want them to ?

- inform ?
- entertain ?
- provide debate?
- be a critical friend?
- speak truth to power?

How does blogging achieve this? How do we best reward those who provide these aims and help these objectives?

Is what I would be asking.

Daniel Furr said...

I've always wondered if some of us LibDem bloggers should join together to write a joint book - just to help stimulate ideas for the party.

Currently, I'm working on a pamphlet that will-hopefully-kick start a debate among the Lib Dem blogosphere.

Nick said...

I think the nature of blogging has changed dramatically since the awards started - but even then I think the old hands were saying 'oh, it's not like it used to be in the glory days of 2003'.

One question springs to mind - if the number of Lib Dem blogs is that because the blogs have stopped, or because the bloggers have stopped being Lib Dems?

However, and really not wanting to sound too much like a marketing drone, a blog has become one part of people's online presence. I know a lot of things that I would previously have blogged about now just become quick Twitter links for instance (and my BOTY for e-campaigning comes from a short Twitter conversation one morning). Most of my reading of other blogs is done through Google Reader or in plain mobile format on my phone, so design is irrelevant, but content is still important.

Perhaps the way forward is to rebrand them as more general awards for Lib Dems online - blogging as one category alongside Twitter, Facebook etc, perhaps with separate categories (elected officials, campaigns, commentary) with then one overall 'best of the Lib Dem web' category chosen from the individual winners.

Alex Marsh said...

Some important points have been raised in the post and in the comments.

Clearly some high profile bloggers have left the list because they've left the party (eg James Graham, who recently produced a fantastic post on lib dem politics)

The loss of the individual post of the year award significantly narrowed the range of people who are going to have a chance of featuring in the list. The number of people who are willing and able to put the time in to posting high quality posts with the regularity necessary to win the overall BOTY is inevitably limited. But there are plenty of people who produce excellent posts on specific issues that they are really engaged with, even if they don't blog particularly regularly.

I think the OP and Louise raise important points about how the awards are assessed and what we might be expecting LD blogging to achieve. It isn't clear.

It seems to me that what plays best in the LD blogosphere (at least in terms of the things that get into the LDV golden dozen at the moment) is comment in quick response to developments in Parliament/policy as reported in the MSM. Much of it is reactive, quite a bit is about party business and the tribulations of the dramatis personae of the parliamentary party, and some of it is about throwing rocks at the other parties. It is less frequently about the substance of policy, bringing new information to the debate, or seeking to set an agenda. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but that's what strikes me.

Broadening out to social media awards more generally, without losing the blogging component, as Nick suggests, could be a wise move.

It seems to me that twitter/facebook etc can achieve different objectives to blogging. Good for engagement and pithy one liners. Not so good for developing any sort of argument (but then again, my blogs are too long even for blogs!). It would be a pity if blogging faded away because the other social media aren't really a substitute.

Millennium Dome said...

"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..."

...while tragically overlooking someone who writes about Party gossip while pretending to be a member of the House of Lords from a county that no longer exists, eh ;)


Respect much of what you have to say here, Jonathan. Especially about how hard it is to keep blogging day in day out. And more especially about the loss of the "Best Post" award.

Millennium Dome said...

"with the exception of Millennium Elephant, which I've always found so pretentiously affected in style as to be unreadable"

Gosh, I'm being called "pretentious" and "unreadable" by an anonymous Internet poster - I'm *really* going to have to up my game.

Louise Shaw said...

100% concur with the below Alex.

"It seems to me that what plays best in the LD blogosphere (at least in terms of the things that get into the LDV golden dozen at the moment) is comment in quick response to developments in Parliament/policy as reported in the MSM. Much of it is reactive, quite a bit is about party business and the tribulations of the dramatis personae of the parliamentary party, and some of it is about throwing rocks at the other parties. It is less frequently about the substance of policy, bringing new information to the debate, or seeking to set an agenda. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but that's what strikes me."

Neil Monnery said...

On the Golden Dozen point regards to Alex and Louise's points. The top seven posts are the most click throughs. These will nearly always to pieces with flashy headlines about Lib Dems. Write a post for example entitled 'Ten reasons why Nick Clegg should go now to save the party' it will be get 20+ click-throughs and be at the top of the Golden Dozen.

The more interesting are always the five other posts which are either LibDig pieces or the choice of whoever is editing the GD.

I think one way to promote good blogging is for more pieces to be LibDug as well as Facebooked or Tweeted. In fact I'm going to LibDig this post right now (if it hasn't been already).

Anonymous said...

How about something that includes those of us of a liberal democratic outlook, but not resident in the UK or anywhere near a branch.

Gareth Epps said...

Given that Twitter is entirely a mechanism for narcisssism and self-promotion, an award that lets the rest of the world get on with our lives seems entirely appropriate.

But Jonathan identifies the problem with the Blog of the Year awards and indeed the clique that runs Lib Dem Voice: there are no published criteria, and the people involved for that reason alone cannot be regarded as in any way representative of the Liberal Democrats.