In 2001, a Seattle woman named Zannah won the “Weblog of the Year” Bloggie award for her blog titled, “#!/usr/bin/girl.” In late 2004, the high-profile political blog Powerline was named Time Magazine’s Blog of the Year for raising questions about the Bush National Guard story on “60 Minutes II.”
In the space of a few years, Weblogs have gone from the province of chatty geeks into mainstream culture and political thought. But the way awards are bestowed on the best blogs remains a strange brew of popularity contests, online campaigning and secretive judging. And that’s not far off from the chaotic nature of blogging itself, eschewing academies of voters, esteemed panels and award hardware.
The Bloggies are the longest running blog awards (since 2001) and are run by perhaps the youngest award administrator, Nikolai Nolan, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Michigan who does Web design work. While Nolan admits the early Bloggie awards were more limited to people he knew and what they read, the awards have now widened to include “Best Food Blog” and “Best Writing of a Blog” with a broader spectrum of nominees.
Nolan opens the nomination process to the public, and then those nominations are whittled down by a randomly selected group of voters. Then those finalists are voted on by the public again. In 2002, 4 of the 50 randomly chosen voters happened to be from Dallas, and the nominees ended up weighted toward that city’s bloggers, Nolan told me. While he has fixed that problem by picking 150 people randomly and only giving them power in certain categories, the voting is still more about popularity than quality.
“I didn’t necessarily want it to have people analyzing them for quality,” Nolan said. “People vote on what they like.”
By 2004, the Bloggie for Weblog of the Year went to BoingBoing, a popular group blog, which won $20.04 from Nolan and a couple free passes to the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, where the awards were announced officially. This year’s winners will also be announced at SXSW, and anyone can donate prizes to winners in different categories.
Meanwhile, conservative blogger and IT consultant Kevin Aylward, who pens the Wizbang blog, launched his own Weblog Awards in 2003. His voting system included nominations within blog post comments and then a whittling down of nominees from random volunteers who offered to help. Then people were allowed to vote once per day during 10 days of open voting — with live public tallies of the vote.
While the Bloggies have highlighted very few conservative blogs, even in the political categories, Aylward’s Weblog Awards were nearly swept by conservative blogs both years. Best overall blog went to Little Green Footballs in ’03 and Powerline won it in ’04. Why the ideological split? Aylward says all the nominees for Bloggies were also nominated for his Weblog Awards but that the winners tend to be a product of the best online campaigning for votes.
“It’s mostly a question of trying to get ahead of it and do better PR,” Aylward said. “My idea was that these would be general purpose, non-political [awards]. The fact was maybe we didn’t get enough sites nominated that were non-conservative. We did the best we could to keep the balance in a particular category. … It’s a popularity contest. The question is can blog A get more readers to vote than blog B?”
Both the Bloggies and Weblog Awards have had to deal with people trying to manipulate the vote, with Aylward having to ward off a script attack from people associated with the liberal Daily Kos blog. Aylward has had to balance openness with fairness. “You want maximum participation with a minimum amount of headaches,” he said.
Journalism awards, publications join the game
With the pull and push between news organizations and bloggers, it’s no surprise that few major journalism awards feature blogs. However, that might be slowly changing. The Online Journalism Awards, run by the Online News Association and USC Annenberg School of Communication (the publisher of OJR), has awarded journalist blogs the past two years in the Online Commentary category: Nicholas Kristof’s online feedback loop at NYTimes.com, and Dan Gillmor’s eJournal from MercuryNews.com.
Tom Regan is executive director of the Online News Association and associate editor of csmonitor.com, the site for the Christian Science Monitor. Regan has a blog himself on csmonitor.com called My American Experience, so it’s not surprising he has a pretty open philosophy about bloggers qualifying for Online Journalism Awards.
“[The blog] would have to have met the appropriate definition for the category (breaking news, etc.),” Regan told me via e-mail. “But if it did, I don’t see why people shouldn’t enter appropriate blogs. The OJA wants the best in online journalism. That’s the key. The format is secondary.”
Editor & Publisher’s EPpy Awards will consider blogs for some of its established categories, and might start a new blog category in future competitions. The Society of Professional Journalists also bestows national awards for online journalism, though not in online commentary. Even the Pulitzer Prizes have included online elements for their Public Service category, though the board hasn’t outlined specific ways Weblogs might be included.
Sig Gissler is the administrator of the Pulitzers, a non-voting board member who is also a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. As for more online content coming under consideration, Gissler told me it comes up, but nothing has been changed since the online component of Public Service was added in 1999.
“That doesn’t rule out the possibility of ever doing anything,” Gissler said. “The prizes have been around since 1917, and they’ve gone through evolutionary changes.”
Meanwhile, a variety of publications have decided to award blogs without the benefit of juries or transparent rules. Forbes.com has its Best Blogs, washingtonpost.com awarded political blogs, and CMP Techweb had a contest for best technology blogs [see full listing below]. In most cases, the awards were probably marketing initiatives to drive traffic to the online publications with either voting or descriptions of the winners.
Finding a cause abroad
If the nature of Weblog awards in the U.S. is more like a beauty pageant, leave it to the Europeans to add sophistication and seriousness to their awards. German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle ran a juried award for 2004 called the International Weblog Awards, or Best of the Blogs (a.k.a. The BOBs). The ten jury members hailed from around the world and had to judge more than 1,000 blogs in seven languages.
The BOBs had jury-awarded prizes as well as prizes by popular vote, with 67,000 online ballots cast. The winner of best overall blog went to The Dog Newspaper, which highlights poor treatment of dogs in China and Asia compared to the Western world.
Many of the winning blogs had a journalistic bent, likely due to the media-heavy jury and the intent of Deutsche Welle. There were awards for “Best Journalistic Blog” in English, Arabic, Chinese, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
“As an international broadcaster we consider ‘the free flow of information’ as central to Deutsche Welle’s philosophy,” said Holger Hank, editorial director of DW-World, Deutsche Welle’s online portal. “Bloggers provide information without government interference or corporate restrictions — that’s a good match. The Internet is a very multilingual universe these days. The BOBs were the first attempt to give an international overview.”
Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), a French group that champions the causes of imprisoned journalists and bloggers, announced it was offering an award for a blog that best defended free expression. The group is currently taking nominations by e-mail at [email protected] and will accept blogs in any language, by journalists or non-journalists and even from anonymous bloggers.
“We want to draw attention to the importance of Weblogs in countries where the traditional press is under the control of the authorities,” said a release on the RSF’s Web site.
Still, the Europeans aren’t without their light-hearted blog awards. When the group blog Fistful of Euros decided to do a public polling for the 1st European Weblog Awards, the name voters liked most for the awards was “The Satin Pajamas Awards.”
Juries and year-round prizes
Meanwhile, across the pond, Weblog awards might get a bit more professional in the coming months and years. The 2005 Bloggies include even more donated prizes for winners, and the established Webby Awards will include a Best Blogs category this year. There’s even a deal where Bloggie finalists can enter the Webby Awards for free.
Plus, Aylward has plans to keep his new domain weblogawards.org active throughout the year, with niche awards given out possibly on a monthly basis. He is even considering a limited amount of jury awards next year.
“[Blogger and pundit] Hugh Hewitt sent me a suggestion, which I’ll probably do this coming year, which is take some people who won and do some jury awards,” Aylward said. “So maybe we’ll do that next year and have a couple non-voting awards, but that’s the exception, not the rule. If you’re going to do something merit-based, that doesn’t jibe with open voting.”
While awards always bring debate over who should have won and who shouldn’t have, it’s best not to take these judgments too seriously. One award-winning blogger who writes Weblog Wannabe even created an Award-O-Matic, so that anyone can input their blog name and get an automated award certificate for some fictitious category such as “Crankiest Weblogger Alive.” That’s the kind of ego-deflation that’s necessary in the blogosphere.
Partial Listing of Weblog Awards
RSF Award for Blogs Defending Free Expression
e-mail nominations to: [email protected]
winners announced: TBD
Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards
Best of the Blogs (The BOBs)
2004 jury winners: http://www.thebobs.de/bob.php?site=winner
2004 popular vote winners: http://www.thebobs.de/bob.php?site=results
permanent Web home of The BOBs: http://www.thebobs.de/bob.php?site=home
1st European Weblog Awards
Satin Pajama Awards
Asia Blog Awards
run by Simon World blog: http://simonworld.mu.nu/
Australian Blog Awards
run by Keks blog: http://kekoc.com/wp/
Canadian Blog Awards
run by My Blahg: http://myblahg.blogspot.com/
Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards
run by Israellycool blog: http://www.israellycool.com/blog
2004 finals voting open now: http://www.israellycool.com/blog/_archives/2005/2/6/304515.html
2004 finalists, with live vote tallies: http://autumndream.net/israellycool/allf.php
2004 award winners: http://www.webbyawards.com/webbys/winners-2004.php
2005 nominees announced in April; winners announced in May at New York City VIP, invite-only event
Online Journalism Awards
2004 OJR winners: text
2005 award nominations: deadlines TBD
2004 winners: http://royal.reliaserve.com/eppy/winners2004.html
2005 awards: nominations open until Feb. 25, 2005
Best Blogs Politics & Elections
run by washingtonpost.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
2004 winners: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/marketing/blog/
TechWeb Best Independent Tech Blog
2004 winners: http://www.techweb.com/blogawards/winners.html
Forbes.com Best Blogs
2004 winners: http://www.forbes.com/personaltech/2003/04/14/bestblogslander.html
The Backbencher’s Political Weblog Awards
2004 winners: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/redbox/page/0,9030,1135418,00.html
2005 nominations open for UK-based blogs: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/competitions/page/1,14303,-288,00.html
Did we miss an award? Hit the “What Do You Think?” button below to add any other awards we didn’t list.