Personal Publishing

On the Guardian weblog competition…

I promised myself I wouldn’t comment on the Guardian’s Weblog Award this year, as my opinions last year caused a good few fights and didn’t really seem to do that much good in the end. Some people entered and didn’t have a problem with it, others did have a problem with it and didn’t enter. This year they’d made more of an effort I thought, and although I still didn’t really agree with it, I thought it churlish to comment. But really, they’ve been so ungracious about the whole thing!

Firstly the (in person) absolutely charming Simon Waldman wrote of the – fairly reasonable difference of opinion that we had last year:

“Within hours, the blogging community was talking about it – good and bad, but mostly bad. There was outrage that anyone, let alone a newspaper, should sit in judgment on blogs. There were conspiracies that it was just a devious plan to get traffic on Guardian Unlimited (as if we needed it). We thought we were simply launching a competition: at times, it felt more like we were dropping a hand grenade into a hornet’s nest.”

But rather than accepting that the people who protested might have had a good point (particularly given that they actually wrote to UKBloggers saying that they’d taken many of the previous year’s comments into account) instead he decided to declare any dissent to be the product of a hardcore bunch of grumblers (the line is:”The original hardcore blogging community is still there, and still vociferous”) while suggesting that while that’s happening, alongside “every month, thousands of others are trying their hand at this unique publishing form”. The latter group – of course – being prime candidates for a little pat on the head from the nation’s favourite (and indeed, my favourite) left-wing newspaper.

It’s a shame, then, that the evidence from the ground is less rosy – and that even some of the people who liked the Guardian competition last year are coming to feel at least slightly less comfortable with it a year later (cf. Naked Blog). But that’s not the end of it. First we had the rather self-congratulatory, but not particularly annoying assumption that all webloggers at this weekend’s Christmas party would be all of a fluster about the competition which Meg then entertainingly lampooned, followed by another snipey post on the Guardian’s weblog about the whole thing.

Now look – the whole thing’s pretty trivial, but let’s make one thing clear. It is not an obvious fact that weblog competitions like this are good things, and it’s certainly not an obvious fact that belittling the opinions of people who disagree with you – when you’re supposed to be a national paper and rather above that kind of thing – is that brilliant an idea either. So I’ve felt compelled to write this rather stuffy e-mail to the Guardian about it (after a rather muffled grump directed at Mr Waldman earlier didn’t do much good) – just to kind of make it clear that the whole point of the exercise is to encourage people to express their opinions, not throw the Guardian’s 800lb Gorilla at anyone who doesn’t hold the same views!

Jane! Really! The thing about the competition that people get cross about is that it feels like colonisation rather than reward! We’re actually going to meet our friends and our peers and stuff and we arranged it and we’re mostly pretty much looking forward to it. A good proportion of us resent the implication that we’re all going to spend the time giggling like twelve-year-olds and puzzling about who’ll win the prize in a competition that we don’t really think gets the point of the whole things in the first place.

I mean, you’re talking as if the people who have weblogs are all desperate fame-starved teenagers publishing magazine-like columns to try and get acclaim and publicity. Even the people who have entered – and I mean no offense to them because if you don’t have a problem with it, then you may as well go after the cash – probably aren’t seriously thinking about gossiping at length, getting hysterical and fainting at the merest thought of the thing. There are many professional people who are using them to connect with their industries or their peers, families who are talking to their relatives abroad – it’s not like the press, bits of it are like hanging out with friends or peers!
For many of us the Guardian competition is a well-intentioned but clumsy stab at trying to do something that promotes weblogs, but actually isn’t really that relevant /or/ exciting.And if you’re really trying to support and promote them, then making sarcastic comments about the kind of things they post about probably isn’t the best way!


See also: Mo Morgan’s “Less of a bloody stupid idea”

20 replies on “On the Guardian weblog competition…”

More awards
I’m considering starting the Blatant Optimism “Best British Phone Call” awards. If you have made a phone call recently and would like to be considered, please let me know. I’ll need a tape of the call, details of who it…

Oh come on, get over it. It was a throwaway remark, hardly designed to seriously suggest that a clique of vain little bloggers in London Village would *actually* be arguing over The Guardian’s competition (though, given the level of vitriol currently being spewed the newspaper’s way, who would bet against the topic now being on at least some lips?) I think you’re reading too much into it.
The debate is an interesting one, because it symbolises the supposed disjuncture between powerful ‘ol, top-down, institutionalised media and punk, grassroots, personal-publishing channels. The place between those two points is the interesting place where this argument fizzes.
But look at the list of judges. Half of it reads like a Who’s Who of blog slebs – Kottke, Trott, Denton, Watson, Pax (okay, so he’s in bed with The Grauniad), Azhar, Gillmor, Sterling. So you can’t claim to speak for, or defend, the single, outraged blogging “community” out there… this is your *personal* opinion – the “blogosphere” has now grown too big, too amorphous to be ascribed single characteristics and (your own) default opinions.
Rightly or wrongly, that does leave sections of the medium open to be rated, reviewed, panned and applauded. I am of the – playful – opinion that awards and reviews have no place in the art world, for example, because, hey, art is an entirely personal mode of creative self-expression – it simply can’t *be* wrong! Clearly, that may also be applied to opinion, but I’m also inclined to think that media which set themselves parameters within which to work and patches to cover leave themselves more open to being judged.

There really isn’t anything for Tom to “get over”, so far as I can see.
The principle is really very simple. It’s like you’ve got a few friends over for dinner, and I turn up uninvited and announce that it’s my birthday party. That’s all.

First off, – if you want to have an honest debate about the subject then I’ll take you much more seriously if you actually leave your name and proper e-mail address. Unless you work for Typepad, that e-mail address is invalid, and I pretty much don’t think you work for Typepad. Posting anonymously like that rather hurts whatever case you have, because people are going to assume – rightly or wrongly – that you have a vested interest that you’re not prepared to overtly stand behind.
Secondly, I think your response is substantially more melodramatic than mine – given that you talk about a level of vitriol directed at the Guardian that I’m totally unaware of! Indeed if you read my piece above, I say the Guardian’s my favourite newspaper, that I had no interest in getting involved in any of the debate around the event this year, that the whole thing’s pretty trivial. I just think it’s a bit cheap to claim to be doing something for the good of webloggers and freedom of expression and then use your professional, ostensibly serious, grown-up media voice to dismiss any and all of the webloggers who disagreed with your approach as being hard-core and vociferous.
With regards to me trying to speak for the weblogging community as a whole – I’m sorry to be so rude, but frankly you’re talking out of your arse. I say throughout that piece that I’m talking about a ‘good proportion’ at one point, ‘some’ and ‘many of us’ at others – and often those proportions are explicitly talking about the people who are being characterised as a vociferous minority. You won’t find a single statement in that piece that sets itself up to be representing the opinion of the blogosphere as a whole. There are a whole range of people who will enter the competition and a whole range who won’t (as I say above) and good luck to any and all of them. In fact – without wanting to really get into the whole argument about the award itself – the group that think they know best for the blogosphere are the Guardian – they’re the ones arguing that a competition like this helps weblogs and webloggers, that people who don’t agree with it aren’t representative and that webloggers as a whole find the topic so thrilling and exciting that they talk about it at every opportunity.
To be honest, I think when you talk about ‘weblogging celebrities’ and you talk about ‘media which set themselves parameters within which to work and patches to cover leave themselves more open to being judged’ and when you talk about the difference between ‘top-down’ and grassroots ‘personal’ media, that you’re really missing the whole point. The point is that for a huge amount of people their weblogs are not a type of media except inasmuch as their human voice is. They choose to use that voice to speak – sometimes to friends and sometimes to stranger – and don’t necessarily connect that with the same activity as producing a ‘piece of media’. It’s as Danny O’Brien said on Oblomovka recently – it’s not that they’re broadcasting these things publically for the whole world to consume – it’s that they’re having conversations in public with their friends and family and finding new people to have discussions with.
When you talk about weblogs as media you’re so obviously talking about a particular kind of publishing on a weblog that is a clear analogie of commercial publishing. Now this kind of publishing certainly exists amongst webloggers, but it’s just not the main activity of weblogging world-wide. The judges on your list should all know what happens when you get a little traffic and how that effects how they write – you become more like commercial publishing because you have too. But for the most part it still isn’t commercial publishing, and for everyone who runs a site like Gawker there are many hundreds – many thousands – who are literally just talking about their days and using them to communicate with a few friends in a dialogue or with a few complete strangers (with a hope that they’ll become friends). At this level, weblogs are more like representations of people than they are work that the people produce, and I maintain that judging whether one person’s opinions or ideas or bloody day-to-day life is more worthwhile than anothers is just a bit sick and wrong. It’s like your comparison with the art world. How on earth can you argue that awards have no place in the art world but do have a place for people’s self-expression online? It’s like going into someone else’s party at random and saying you’ll give the one that you find most entertaining £500 at the end of the evening! It’s bloody Indecent Proposal!
So do you have to agree with that position? Absolutely not! Do you have to think that subject-oriented weblogs shouldn’t be celebrated or promoted? Absolutely not! Do you have to think that weblogging competitions are bad? Absolutely not! You don’t have to think about any of those things at all because that’s not what this post is about. Plain and simple, and back to the beginning, the argument here is nothing but: if you believe in weblogs and you believe in a diversity of opinion, and you’re an important, authoritative, well-respected newspaper, then stop making sarcastic bloody comments about people who happen to have a different opinion than you and don’t presume that everyone should feel grateful for your presence.

You’ve turned what I saw as something fairly throwaway into a semi-big deal. If you don’t like something, that’s fine. But I think Jane’s piece, whether it was clumsy or not, was not badly intentioned. I certainly don’t think her Guardian weblog post was snipey; perhaps it felt like that from your context, but I just can’t read that into it.
Disagree with Waldo, sure, but taking it out on a minion seems rather unfair.
There are a million arguments to be had about this, of course, but to be honest they are all relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and shouldn’t sour a social ocassion that all of us were actually looking forward to.
Knowing, in whatever context, pretty much everyone involved, I find this a particularly difficult argument that seems to be growing out of scale in a rather bizarre way.
But I’d just ask one thing: to remember that there are people on the end of all these arguments, and if everyone takes a step back and reads things in the light they were intended you’ll see it could actually be quite hurtful for *everybody* involved.
I think I’ll come tonight, though I’m not convinced, since I don’t particularly want to be on the defensive or pilloried by angry webloggers. I hope Jane comes, I don’t know if Waldo will. But whatever, I hope that this whole shebang can be put in its rightful place – i.e. the back of our minds.
I’d rather just get drunk with friends old and new.

Articles like this (and the comment that follow) are precisely why people on the outside find this balkan of the blogging community (you know, the one which blogs about blogging) self-orbitting, comically self-important, and heart-breakingly dull.

Mike: surely identifying people as “inside” and “outside” the “community” creates the self-importance of which you speak.
The only inside and outside that I can see within the context of this discussion is the division between the amateur and the professional.

Writing personally, lest you accuse me of setting the Guardian’s supposed 800lb Gorilla on you and your party, Tom, I think this argument is perfectly absurd. You’ve just taken 800 words to diss something despite insisting “I promised myself I wouldn’t comment on the Guardian’s Weblog Award this year”, “I thought it churlish to comment” and “the whole thing’s pretty trivial”. You’ve written even more in the comments, taking a comment that was – at worst – glib and using it to whip up what passes for a storm in this tiny teacup. It’s one way to spend a damp Saturday afternoon, I suppose, but I say you were right first time – it is trivial, it is churlish. For goodness sake have a good drink tonight. I know I will. And you’re sounding like you need it too.

Look – I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t find Simon’s characterisation of the people who disagreed with last year’s competition rather aggravating (and I’m sure if you asked Mo Morgan – who was very pro the new changes initially as UKBloggers’ archive will tell you – or Meg Pickard among others, then you’ll find I wasn’t the only one). And I wasn’t going to say anything about the piece in the Guardian about us all talking about it, because I didn’t think it was particularly important, even though it was a bit aggravating.
Meg on the other hand did think it was important enough to comment on, and quite rightly posted about it. Which is fine and cool. I didn’t think at the time that I would follow suit – after all few of the people I know were entering the thing anyway – but whatever. We had a chat, I agreed it was annoying and we left it at that.
In the end though, the post on the Guardian’s weblog was just a bit rude to her specifically and to the community in general, so I decided that maybe I should stand up and say something. I don’t think it’s a huge deal. You call it a storm in a tiny tea-cup? Well I don’t see the storm, frankly. It’s just me writing a post on a weblog about something I don’t particularly agree with or like. You want a storm – there are other weblogs more suited to that…
In contrast to those weblogs who *have* argued much more vociferously about this than I (and there are several), I *have* tried to stay out of the firing line because I was aware that expressing an opinion on this stuff tends to start big fights that I’d rather avoid having and don’t think are particularly useful. I had about a dozen e-mails on the day of the competition’s launch from people who found it really annoying and came to my site to see if I’d rise to the challenge. And I didn’t. I avoided the temptation of getting involved in a big fight around the thing loads of times. I haven’t been stirring up dissent, I haven’t been campaigning against it. I’ve said NOTHING until now. And what I’m saying now isn’t about the competition so much as it is about the way the community has been characterised as basically a giggling group of twats with a hardcore of bitter wankers in the middle spoiling their happy fun.
Personally, I just think maybe it’s time that you stopped pretending that everyone thinks this kind of thing is a great idea and that anyone who disagrees with you is a dribbling twit and instead be at least VAGUELY polite to – and respectful of – the variety of opinion in the community of people that you’re trying to court.

My discomfort with the reply on the Guardian site yesterday wasn’t because of the “ooh, handbag” nature of it and I certainly don’t have an issue with the author at all. I was slightly uncomfortable with it because it doesn’t matter *who* wrote it – but that it was on the Guardian’s Weblog. I lampooned the Guardian on my personal site, mostly because the unfortunate phrasing of the original Guardian Weblog announcement about the party made it sound as if the competition discussion (and, by association, the Grauniad) was an accepted, expected part of the evening’s fun-filled agenda. My response has got *nothing* to do with the competition. My response would have been the same if it had been ITV saying “It’s a chance for British bloggers to meet up, have a dance and argue about who is going to win the Pop Idol” or if the FA had posted “It’s a chance for British bloggers to meet up, have a dance and argue about who is going to win the cup.” Well, it *is* a chance to discuss the topics aforementioned among many other possible subjects, like favourite cheese and who was the best pope, but there’s obviously a vested interest in the Guardian (BBC, FA) twisting the announcement to suit their particular agenda. Likewise, the party is a chance for British bloggers to meet up, have a dance and argue about my choice of footwear. Suddenly, the party sounds as if it’s being laid on specifically for me and my shoes – or at the very least, I’ve had something to do with it. Think Tupperware. Think Ann Summers. Same thing applies. The response on the Guardian’s site was a bit surprising. If a snarky comment (or comment which could be interpreted as being snarky, or even just a bit “ooh, handbag”) appeared on any other personal site i would think “whatever, personal opinion.” But in this case, it appeared on the Guardian’s weblog. Whatever is said there cannot be a personal statement, opinion or reaction, whoever wrote it (minion, columnist, editor, anonymous…), because it appears not on a personal site (like Waldman’s for example) but on a mouthpiece of an important, respected publication with massive reach. The Guardian may want comments posted there to be treated as if they are written on just any other blog, but that’s not the case – it’s different when a massive organisation does it. If a narky post appeared on the BBC disabilities blog, that’s the BBC’s official position. Corporate bloggers, whether named or not, are tacitly supporting their organisation’s aims, and representing that organisation digitally. When I lampooned the original post, I wasn’t lampooning Jane, I was lampooning The Guardian. And when a slightly sarcastic comment appears on that site, it’s not Jane saying it – it’s The Guardian. There’s a difference!

Tom, I am sorry if you, Meg or any other weblogger has been offended by anything I’ve written.
I do wish you’d take things a little less to heart, though. By writing copiously about this, you seem to be intent on making the whole thing an issue for discussion tonight after all.
Like any national newspaper organising awards in a particular field, we are going to write about it, and encourage (not order) others to talk about it too. There’s no three-line whip for you or any other blogger to enter the awards or to agree with how we’ve organised things.
My blog entry yesterday was an attempt to emphasise that I have absolutely no influence over what people talk about or do tonight.
Speaking of which, see you at the Well a bit later …

I suppose any comment after the party would be pointless, anyway, I love pointless gestures:
co-opt: verb — 1) To elect as a fellow member of a group. 2) To appoint summarily. 3) To take or assume for one’s own use; appropriate: co-opted the criticism by embracing it. 4) To neutralise or win over (an independent minority, for example) through assimilation into an established group or culture: co-opt rebels by giving them positions of authority.
and blah, blah, blah….

If I may be allowed to intrude, I saw that comment in The Guardian and thought it hilarious and inoffensive. I can barely believe so many knickers have got into such a large twist about it.

The best of British blogging?
The Guardian’s British Blog awards have just been announced. Some people were always suspicious of the whole thing and yet the intentions were admirable. I’ve ended up feeling slightly underwhelmed by the whole thing – I was expecting it to…

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