Welcome to Best Blog Posts of 2008

For the third year running, On Line Opinion and Club Troppo are collaborating to collect an anthology of Australian blog posts from the previous year. The first handful have now been published at OLO; by the end of the month the collection will grow to about forty articles. For an idea of what to expect, have a look at last year’s collection; for some background on the event, and a discussion of blogging in general, see the introductions from
2006 and 2007.

The call for nominations went out a month ago. To be eligible, posts had to be Australian in some sense, appearing on independent blogs (rather than mainstream media offshoots), and substantial in the manner of a typical OLO article. Around 110 nominations had been received at the time of writing.

The judging panel again included Graham Young from OLO, Nicholas Gruen and myself from Club Troppo, and Helen Dale from SkepticLawyer. We were joined this time around by Tim Watts whose blog Tree of Knowledge is in hiatus, and Sophie Masson, who now blogs on Writer Unboxed and has also posted on Club Troppo in the past.

Two judges read each post, writing their comments and a score out of ten, in a table on Google Documents. As always, this was an interesting exercise, as the judges seem not to have identical tastes. Any blogger out there who is interested in working the system might like to note that a well-written personal post tends to attract consensus, as long as it deals with universal themes like birth, death, or the misery of high school, or recreates some bygone era we all mourn. A good rant about overzealous bureaucrats, iniquitous developers or Windows Vista well probably do well too, as will a thorough book or movie review.

Once we venture beyond personal reflection into the public domain, consensus is harder to achieve, and a post that scores 10 points from one judge will be dismissed as a 6 by another. Some judges like posts that provide information, admiring the blogger who’s prepared to share her own technical expertise, or to hunt and gather scientific or political news in obscure places where most readers don’t venture. Other judges tend to dismiss this sort of thing as ‘reportage’; they prefer ‘analysis’, whereby the blogger draws on her immense bank of knowledge and powers of perception to arrive at insights that your MSM reporters, for their resources, could never reach by their own devices.

Thus, a post that combines facts and analysis is most likely to impress two, randomly combined judges. Academics and others writing in their areas of professional expertise have an advantage here, but the amateur expert who has the patience to research a topic can also produce an excellent analytical post — indeed, she may be better placed to explain matters to the untutored general reader.

The more controversial the topic, the less likely that both judges will be won over. If the emphasis is on facts and figures, and the tone congenial, judges will generally give credit where it is due, and put their political or ethical leanings to one side. By contrast, a highly opinionated piece is unlikely to make the cut, however stylish the polemic: the more one judge likes it, the more the other will detest it. And no post is more guaranteed to attract discrepant scores than one that adopts a sarcastic tone: your right-leaning judge will declare a post mocking multiculturalism hilarious, but will dismiss another post ridiculing gun lobbyists as puerile.

And unfortunately, respective of the tone, there are some topics whose merits seem completely unamenable to a civil consensus. Climate change is the best example: no matter how technically competent, to those convinced of the AGW threat, a ‘sceptical’ post will always look like stubborn denialism; while to the unconverted an equally erudite ‘alarmist’ post will sound like the bleating of sheep.

Notwithstanding this, for the time being insurmountable, problem, and our failure of objectivity in general, I’m confident that the panel has done a good job in selecting a representative cross-section of the best Australian blogging fro the last year. On behalf of the judges, I’d again like to thank our guest judges, and all the readers who sent in nominations to Club Troppo or On Line Opinion. A big thanks also to OLO‘s full time editor, Susan Prior.

Readers are welcome to make suggestions on judging criteria and procedures. Another issue you might comment one is whether, assuming the event continues, we should have a winner and a prize. This would be sure to boost the number of nominations, but it might deter authors who abhor self-promotion or who decry the transformation of every human activity into a sporting fixture. Whether or not a prize is introduced, we will try to find a technical means to encourage nominations throughout the year, to save nominators’ relying on their memories when December arrives.

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[…] Once again this Club Troppo and Online Opinion have joined to reproduce a collection of