Elan Morgan, well known as Schmutzie on the Internet, began blogging in 2003. She lives in Saskatchewan, Canada, but her reach is truly global. A prolific writer and photographer, she explores poetry and mobile imaging at Schmoetry and Phoneography, and founded web design company Ninjamatics with her partner, The Palinode. She is also a catalyst for online community-building, inviting weekly submissions of the best blog writing for Five Star Friday, and maintaining a gratitude community at Grace in Small Things. A self-described “social media junkie,” Schmutzie is also on the board of Violence Unsilenced, and a contributor at Aiming Low.
Schmutzie created the Canadian Weblog Awards three years ago as a way to recognize the best blogs in the country. The 2012 winners were announced on January 31, highlighting the top picks in nearly 40 wide-ranging categories. Nominations for this year’s awards opened immediately, and she will be featuring interviews with 2012 winners weekly on Ninjamatics, starting with this week’s with Jeannine Fehr of VanCity Bride.
I sat down to e-chat with Schmutzie this week about the awards, and learned quickly that they are not only a labor of love for her, but also a wonderful way for the Canadian blogging community to shine a light on its very best.
Why did you decide to launch the Canadian Weblog Awards?
I announced their existence on December 29th, 2009. I had been thinking about blogging and all the awards that relied on public voting out there, and it struck me that there was very little out there to laud actual quality in the medium. The blogging community was very publicly lauding popularity while those who were exhibiting skill in content and design were going unnoticed.
Was anything going on in Canadian blogging at the time that made it seem particularly relevant?
There wasn’t anything about Canadian blogging in particular that made me want to create the Awards. As someone who values quality, I found that it was difficult to ferret it out in the huge numbers of weblogs out there, and popularity isn’t a very good measure of quality, so I wanted to create a system not only for finding quality blogs but also celebrating them. I limited the Awards to Canadian blogs only because it would be overwhelming to deal with international awards. This is basically a one-woman show.
So how did the first year go? Was the reaction good from the beginning?
The first year went a lot more smoothly than I thought it would. I had never run or been deeply involved in any kind of awards process before, so I made all of this up out of whole cloth. I invented everything from the categories to the judging criteria to the nomination process, and I expected a major calamity at any moment, but it never came. Do I sound self-congratulatory? Because I am. This was a lot of hard work, and I’m proud of how it’s gone so far, but I really want to let people know that it was the blogging community that made it all work out so well. My fellow Canadian bloggers, who could have been critical of me bringing out yet another set of awards, by and large weren’t. People volunteered to help me at every stage in the game from settling on a categories list to translating things from English to French.
I really feel like I must have a giant horseshoe watching over me during that first year.
Were you surprised by the winners? Did anyone emerge who was a relative newcomer?
I have been blogging since 2003, so I thought that I would be familiar with a good number of the blogs that placed in 2010, but I found out that the blogging community in Canada was bigger and broader and even more talented than I had thought. So, yes, I was definitely surprised at the winners, and I got to know a lot of weblogs I otherwise would not have seen.
I have a Best New Weblog category just so that we can honour our community’s newcomers, and Erica Glasier emerged in that category in the first year and ended up winning in Science, Technology & the Internet this year.
Do you still do this all on your own, or do you have any help?
I do have the volunteer juries to rely on for judging each year. They pour themselves into reading and judging blogs for the awards, and they make these Awards as a juried process possible. I love them. I have also had some generous individuals help out with French translation for me, because my high school French has proved useless out of the classroom environment. Other than that, the rest is administrated by me with occasional help from my partner, the Palinode.
What’s your take on the progress? Was anything noticeably different this year?
Over the 2010, there was some paranoid criticism of the Awards, which I was expecting. A few people registered their concern that the Awards were rigged to benefit me or my friends in some way or that I was using the Awards to slam more popular bloggers who would fall through the cracks when judged using our ten criteria. Over this last year, I heard far fewer of those concerns. and I think this is due in part to our being a little more established with a full awards season already under our belts. This year, I am noticing an increase in weblog nominations, and I’m also noticing that the weblogs being submitted are of an elevated quality overall compared to our first two seasons. I love that Canuck blogs are looking so generally fine these days.
Have your goals changed for the awards since you started out?
No. When I started out, I decided to keep my goals simple so that it would be easy to stay focused and remain on point, and it’s worked. My original goal was to establish and celebrate weblog quality, and that one goal remains the same.
So how did this year go? Any surprises? New voices?
This year went fairly smoothly until I hit a scheduling hump and had to postpone the judging and winner announcements until January. It turned out to be an error in our favour, though, as January turns out to be a much better month for our jurors in general than December. Any snafu that becomes a plus is a nice surprise. Some voices emerged this year that I was unfamiliar with before, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to share them with a wider audience. If you’re looking for new blogs to read, you would do well to check out Crumb, Dream Create, Crazy Lesbian Mom and Ill Seen Ill Said.
So tell me about your interview series.
I want the Awards to promote good blogging year round, so along with running an ongoing list of nominations throughout the year, I want to highlight our winners through our interview series. Our winners work hard to do what they do so well, and I want to spread the word.
Do you have any reflection on a concept of “community” in blogging in Canada?
I really feel a sense of community building over the last couple of years. Blogging didn’t pick up as early in Canada as it did in the United States, so a larger sense of community across and outside different niches has come to us later. Attending Canadian blogging conferences over the last two years and being in touch with so many bloggers through the Awards, I am thrilled to see people bonding and sharing and growing their communities together. I feel very kumbaya about it all.