The Orwell Prize long lists are out. As I may have mentioned (ahem) I was a judge on the blog prize, along with Suzanne Moore.
Congratulations to everyone on the long list, and sorry to everyone who didn't make it. I've been shortlisted, long listed and not-long listed, so I can totally understand the sense of mild irritation and annoyance that people who didn't make it on the long list are feeling.
If you're anything like me, it goes something like "But X is Rubbish. I'm way better than that. Seriously, what the…". This is rapidly replaced by a passive-aggressive "congratulations" tweet, post or comment. I am not broad of spirit, or generous of nature. For shame.
But i thought it might be worth putting down a few thoughts about political blogging that occurred to me during the long listing process. I'm not going to talk about specific long-listed blogs, because we've still got the short-list and the winner to decide, but if anything gives you a sense of where things are in British political blogging, it's reading 2,600- odd blog posts, and it seems a shame to not mark that in some way
What is a Blog?
Online Writing is changing so much. A couple of years ago, you could pretty much define a blog as, amazingly – a web based, log written by one or more author, usually with a consistent theme. This would primarily be differentiated from print journalism, often by being shorter, snappier, more informal, whatever. It was common to hear people talk about the "energy" and "immediacy" of blogs.
Today, Twitter and Facebook have captured much of the "This is what I think about What is happening right now" aspect. Blogs, in turn, have variegated. One thing I noticed in my own posts, and in those I read for the prize, is that they seem to have got much, much longer. I am particularly awful for this, but I can see why this creates barriers to reading what I and others write. If twitter is breezy, light, always-on, there's a danger that blogs become heavy, stodgy, indigestible.
In addition, people often submitted what were articles, just written for well known websites, not magazines. Look at Huffington Post, Liberal Conspiracy, LabourList, ConservativeHome – are these blogs? Are they magazines? Similarly, what about tumblr, or other primarily image based blogs? At what point does a blog become journalism, on one side, and just a collection of captions, on the other?
One of our favourite non-long listed blogs was basically a collection of found images, with wonderful descriptions of how they might relate to the current political and social environment. Beautiful, sparse, elegant. How can this be judged alongside someone writing about their experiences on anti-capitalism demonstrations and their mistreatment by the police, in fizzing, angry, thousand word polemics? Examples of really interesting blogs on both sides may have missed the short-list, not because they weren't brilliant, but because of the shifting definition of blogging, of writing, of online writing, as an art.
Yet balance this against a single huge gain. If blogs become more info-heavy, whether in text or visual acuity, the value of expertise, of personal insight becomes ever greater. One of the themes of our long list, probably accidentally, is that many of the people who stood out as we judged have expertise in fields that are perhaps neglected in traditional political journalism. Of those that didn't make the long list, i can immediately think of a lawyer, a benefit claimant, an anarchist, economists, scientists, an accountant, a porn actress. Indeed, It felt like we could easily have listed a half dozen law blogs alone (Indeed, the standard of writing among lawyers seems to be noticeably high. There should be a specific prize for good legal writing online).
Such an expert writing well brings to life their subject, and often a community responds to their experience and perspective. Many of the writers share with their commenters a great frustration with the way their field is covered by the media, not because of media malice, but out of simple ignorance.
The same could be said for what I think of as hyper-local blogs. It's the power of the expert and the personal perspective. It feels to me that some of these are right at the cutting edge of what political blogging should be. Some are leading the news agenda already, others will follow in their wake – why? Because they show the power of writing in the hands of a committed, interested citizen.
Ironically, the big losers in all this are probably "My" kind of blogging.
The blog that felt old fashioned were those of the now-cliched figure of the opinionated, nearly-connected figure on the fringes of political life who decides to say in public what is being said in private. He's probably male, and probably writing in his lunch break, or in his pants of a weekend. There were a lot of these kinds of blogs, and mine would have been among them. Reading them as an outsider, I can see why I wasn't long-listed last year.
En-masse, reading the opinions of a 30-something man about the challenges and problems of their political party becomes enervating, not exciting. If you write this kind of blog, and didn't get long listed, please know that I am probably judging myself far harder than I'm judging you. i often felt that I was reading a closed shop, designed only to influence people like me, who already know the code. I could be being far too harsh here, but I'm being hard on myself, so I apologise.
Two final thoughts.
First: Design matters. Small white text on a black background? Stop it. Seriously. Those of us who are primarily text writers should think about using more images in our work. It really makes a difference. Reading a blog that was well designed, and which complemented the written content with good design – or even better actual artistic originality – was like a cool glass of water. It's something I've definitely learned to appreciate, and something I'd like to get better at.
Last, although I'd read much this year about how women's voices were excluded from the political sphere online, It was really noticeable how many women's posts were, directly or indirectly about their exclusion, from politics and from online debate. This is an even greater shame because there were so many, really good blogs by women submitted.
We clearly have a long way to go in achieving equity in the way women, from many different backgrounds, are heard. We tried as best we could in the long list to reflect this, and although we didn't quite get to gender equity in the long list, there are blogs of incredible quality both on and off the long-list that deserve to get a wide audience, and I'm sure will. Some, I'm glad to know, are already getting the recognition they deserve, Orwell or no Orwell.