The Swiss hold first blog awards in Biel-Bienne

BIEL-BIENNE (5 May 2006) — In this so-called “bilingual (German/French) capital of Switzerland,” the first ever Swiss Blog Awards (SBAW) was held in a dimly lit hall of Volkshaus where around 90 or so people (nominees included) attended the event to converge with co-bloggers, to take part in the open and panel discussions on blog-related issues, and finally, to root for their respective candidates.

There were only three categories — Best Swiss Blog, Rookie Award, and Multimedia Award — with five finalists in each category. The winners were: Don’t Mention the Skiing (Best Swiss Blog), Pendlerblog (Rookie Award), and Scanblog (Multimedia Award). The top prize went to a British lady who is a certified non-skier.

The Swiss Blog Awards went on smoothly — everyone in the hall seemed to have enjoyed meeting people they had first met online, and a handful of bloggers, armed with laptops, did some live blogging with a passion — despite it being fraught with linguistic controversies prior to the ceremony proper in Biel-Bienne.

Apparently, no Swiss French blog or Swiss Italian blog made it to the lists of finalists. Alas, “the law of big numbers,” according to award-winning journalist/writer Bruno Giussani, prevailed in the nomination process which he said was due to an “oversight” by the organizers (he was one of the speakers at the SBAW). He wrote in his blog entry that “the German population of Switzerland is five times bigger than the French population, and 15 times bigger than the Italian population (and countless times bigger than the tiny Rumantsch minority).”

So this oversight — a “birth defect” if you will, just to borrow the words of Giussani — seemed to have irked some bloggers from the French-speaking part of Switzerland who, after seeing the published short-list of finalists on the Net in the latter part of April, flooded the comments boxes of the official site of the Swiss Blog Awards and also the Lunch Over IP blog by Giussani, with critical statements both in English and in French. Some of these critics claimed that the first Swiss Blog Awards was purely a “Swiss German thing.”

But the organizers, who designed the Swiss Blog Awards as a “popular vote,” argued that in Switzerland, “the voters are the deciding force, the legislative power.” Therefore, “the voters (bloggers) are always right.” (There were two phases involved — first, an online nomination; second, a public vote held during the awarding ceremony itself.)

They pointed out that the bloggers from the French-speaking and/or Italian-speaking regions didn’t do their part to aggressively campaign for their blogs, that they were passive. Thus, no French-language or Italian-language blogs landed on the SBAW lists of finalists. This annoyed a particular Swiss French blogger who wrote a comprehensive blog piece on her take on the matter. She basically said that it was “unfair” to lay the blame on French-language bloggers who didn’t lobby for their blogs for a stake at the SBAW.

Exchange of words, some coated in diplomacy and others not, ensued thereafter, and it clearly became a battle between the linguistic groups in Switzerland which, from a foreigner’s point of view, was quite intriguing.

Part of the open letter — or should we say, an ‘open blog entry’ — the organizers wrote to address the controversy reads:

“We hear the criticism and we will adapt the award for next year’s edition. We have always defined this to be a work in progress. The interesting part will be to find an explanation; why did things happen the way they did. We, the organisers believe, that this should be up for discussion, and that everything should be carefully evaluated and thought through before jumping to conclusions. We think this would be the scientific approach. We are convinced, that there are several possible explanations for such an outcome. And most likely it is a combination of reasons that lead to this outcome.

“So these were our reasons for doing things the way we did. We are still convinced it could have worked. The fact that it did not work does not leave us indifferent. The evaluation will be fierce and self-critical. Everybody will be invited to help us evaluate things and improve this award for its next edition – in order for it to truly become the Swiss blog award for Swiss bloggers organised by Swiss bloggers. Bottom-up, democratic, representative.”

At the end of the day, the Swiss Blog Awards organizers, with their let’s-make-it-happen attitude, opted to be pro-active and moved on to make the first edition of the Swiss Blog Awards a memorable one for both bloggers and non-blogging attendees alike. They promised to learn from the plethora of feedback they received from others, both the positive and negative — all for making the SBAW 2007 a better one. A post-event evaluation is now open to the public.

Democracy reigns — even in the linguistically complicated world of Swiss blogging.