By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
As I was going through my myriad postings and blogs covering last month’s South By Southwest Interactive conference held in Austin, Texas, my eye caught a presentation by Atlanta’s Maurice Cherry. Cherry moderated the “Black Blogging Rockstars” panel at SXSW. The feat was incredible because the conference organizers let attendees decide what panels will be featured at the event every year. And I know from friends who have attended that people of color do not make up a high percentage of attendees and presenters. He is also the creator of the Black Weblog Awards, which showcases the best and brightest in the Black blogosphere in more than 30 categories. Below, NABJDigital chats with Cherry on the award program. Tomorrow, we profile Cherry about his company, 3eighteen Media.
NABJDigital: How did you come up with the idea for the Black Weblog Awards?
Maurice Cherry: I came up with the idea for the Black Weblog Awards after seeing other Internet award vehicles not recognize Black bloggers that I knew were doing phenomenal work and had a presence in the blogosphere. After giving it some thought, I decided to start the Awards in 2005, and it’s really taken off ever since.
ND: How much has the contest grown since it started in 2005?
MC: Traffic-wise, the Black Weblog Awards has quadrupled every year since 2005, which has been absolutely phenomenal. I still think we have a long way to go in terms of mainstream knowledge. We were fortunate to get a lot of love from NPR’s “News and Notes” in terms of featuring Black Weblog Award winners in particular segments. Black Weblog Award winners have also gone on to capture media attention from several mainstream outlets.
ND: In the beginning, how hard was it to even get people to submit?
MC: Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard. I was already aware of several bloggers who helped me get the word out, and I was a part of a few LiveJournal communities which also helped spread awareness of the awards. I would almost say it’s been easier in the beginning than it is now.
ND: How many entries did you get in that first year, and how many entries did you receive in 2009?
MC: In the first year, we received somewhere between 300-400 nominations. In 2009, we received just under 10,000 nominations.
ND: You have some interesting categories? How did you create the list?
MC: The category list has grown and changed a lot since 2005. I would say 90% of input on the categories comes from people who comment on the Black Weblog Awards website. That’s how we’ve been able to expand from 11 to 31 categories in five years. The remaining 10% comes from our internal process of determining category popularity based on voting percentages. Because of this, we have had some categories drop off, change names, or even split into separate categories. The public has more power over the categories than we do!
ND: In 2007, you split categories into judges and popular. Why?
MC: Aside from recognition, I have been concerned with creating a curated experience with the Black Weblog Awards. Many people have come to us saying they always go through the winners every year and find new blogs to read.
However, the public vote had started to skew more towards entertainment blogging in nearly every category, and we got tired of receiving mail about why we didn’t “pick” a certain blog as a category winner. Truth is, we don’t pick anything — the public does! The judges’ vote was introduced to include that level of curated content from those who know the Web and know the blogosphere.
ND: Who do you tap to be judges for the awards?
MC: I’ve been really fortunate to have judges from every facet of the Web. Past judges have included Lynne D. Johnson, vice president of social media at the American Research Foundation, J. Smith, a pioneering blogger who has been actively online since 1997, and many more. The people we choose as judges are usually those who exhibit an extremely high aptitude not just for the web, but for the trends in blogging as well.
ND: How much influence do you think the Black Weblog Awards has brought to mainstream blogging?
MC: Honestly, I’d say little to none. We’re not covered by mainstream media outlets like Wired, Reuters, or ABC News. We don’t have a huge ceremony at SXSW every year. After five years, we are still bootstrapped even though we ask for sponsorship every year. People still get us confused with the Black Web Awards (which is a totally different Internet awards event). I think it’s the Black Weblog Award winners who are influencing mainstream blogging. Our winners include the outspoken B. Scott, the informative and funny Baratunde Thurston, and many others who are household names. The Black Weblog Awards themselves are still getting there.
ND: What are three blogs you read every day, without fail?