Why the Orwell Prize should celebrate independent blogging

Shortlists for the Orwell Prize, which celebrates political writing in the categories of journalism, writing and blogging, were announced in London last night. Much high quality writing to enjoy among the three prizes, and I’m an admirer, but I can’t help thinking that the blogging prize needs a modest redefinition.

As I’ve noted before the number of independent bloggers making the shortlist continues to diminish as steadily as sticky buns vanish from the table at a child’s party. Despite an increase in the number of bloggers on the shortlist (seven to last year’s six) only three of them can be said to be bloggers in the purest sense. Three of the others belong in the professional journalism category (Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan of The Telegraph , Paul Mason of the BBC and Duncan McLaren who blogs about caring for his elderly mother at Saga.com)

While the three “proper bloggers” are Cathy Elliot’s Too Much to Say for Myself; Nelson Jones’s Heresy Corner and Molly Bennett’s Mid Wife Crisis. While Graeme Archer sits somewhere in between, he’s not a paid journalist, Conservative Home just host his blogs, but the site is bankrolled by Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Tory party.

There was a time (precisely July 2004, when the US Democratic Convention first accredited political bloggers) when political blogging offered an alternative to traditional journalism. The point was that these bloggers were not the press. Now, political blogging is in danger of being subsumed by the press, brought into the fourth estate that, by virtue of its reach, its inherited audiences and its superior Google rankings, can outgun the independents.

Blogging is therefore in danger of being reduced to a format of journalism rather than a rival. I enjoy Paul Mason’s blog, for example, but I can’t leave a comment on it. That’s not the two-way conversation that was meant to make blogging discreet from, say, a parliamentary sketch. I’m not saying that the professional bloggers shouldn’t be recognised by the Prize, indeed they should, but it might be more useful to count them in the journalism category. Which would lead to three more discreet categories: books, professional journalism and independent blogging.