Comments on: Awarding online journalism A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: Cynic Mon, 16 Nov 2009 15:20:28 +0000 To that lengthy screed, let me add two other points. The first is that if Loeb is actually trying “to encourage reporting on these subjects that would both inform and protect the private investor and the general public,” then it really needs to pay attention to the blogosphere. A huge (and rapidly increasing) number of Americans go online to get their news, and that’s probably more true of finance than of other categories of reporting. If Tim Geithner is serving cookies to bloggers and trying to woo them, then for Loeb to ignore them would be to seal the irrelevance of its broader mission.

The other is that we’re not talking about blogs, but bloggers. And many bloggers do, in fact, crave and deserve the recognition that a major award provides. It’s a brutal media environment. Job security is scarce. Independent bloggers often have day jobs, even if they’d rather blog full-time; bloggers working for major media organizations are no more secure than most other reporters, and subject to some pressures (page view counts, for example) that they are not.

But media outlets treasure prestigious awards, and have traditionally been willing to make large investments in order to obtain them – and handsomely rewarded those journalists who win them. A Loeb is business journalism’s closest equivalent to job security – not necessarily at any given media organization, but even if a Loeb-winner loses his job, he has a decided leg up on getting another. I know journalists who would kill for a Loeb, a Polk, a Pulitzer. And I know bloggers who would, too. It’s more than respect, or recognition from the dinosaurs of the print world. It’s about proving that blogs offer journalistic value far beyond their economic pay-off – and that, surprisingly, isn’t always the way they’re viewed by old-line news organizations. Where awards go, resources follow. So this has more than symbolic importance.

By: Cynic Mon, 16 Nov 2009 15:09:09 +0000 Felix:

I don’t know if you read your comments, but I’ve got to adamantly disagree with you on this one. Call the judge back – tell him you’ve changed your mind. The answer is to integrate blogs into all the existing categories, instead of setting up a ‘blog of the year’ type category.

Let’s start with a counterexample. A couple of years ago, TalkingPointsMemo won a Polk award for its coverage of the US Attorneys’ scandal. It didn’t debase the awards. It didn’t feel forced. It felt like what it was – a recognition of some of the best and most important journalism of the year, which happened to appear online in a form that would scarcely have been recognizable if it had been printed out on paper.

But maybe the way to make this case is by addressing your specific objections. The first thing to remember is that the Loeb awards, like most journalistic prizes, are mostly given for an individual story or package of stories. These stories are judged not only on the quality of the writing, the importance of the topic, the originality of the information – but also on an unstated criterion, the breadth of their demonstrable impact. Loeb doesn’t hand a prize to the WSJ for providing the most useful business coverage, day in and day out. (SABEW does, but it’s fundamentally different – a guild recognizing its own.) A writer can win a prize by penning a single superlative story, even if the rest of what the newspaper in which it runs publishes is unreadable. So your objection about the emergent qualities of blogs may be valid, but is no different than the status quo ante – jurors never read the totality of the work, and always make their decisions based on isolated examples that may miss an essential quality of the writer’s opus or a publication’s general utility.

So we’re not talking about awards for general excellence. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I’ll suggest that you imagine submitting your coverage of Ben Stein. You’d assemble a limited number of blog entries (more, I think, than the three-story maximum for print outlets – 5? 10?) and offer them to the judges as a package of links. That way, they could click-through on the hyperlinked text, and browse the comments and reactions. The nomination, and award, would be for a specific story. And it could be judged against other stories.

Very few blogs would enter such a contest, but not because of fear of self-aggrandizement, or the cost of the entry fee. Very few blogs would enter because, for the most part, this isn’t what blogs do well. Most good bloggers aggregate, provoke, question, and provide a steady stream of content. That’s great – and there’s no reason that old-line awards programs should try to judge that. Very few perform original research, or make the phone calls or wear out the shoe-leather to obtain fresh data. And that’s fine. But on occasion, blogs actually do contribute high-quality reporting that drives a story of national importance, outpacing and outclassing other outlets. And when they do, they ought to be recognized by the same criteria as any other journalist.

That leaves the last, messiest category – the prize for commentary. Many financial bloggers would, in theory, be eligible for this prize. And very few of them would deserve it. How many bloggers offer as informed a perspective or as influential a voice as last year’s winner, Joe Nocera? Some certainly do; a few, arguably, do better. But again, we’re talking about a very, very small number of potential entrants. In 2008, for example, the award might have gone to Tanta. Not for ’blogging,’ any more than Nocera won for ’newspaper writing.’ It’s not about mastery of a given form. It’s about insight and influence.

So it wouldn’t be that hard, I suspect, to open the contest up. The key would be to avoid placing ’blogging’ in a segregated category of its own, but instead, to integrate it among the other entrants in existing categories. It would probably require a few other tweaks as well, like a different form of submission and a larger number of posts. Loeb/Anderson should also waive the entry fee for any entrant not employed by a professional news organization. The crank entries and marginal contestants would be easy to weed out. For the most part, the people who would take the time and effort to submit their own work or that of a colleague would be those who genuinely believed that work to equal or exceed anything else published in the past year in the category. And once you frame the question that way, I think it becomes clear that there is some stuff in the blogosphere at that level, but that it’s as rare there as it is in print. And when it happens, it deserves to be recognized alongside the best work that’s appeared in any format.