Why we changed the rules for this year’s ‘Blogging Idol’

It’s not just about eyeballs. It’s also about what they’re looking at.

We’ve quietly begun a two-week “warmup” period to this year’s ComputerWorld Canada Blogging Idol, in which we’re allowing contestants to get back in the game before the contest officially starts on March 22. After that date the judges will be taking a closer look at the posts, offering their comments and keeping track of the best posts so they can award a winner in May.

If you don’t remember any judges in Blogging Idol before, it’s because we never had them. When we first launched this program three years ago, we wanted to accomplish a couple of times. We wanted to drive the level of user-generated content to our site. We wanted to discover and support new voices. And, as always, we wanted to generate the traffic we need to keep advertisers and stay profitable. It seemed both easy and natural to base the winning bloggers on the amount of interest they attracted from their peers.

As last year’s contest went on, however, a strange thing happened. The posts about Twitter, the iPhone and other consumer-friendly technologies were scoring big. The more hard-core reflections on enterprise IT, not so much. When you look at the balance, I’m still really happy with our winners, especially Pedro Cardoso who has since graduated to his own IT World Canada blog, Making IT Work. But I felt that, as much as we tried to coach and encourage our contestants, perhaps we were sending them the wrong message.

In a Globe and Mail column published today, Roy MacGregor makes some valid points about how orienting a newsroom towards the Internet has a negative effect on quality:

Why search out something new when the old and tried work best? Why be a storyteller when a ranter will have far more traffic? Why be investigative when instigative is a far quicker route to success on the Web? . . .  It is a terrible vision of what journalism could evolve into as it enters a world it so desperately wishes to own, but has little idea of what the available measures in this digital world actually mean. At its worst, “journalism” could become nothing but a rump world of contrarians slagging the same handful of celebrities and spouting off on the same long-polarized issues.

I am determined our editors and writers never reach this nadir and we don’t want our bloggers to, either. That’s why I decided to appoint judges, who will focus strictly on the quality of the posts based on a criteria that we’ll be posting to Blogging Idol’s home page (We’ll also be formally introducing the judges next week). Of course, traffic will play a role – I hope that some of the best posts are also among the most popular – but it is critical that that we prioritize relevance and value in everything we do.

It’s been a great pleasure to welcome back some familiar names to this year’s Blogging Idol, and I hope we attract a number of new contestants as well. And if you decide you can’t write, at least read what these bloggers are saying – help us prove that great content and great numbers aren’t mutually exclusive.

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