Awards have been very much in the limelight in the outdoors blogging world recently, with controversy surrounding at least one prominent award for Outdoor Blog of the Year (note, not necessarily “Best” given that the shortlist itself is more of a popularity and “who has more friends” contest – a better description would be “Most Popular out of a limited selection of blogs”). I’ll say my piece on this subject, get the elephant out of the room and then it’ll be on to the main business of this post.
The Elephant in the Room
The concept of an award given by journalists to bloggers or by gear distributors to those who “review” their products, I find in itself both hilarious and highly patronizing. There, I’ve said it.
Another set of awards came out in the last week, with many of the same contenders, making it look like a bit of a lift from the previous awards. And it’s not bitterness on my part at not being included: I myself was nominated in the GoOutdoors version earlier in the year, ultimately losing out to Fozzie – much as expected, as he and his blog are just better known. I suspect many voters in these simply plump for one they’ve seen, and don’t bother to look at the ones that are new to them. In the case of the GO awards I’m pretty sure that nomination was based heavily on people they’ve worked with on gear reviews and the like, and so is probably not that objective, and hence meaningful, anyway. Certainly winning a blog award from a third-rate budget outdoor shop, as in the case of the latest set of awards, isn’t really that much of an endorsement.
My own attitude to these various awards is somewhere between gratitude for any recognition I get in the unlikely event I’m nominated, irritation when I see blogs that are clearly utter drivel getting shortlisted ahead of mine or those I read that are better, pragmatism that this game is just as much about prostituting yourself as it is about writing quality content, and cynicism about the commercial motives behind many of these so-called “awards”. A good number of these are really just piggy-backing off of well-known personalities in the outdoors world in order to get people into their shops and websites to buy stuff – all for just the cost of some free gear to the winner, which comes out of their digital marketing budgets anyway. Blog awards arguably generate more buzz for the brand or organisation in question than simply getting someone to write a gear review post, and all for a similar cost to the organisation.
A big part of me also considers it really patronizing that large gear retailers, manufacturers and the outdoors media run awards for blogging, as if they by being commercial and professional outfits have the right to give little pats on the head to those dear little bloggers that try so hard but still aren’t somehow “proper” journalists. Which makes it all the more wrong when a professional journalist (by which I mean someone who does it for money, not necessarily one that’s any good!!) wins an award for blogging over and above those which better reflect the essence of what bloggers are really about – free, unconstrained writing by individuals that love what they do, not those who have a need to generate lowest common denominator drivel as part of a wider media career.
It seems to me somewhat FIFA-esque that paid journalists with all of the inherent advantages that brings are allowed to mix it with independent individuals when it comes to awards such as these given by people in the exact same line of work. THIS is my beef with that particular winner, it’s nothing to do with the veiled and, in some cases, direct allegations of sexism on both sides, it’s not about the imperfect voting system, allegations of rigging or insider dealing, or whether the blog in question represents the typical audience of the awarding organisation. Hell, it’s not even about the fact the blog in question is the biggest load of old tosh I’ve ever read about the outdoors (which it is: I’ve seen absolutely no one stick up for the winner on the grounds of the quality of their output!). Don’t get me wrong, it is of course fine for a journalist to have a blog – I just don’t think it’s right that journalists should be eligible to get awards for blogging from other journalists when up against non-journalists.
And stop using the term “Best” when the decision is essentially just a matter of who can get most votes – look at Strictly Come Dancing – the best dancers often don’t win, and the worst dancers often don’t leave first. If you truly want best, then judge it by experts who are qualified to make that determination.
It’s not a particularly efficient market as our economist friends would say. Rising to the top of the tree is much much more about promotion than it is over content – truly good content that no one knows about will never make it. Style over substance wins, as in so many walks of life nowadays. That’s the way of the world, but it doesn’t stop it being lamentable all the same.
Ok, so what about people voting for their friends and encouraging others to do so, I hear you say ? Well firstly, everyone does that so in a sense the playing fields is still somewhat level. The trouble I actually have is that there are typically several friends at once up for the same award, so I still have to choose between them. So the friends argument is largely spurious. In any case, why and how did these people get to be friends in the first place ? Well, I’ll tell you: from reading their blogs and engaging with them on social media, THEN meeting them in real life and finding we get on. These people are friends on merit. And that’s why we vote for their blogs.
At the end of the day, the reason I blog isn’t to win awards; it’s not to boost a nascent journalism career; it’s not to get free stuff (although that’s nice when it happens, but I DO turn away gear for review if I don’t feel it relevant to what I do). At its core it’s simply a means of me recording my experiences for me to look back on in later years. The fact that I do it online rather than in a physical journal is for two reasons – I recognise that other people also like to read this stuff, and the consequent push to keep generating content for my modest audience acts as a motivator to make sure I keep recording these experiences. In some cases, an idea for a blog post has inspired a walk or adventure, and that’s a good thing. For me, blogging my adventures is simply a much more effective tool than remembering to write them down in a physical journal. We’ve all tried keeping a diary when we were kids, and it doesn’t tend to last long.
That’s it, rant over, and now on with introducing the “Ploddies”.
Introducing the Ploddies
Here you have a set of awards that you can be sure are 100% fair. There’s no suggestion of vote-rigging, of campaigns to “get the vote out”, or of shady back-room deals to get nominations. The reason these are 100% fair is simple – in order to be eligible for a Ploddy, the gear, blog, walk, pub etc. has to have been experienced by the panel (me) directly. Since there’s no vote, the winner can’t be decided by that sort of apparently “objective” measure – the panel must agree among themselves who is the worthy winner, and explain why they won.
This does mean that the nomination process will result in the absence of places, people and stuff that you dear readers would generally consider worthy of consideration, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about me sharing the best experiences of the year.
The categories (so far) are:
- Daywalk of the year
- Multi-day backpack of the year
- Favourite new and old Wainwrights of the year
- Favourite other hill or mountain of the year
- Best wildcamp
- View of the year
- Sunset and sunrise of the year
- Favourite tarn of the year
- Adventure of the year
- Revelation of the year
- Gear of the year – new and old
- Gear shop or online retailer of the year
- Accommodation of the year
- Beer of the year
- Favourite blog (sorry, I couldn’t resist including this category. Environment-wrecking hipsters need not apply)
I will of course happily consider adding further categories if anyone wants to see them, and I deem them relevant. Note that of the 18 possible awards here, only 3 are about gear – these awards are about getting out there and enjoying the hills, not flogging stuff.
The winners will be announced over the festive period, probably spread across a couple of posts as it’s been a very full year with 8 trips to the Lakes, 3 to the SWCP and Dartmoor, a long-distance path completed and trips to Wales, Austria and the Peak District to consider.