The Webby Awards must be the least exclusive prize on the planet.

Media criticism.
April 9 2008 6:54 PM

What? You've Not Been Honored by the Webbys?

If there is a less exclusive award on the planet, I've yet to hear of it.

A Webby trophy. Click image to expand.
A Webby

Entering your Web site in the Webby Awards is a little like buying a box of Cracker Jack—everybody wins a prize.

That's only a slight exaggeration. The 2008 contest—the 12th annual—will dispense awards in 119 categories next month, honoring Web sites, interactive advertising, film and video sites and teams, and mobile Web sites. The organization will announce winners May 6, but it has already designated "honorees" in each category, more than a dozen in some cases. The organization has also selected five different "nominees" in each category from which it will ultimately pick winners. But not just one winner—the group will bestow two top prizes in each category. There's the "Webby Award," selected by the group's judges, and the "People's Voice Award," chosen by online voters.

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A "star-studded" ceremony is scheduled for June 9 in New York City, where Webbys, hand-cast thingamajigs that look like chromed bedsprings, will be passed out.

There's so much excellence being honored on the Webby Awards site that you need a mainframe to tote it up. I count nearly 600 nominees and upward of 1,100 honorees. The group would have you believe that it's a tough competition, boasting that of the nearly 10,000 contestants this year, fewer than 15 percent were official honorees. Please. I've heard of mail-order diploma mills that are more exclusive than the Webbys.

It's with great shame that I confess that Slate is a nominee in both the "Best Copy/Writing" slot and the "Best Editing" video category. I'm equally shamed by the fact that Slate isn't the only big-shot media entity whoring for a Webby. The New York Times, CondéNet,  DDB Chicago, Disney Channel, MIT Media Lab, MLB, NPR, Wieden + Kennedy, MTV, Gannett, NBC, and practically every major Web presence you can think of has gathered the nominee or honoree accolade.

So, if everybody who plays is a winner, who really ends up winning?

The Webby Awards, of course. The group charges a fee of $275 for Web sites and up to $475 for each advertising-campaign entry. (If I knew Slate was spending money like this, I would have asked for a bigger raise in December.) Even after allowing for discounted entry fees, the back of the envelope says the Webbys could be taking in more than $2 million from its contestants. Then there's an undetermined amount of loot collected from corporate sponsors and partners (Adobe, Nokia, Getty Images, Reuters, Variety, Wired, Pequot Ventures, Brightcove, et al.) and tickets for the awards gala. The Webbys don't mind nickel-and-diming applicants for cash, either, selling "custom framed certificates to commemorate" nominees and honorees, saysits Web site.

Again, I exaggerate. The Webby Awards aren't the only winners. The winners of the prizes, the nominees, and the honorees also benefit from exercising their bragging rights to clients and competitors who aren't smart enough to know a Webby Award is worthless. Some sites are already boasting about being picked on their own pages or in e-mail to me. The winning editors, publishers, designers, and ad jockeys also gain if they can convince their bosses to throw good money after bad by sending them to attend the Webby Awards events, which last year ran for three days in New York.

Clearly, the only way for Slate to reclaim its stupid Webby investment is to send me to New York for three days in June if we're fortunate enough to win.

******

Show how much you despise the Webby Awards by voting for Slate in the "People's Voice" contest. If we win, I'll denounce the rip-off from the podium provided Slate sends me. If you love the Webby Awards, send e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com and show me the error of my ways. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Webby in the subject head of an e-mail message and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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