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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Three Blogtastic Days, Day 1: Best Blogs of the Lehigh Valley

THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2012:

A while ago Michelle Davies, co-administrator at NEPA Blogs, told me about a "Best Blogs of the Lehigh Valley" contest being run by the Allentown Morning Call. Now, I've soured on these popularity contests that are run by local papers after seeing how a few of them operate. The paper throws open the floor for nominations, and a handful of the most-frequently-nominated entries get put up for a vote. Maybe three, maybe five. In one "best blogger" contest, there weren't even links to the nominated blogs - you had to go searching for the blogs yourself. Or not. Because ultimately, these aren't contests based on merit, or even on popularity; they're contests to see who can have their friends stuff the ballot box as quickly as possible.

The Morning Call's contest was different. It listed and linked to every nominee right from the beginning - and didn't take down the list once winners were announced.

http://www.mcallcommunity.com/mychoicevoice/end.php
(We've duplicated the list on NEPA Blogs for safe keeping.)

After we added Shane Burcaw's Laughing At My Nightmare to NEPA Blogs, we talked about how it would be good if someone were to take the initiative to create a Lehigh Valley Blogs linking network - same idea, different location. After all, Shane wasn't technically in Northeastern Pennsylvania...

...just like NEPA Blogs isn't technically in Lehigh Valley. Which didn't prevent us from getting nominated as one of the "best blogs" - and invited to the awards ceremony.

I didn't want to go, at first. I felt like we would be party crashers, horning in on an event where we didn't belong. Then I saw that Shane was also on the distribution list, and realized that this might be our best chance to meet him in person! So this past Thursday afternoon I met with Michelle after she got out of work and we headed down to Allentown together.

We noticed two things about Allentown pretty quickly:

1. Almost every car in Allentown has tinted windows. Blacked-out windows, really.
2. Allentown has a White Castle.

A scene from the movie "Harold and Michelle go to White Castle." Because sometimes filling up on Brie just isn't enough.
The awards ceremony was in the Rodale Room of the Allentown Symphony Hall. It's a beautiful room in a  beautiful building. The room had seating for probably close to a hundred, and had a buffet table full of fruit, various cheeses, crackers, cookies, bottled water, sodas - all for an awards ceremony for bloggers being hosted by a newspaper.

The view of downtown Allentown from the Rodale Room

Close-up of one of the creeptastic birds that decorated the next building over
The room never really filled up, but several dozen people attended, bloggers and their entourages. After a while I saw a motorized wheelchair coming through the door, and I knew Shane was in the house.  He was barely through the door before I was introducing myself to him, and his father, and his cousin Sarah. After a few minutes of chatting, I had the presence of mind to ask his father to get a photo of us.

Me, Shane, Michelle, Cousin Sarah
Shane writes one of the funniest and occasionally most gut-wrenching blogs out there. This post is an excellent index of his stories. I only became aware of him when Monica Madeja from WBRE's PA Live! told me about him, after she read an article about him in the Morning Call. Again we see a special relationship that exists between the Morning Call and the bloggers of the Lehigh Valley.

The awards ceremony itself was a fun event, starting off with opening remarks by the Editor-in-Chief of the Morning Call. Cheers went up as each nominee was announced, and winners were feted with music as they approached the podium to receive their awards. A complete list of winners can be found here, and an article on the ceremony here. NEPA Blogs didn't win anything, though we were torn between what we might do if we won: either turn down the award on the grounds we weren't really eligible, or attach a chain to the plaque and wear it around our necks at the next evening's Blog Fest like an oversized rapper's clock.

Too many people on both sides of the issue believe there should be an antagonistic relationship between the "old media" of newspapers, radio, and television, and the "new media" of blogs, with various individuals being openly hostile towards or contemptuous of the other side. The Morning Call has gotten this relationship right: by providing no-strings-attached publicity to the dozens of bloggers nominated in this contest, they have generated vast amounts of goodwill towards the Morning Call within the Lehigh Valley blogging community. Northeastern Pennsylvania isn't entirely in the dark with this. WBRE's PA Live! has included the "Blog of the Week" segment from the beginning. Various newspapers and TV stations have given some coverage to blogging events like Blog Fest, including the front cover and a multiple page article in this past weekend's edition of The Weekender. But it would be wonderful if more people on both sides of the old media/new media divide realized the mutual benefits that come from doing the sort of thing that the Allentown Morning Call has done.

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