Last week the longlist for the 2011 George Orwell Prize for blogging was announced.
The bloggers on the longlist were drawn from 205 self-nominated bloggers, each of whom submitted ten blog posts from 2010. The judges, Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer, and myself, then read through the 2,050 blogposts and, after much discussion, agreed a longlist of 22 bloggers. The shortlist will now be announced on 26 April and the winner on 18 May.
As the longlist list includes both familiar and unfamiliar names, I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief introduction to the listed bloggers. In doing this, I am certainly not speaking for my co-judge Gaby or for the Orwell Prize. These are just my personal views. Nor am I indicating which of the bloggers may be reaching the shortlist — not least because I really have no idea until Gaby and I reconsider the longlisted bloggers and discuss our preferences.
The longlisted bloggers seemed to me to fall into four general groupings. These groupings are not tightly defined, and there are overlaps and shades of grey.
The first grouping are those who, to invoke Orwell, blogged because there was some lie that they wanted to expose or some fact to which they wanted to draw attention, and did so from recognisable political, even partisan, positions.
On the Left, these bloggers consisted of Dan Hodges, Dave Osler, and Sunder Katwala, as well as the radical feminist bloggers Cath Elliott and Laurie Penny. Each one of these bloggers is formidable, writing with considerable power and elegance. All of them demonstrate the current vitality of left-wing and radical blogging. There are also many others blogging from similar perspectives who missed out on the longlist. However, these are the five left-wing or radical bloggers who stood out for their posts in 2010.
But what about political bloggers not on the left? Here, one had to be mindful that the prize is for political blogging, and not just left-wing or activist political blogging. One also had to bear in mind the sort of values that one associates with Orwell, including his propensity to engage with writers (such as GK Chesterton) whom he respected but wished to politically challenge.
For me, two Conservative bloggers were outstanding. Many may not see much merit in the various political positions adopted by Daniel Hannan MEP, but he certainly knows how to write an energetic and readable political blog. There are also the blogposts of Graeme Archer, whose work is not as widely known in the political blogosphere as it should be. A statistician and East End resident, he invariably writes with intelligence and elegance on social issues ignored by many other political bloggers, especially others on the right.
Unfortunately (in the sense that I am a Liberal Democrat supporter) there were no explicit Liberal Democratic blogs that reached the longlist. Indeed, Liberal Democrat bloggers did tend to quieten down after last year’s election, just as socialist and radical blogs became more passionate.
The second grouping consists of those bloggers who are less expressly partisan but who also deal with emerging political, media and legal news or developments. This is also political blogging in the sense that the blogs are on political issues and are seeking to inform or influence political debate, even if it was not clear which (if any) partisan stance is being promoted.
These bloggers were certainly varied in what they wrote about: Osama Diab on international (especially Eqyptian) affairs; Anton Vowl on media matters; the Heresiarch, usually on moral and cultural issues; the sex educationist Dr Petra; and the sceptic satirist Crispian Jago on science policy and religious matters (often using innovative visual media and comedy). There are also the two outstanding legal bloggers Carl Gardner and Adam Wagner.
Each of this second grouping of bloggers tends to take a developing story in the news or some other public matter, and then place it under intense scrutiny or to provide informed commentary. This is perhaps a different type of “pamphleteering” to the more partisan bloggers above, but it is none the less important as a form of political blogging. It has the valuable and happy effect of complementing and often subverting the mainstream media and political narratives on public issues.
And then — perhaps controversially — there is the third grouping: journalists who blog. Although some of the bloggers so far named are professional journalists or full-time writers, their blogging tends to be in addition to their “day jobs”. But professional journalists, blogging as part of their full time job, seem different to many observers. There is some force in the suggestion that they should enter the Orwell journalism prize instead.
The starting point for the judges was not to longlist any journalists who simply pasted their print edition copy on the web and called it blogging. Instead, we looked for something which the journalist was doing which could only be done by the medium of blogging.
Four such journalists made the longlist. Andrew Sparrow made it for second time for his extraordinary live blogging of quickly developing events, each one of which is as sourced and linked as possible and fully bear rereading as a recreation of the events described. The Channel 4 factcheck blog of Cathy Newman is similarly an exceptional resource, deftly testing various political assertions in a thorough and evidence-based way. We also added Paul Waugh and Paul Mason for expertly using their blogging to shape and explain new political and economics stories respectively.
The last grouping is the bloggers who have so far dominated the Orwell blogging prize: the “frontline” blogs written so as to give an expression of a predicament or particular experience. These are written in terms that tell the reader much about power relations and what it is like to have policy or politics inflicted on them.
In this respect, this year saw the longlisting of the insightful blogposts by a serving prisoner, Prisoner Ben; Duncan McLaren’s compelling account of visiting his mother in a rest home; and the remarkably engrossing transgender journey of Juliet Jacques. There is also the wonderful political blog Mid-Wife Crisis which shows politics from the perspective not of politicians or campaigners, but of constituents. All of these blogs gave insights to experiences not commonly shared or widely appreciated, but which can tell us about inequalities and illiberalism.
What would George Orwell have thought of this longlist? Here, one must be careful. The easy mistake with Orwell is to always invoke him to support whatever views one holds oneself; however, it is often more interesting to work out one’s views he would not have supported.
One can only speculate what the sometimes socially conservative and old-fashioned Orwell would have made of a longlist in his name with radical feminists, a transgender person, and a gay vegan Tory on it.
However, I hope he would have appreciated that political writing, in the tradition of the great pampheteers, was still thriving 60 years after his death. I hope also that he would have supported bloggers who hold those in power (whether the state or the media) to account and those bloggers who sought to give expression to those less powerful in society. He may even have commended his fellow journalists for using this new form of media in interesting ways.
Who knows what Orwell would have thought. But this longlist is a snapshot of where political blogging, in its various forms, was at in 2010. It has been put together by two judges (one a blogger, the other an established political journalist) drawing on over 2,000 blogposts. It may not well be the correct list in the eyes of anyone else, but it may have a value as one studied attempt to identify the best of current political blogging.
David Allen Green was shortlisted for the George Orwell blogging prize in 2010.