Creating Commentland

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

Sophie Radice was a journalist for twenty-five years before she started working in communications for NGOs and Charities. She has worked as an editor for Editorial Intelligence for many years.  Her first novel ‘ The Henry Experiment’ was made into a BBC drama. 

The Comment Awards were the brain-child of Julia Hobsbawm, the founder and director of Editorial Intelligence and the author of Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload. Back in 2009 Julia wanted to celebrate the thoughts and words of those who boldly gave their opinions in the British Press and Media. The first few years of The Comment Awards were full of excitement because it seemed such a new thing for commentators to be recognised and applauded for defining the character of their publication, keeping their readers engaged and loyal to the publication’s brand and informing, provoking and even amusing them in the process. This was ten years ago and it was still a world in which commuters, breakfast-eaters, CEOs, political researchers and just about anyone who wanted to know what to think about something or how to react to something would read their ‘go-to’ opinion giver’s thoughts before they had read the rest of the news.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve been to every Comment Award over the last decade. I’ve lurked around in a ‘family hold back’ kind of way as a longstanding member of the Editorial Intelligence team and observed the commentators and opinion makers in work/play mode – hopefully much less creepily than that sounds.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the atmosphere of each award was a fascinating barometer of the state of comment/opinion piece journalism of the time. The first few years of awards were full of buzzy excitement and in the years that followed we saw the awards embrace the bloggers, the online magazines and the tweeters. Many of the commentators were forced out of any smugness and complacency (and there was definitely some) by the challenges of an ever-growing non-print readership. Some of them also became bloggers, wrote for online magazines and tweeted like mad. The sensitivities of the commentators and their editors increased year by year and reflected a changing demographic of people not only reading opinions but wanting to make their opinions heard. The startlingly controversial nature of the awards of autumn 2018 mirrored our nervy and divided country, dominated by uncertain and temperamental Brexit politics.

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It seemed like a natural end to the ei Comment Awards. Julia told the Standard’s Londoner Diary, ‘I realise the law of diminishing returns with running awards … and I am closing this chapter.’ She said it was a ‘sign of the times’ that the 2018 awards had been so inflammatory, and that ‘every awards ceremony now has to spend a lot of time firefighting as well as doing its business’.

In order to mark the end of what had been a decade of Comment Awards, we decided to put together a slim book of ‘comment about comment’ from some of the best writers and thinkers we know. The brief was loose and so the essays were diverse, some diving head-on into the controversies and sensitivities that had made the recent awards so temperamental. The contributors were enthusiastic to be part of something tangible to honour the awards and to value the importance of comment itself. I had to do very little nagging to get copy in on time. I edited Commentland and whitefox published it, with our brilliant designer Hayden Brown creating the cover. It was a great publishing experience and ei are very proud of this good-looking book, which acts as an elegant full-stop to a fascinating and challenging time.

Click here to find out more about Editorial Intelligence and The Comment Awards, and head to Amazon to buy Commentland

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.