Sunday, 24 October 2010

Judging the Orwell blogging prize

It is an interesting time to hold a prize competition for political blogging.

Recently Andrew Marr described bloggers as:

"socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting".

And some entity called Editorial Intelligence (no, I hadn't heard of it either) gave an award for Best Blogger to BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

For all his considerable talents, one would not regard Nick Robinson as primarily a blogger or say seriously that his blogging is an important part of his output. It was an astonishing decision, especially as a political blogger as capable and significant as Paul Waugh was also on the shortlist.

So is Andrew Marr correct? Is Editorial Intelligence correct?

Is this really the state of political blogging in the United Kingdom?

Well rather than asserting that things are not as bad as that, there is an opportunity to test how good (or awful) British - and Irish - political blogging is at the moment.

The 2011 Orwell Prize for political blogging has just been launched.

Bloggers can submit ten blogposts posted in 2010 for consideration; there is a longlist and then a shortlist; and in Spring 2011 there will be an award.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted.

But this time round, I will not win it.

(Or at least I should not win it.)

This is because I have been asked to judge it, alongside Gaby Hinsliff, the excellent former political editor of The Observer (see here and follow her on Twitter here).

So what then is good political blogging?

Well, without prejudice to looking at the entries entirely on their own merits, here are some of my preliminary views.

And I will start on a very basic level.

First, what is blogging?

Of course, that can be simply answered: blogging is what bloggers do.

In many cases what constitutes blogging will be obvious: entrants will have their own blog or will contribute to a site which hosts a number of blogs. There will be some bloggers who do both.

However, commenters on blogposts often can make important contributions; and so can those who prefer posting on message boards in forums. Both are, in my mind, within the broadest scope of "blogging".

So, although the rules of entry stipulate that ten blogposts should be submitted, my personal view is that good comments or message board postings can also be submitted. Form should not defeat substance.

Also, although there should be some textual element to the submitted posts (and so pure podcasts and videologs are probably outside the scope of the blogging prize), effective use of graphics, images, and other visual paraphernalia, will not mean a blogpost will not be considered. Again, form should not prevail.

My attitude is that if someone seriously thinks they have ten items to be submitted for a blogging prize then they should not hesitate to submit them.

Similarly, a wide view should be taken of what constitutes political blogging.

The last two awards of the blogging prize - to pseudonymous public sector workers usually offering accounts of their engagement with working class life - have already signalled that the prize is open to bloggers beyond the Westminster village.

In fact, political blogging can take many forms.

There are campaigning blogs; gossip blogs; self-promotional blogs; sweary blogs; blogs for policy analysis; blogs by those formulating policy; blogs by those who inflict policy; and blogs by those on whom policy is inflicted.

And there are blogs which deal with public policy matters: legal blogs; bad science blogs; religious blogs; skeptic blogs; police blogs; prisoner blogs; soldier blogs; sex worker blogs; media blogs; and (even) alternative health blogs.

All these can be within the realm of political blogging.

No one form of political blogging has any inherent priority over the others.

Remember George Orwell himself rarely wrote about party political matters. Indeed, some of his most powerful writing - Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging - are simply detailed accounts of particular events in his life as an Imperial police officer. The political force of such writing is none the less for that.

So what is good political blogging?

Again, a liberal view should be taken.

A good political blogger may state political views in a particularly striking or eloquent way; or may place useful information into the public domain which otherwise would not be available; or may provide analysis or commentary which otherwise would not occur; or may campaign for an individual, party, or cause in an innovative manner; or may provide informed insights into the actual exercise of power and the impact of policy which otherwise would be lost.

A good political blogger may do some - or none - of these things.

But a good political blogger is surely always original and distinctive, providing something - whatever it is - to the reader which is not readily available anywhere else, and providing that something in an effective way.

To my knowledge, there are dozens of political blogs which are covered by this description (and not by Andrew Marr's). I am hoping to come across dozens more in the course of this prize competition.

I am hoping also that my approach to this task will meet the approval of fellow bloggers; I intend to be as open as is appropriate with the judging process; and my goal is that the longlist and shortlist will give clear testament to the strength and variety of British and Irish political blogging.

And if Gaby and I get it wrong, we can be sure that the blogosphere will tell us.

Anyone proud of their blogging really should enter - and encourage others to do so too.

And some good may come from the misconceived and illiberal comments of Andrew Marr: we can now participate in a process which can perhaps show just how wrong Andrew Marr can be.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


charonqc said...

Good luck with this task....

I am 'proud' of my blogging - not for what I write - but because it keeps me vaguely sane and allows me to meet, tweet and otherwise engage with some very interesting people.

I do not believe in awards of any form - other than those I award to myself! This is a personal (and not too serious) eccentricity or idiosyncracy.

It will not surprise you, therefore, to learn that I would not dream of entering such a competition.

I do, however, think the blogs long and short listed last year were very good and many I had not come across before.


Steve Jones said...

Good luck, but I have to question the use of the adjective "illiberal" with regards to Andrew Marr's ill-considered remarks. I'm not quite sure what is illiberal about them. Maybe outdated, dismissive, arrogant, rude, inconsiderate, badly-informed, elitist and prejudiced. One can mis-use a word like illiberal, and it then just becomes just another devalued bit of verbal currency.

There might be a simpler explanation. If we are to take David Mitchell's version at face value, he simply let slip a view that pandered to the pre-conceptions of an audience under the influence of sufficient free wine to loosen inhibitions.

As far as the award goes, then my vote would go to somebody who did more than repeat a predictable line in opinion and showed insight and some independence of thought outside of a narrow political affiliations. It would also have to be backed up by proper evidence and not polemicism (if that's a word).

ps. I have carefully checked David Mitchell's article, and it would appear to be him, rather than me, that is in the line for a defamation suit if it turns out that Andrew Marr is a teetotaller, unlikely as that is for a Scot (I'm told they do exist).

Joe MacFarlane. said...

Didn't the Orwell go to the dire "P.C Ellie Bloggs" last year? As we say in Belfast "Show your colours", if you wish to be apologists for the thick blue line say so. New Scotland Yard delenda est.

raincoatoptimism said...

Even though he hates me, I think Paul Sagar is a blogger worthy of a vote or two. Also Louise of HarpyMarx fame. Yes.

Nile said...

Andrew Marr: the thinking man's Janet Street-Porter. Both of these luminaries are prominent in their respective corners of the media, and who am I to say that they are 'prominent for being prominent'?

Surely they have both achieved their prominence and eminence on merit, and both have much to contribute; there is still some way to go before they retreat from contributing anything new and take on the mantle of the mediocre, defending past achievements by belittling the new and the newcomer.

Both have contributed diatribes against the internet that have passed into the pantheon of parody; and one or both of them is wedded to the 'broadcast' model of Old Media - and in conversation, one or both of them talks 'at' you, loudly braying their opinions with no thought of actually engaging with another person...

Which brings me to the point of my reply: blogging is an interactive medium and I hope that you, a judge of the Orwell competition, will look into the comments on their blogs, the quality of the debate, and weigh in your decision the engagement of the bloggers with their audience and their online community.