Boy scout got merit badges

Armed with consolation prizes, Vegter strides onThe annual SA Blog Awards were handed out last night. This blog didn’t get any first prizes, but despite only having been launched in June last year, got a few merit badges for being among the runners-up in three categories. Sadly, those exclude the one I kinda wanted: best green blog.

Given the competition, many bloggers were unsurprised at the winners. As Bridget McNulty points out, there will be some griping in the blogosphere.

The overall winner, deservedly, was the Mail & Guardian‘s online opinion project, ThoughtLeader. I’ll desist from gushing too much about the impact it has had in the South African blogosphere and its coming of age, since I also blog there, as it happens.

Peas on Toast snapped up two more awards to add to her illustrious list of accolades, for best post and best original writing. Well done, and well deserved, on both counts, I might add. Her best post sounded terrifically familiar: How not to buy condoms. I’ve had exactly the same experience, with the added embarrassment that a long queue was forming behind me, and a cute girl towards the back called out, “Hi, Ivo! How nice to see you!” There’s a reason I didn’t blog about it…

Matt Buckland deserves an honourable mention for being involved with three of the winners (and Vince Maher for two of them): Best overall and best politics blog, ThoughtLeader, best business blog at matthewbuckland.com, and best blog about blogging for aggregator site Amatomu. Well done, Matt and Vince. You host excellent braais — sorry, Bloggerati/Digerati events — too.

Other winners were the most popular blog in South Africa, Mark Keohane’s sport blog, Cape Town Daily Photo for best travel blog, best design blog for the felicitously titled Skinny Laminx, best tech blog imod.co.za, best foreign blog by a South African and best food & drink blog to the delectably presented Cook Sister, Peak Performances for best music blog, best personal blog to the perennial So Close, and best photo blog to Jenty’s Photo-a-Day, not to mention Urban Sprout for carrying the banner of the orthodox green religion. Newly added to my feed reader is the country’s best undiscovered blog, written by a young girl with cystic fibrosis, who has the sense of humour to title her blog about how breathtaking life can be Living Life Breathlessly.

But, on to the gripes. ThoughtLeader was the Goliath that dominated the politics category. Competition from a site funded and promoted by a major weekly newspaper seems a little unfair to valiant pajama-clad Davids who are among my favourite blogs, such as Commentary South Africa, Politics.za and Alex Matthews’s AfroDissident. ThoughtLeader has at last count recruited over a hundred contributors to churn out copy. Despite such volumes its stated readership is only about 10 or 15 times my own meagre traffic numbers, which makes for an interesting object lesson in the law of diminishing returns. That none of us genuine bloggers — the solo kind — could cut it against a media-funded mega-blog is not entirely surprising.

Other categories saw similar scenarios. East Coast Radio has several corporate blogs, and between them, they swept all before it. Best new blog went to its NewsWatch site, best entertainment blog, most humorous blog, and best group blog all went to The BIG Breakfast Blog, and best podcast was snapped up by its Just Plain’s ‘On The Blog’. It would not surprise me if some bloggers feel a little put-upon to be routed by media personalities who get paid by their employers to blog, and who enjoy, for free, the promotional power of radio to boot.

To add to the confusion, ThoughtLeader, the best overall blog, was also a finalist in the group blog category, which ECR won, and despite having been launched in 2007 didn’t crack the new blog category. Ironic, not so?

It is true that, as one of the organisers explained to me, the ECR and ThoughLeader wins have a positive promotional spinoff for blogging in general. Their links to the winners could result in a traffic boost for runners-up, and it promotes blogging in general. I know I’ve discovered a few excellent blogs of which I had been unaware through participating in the awards.

Still, my solution would be to limit group blogs to the group blog category, so individual bloggers can’t go win the group category, and solo politics writers won’t have to take on entire armies in the politics category. Similarly, I’d establish a “commercial” category, for blogs that are funded and operated by commercial media organisations such as East Coast Radio. They’re not in the same weight division as regular bloggers who can’t hire full-time staff, so matching them up is going to cause bruises. If it seems unfair to ban a commercial blog from a particular category, perhaps the categories themselves should be split into amateur and commercial. The shortlist of nominated finalists in each category can then be halved, if organisers, judges and voters don’t want to face an overwhelming number of entries.

That said, I’m chuffed with my three merit badges. Armed thus, this nightwatch will stride resolutely onwards, putting barbarian heads on the spike as he valiantly defends individual liberty and market economics against pillaging socialists, fascists rulers and the invading green hordes.