Siân Anna Lewis – The Girl Outdoors
On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings my fingers were poised over my keyboard, eager to accept some form of communication. I paused, and subsequently walked away on all four occasions.
At first I didn’t want to get involved. Silence is golden, I thought — let it all die down and just write a post about the relative advantages of umbrella ownership. However, the further I ventured into the week, the more I began to sway back to writing something because what I have seen on social media this week has incensed me.
It’s been a hectic week in outdoor circles. Twitter is completely knackered after relaying comments, gripes and opinions about the events that happened at The Great Outdoors Awards, and in particular the Outdoor Blogger of the Year category. There have been conspiracy theories, accusations of underhand and even rigged voting, feminist uprisings, you name it.
Let’s ignore the shark frenzy concerning the winner of that category, Siân Anna Lewis, for the moment. I’ve talked to her and she’ll give you her side of the story later in this post. First, let’s have some positives.
Over the course of a few days every year, an event takes place in northwest England, otherwise known as the Lake District. The town of Kendal suddenly explodes with lots of individuals sporting down jackets and beanies, discussing the relative merits of Gore-Tex or why synthetic sleeping bags are the way to go. The Kendal Mountain Film Festival is a Mecca for all those who love the outdoors and The Great Outdoors Magazine Awards precedes it by a couple of days on the Wednesday evening. I was fortunate to be nominated in two categories in 2012, and two again this year. I came third in best outdoor blogger on this occasion so big thanks to all of you who voted for me — I’m very grateful, and very pleased. It was great to catch up, meet new people and congratulations to everyone who not only won, but were shortlisted.
Kendal is now a firm fixture on my calendar, mainly because it’s a great opportunity to meet people that I rarely see who are mixed up in outdoor circles. David Lintern did indeed chew my ear off, Chris Townsend joined me for a coffee (that alone was worth the six hour drive), I talked about writing with Alex Roddie, pondered quitting smoking with Terry Abraham, discussed Tony’s chopper with him and even had an unintentional meeting in the gents with the TGO editor, Daniel Neilson (although we did wash before shaking hands).
If I share an outdoor weekend somewhere with a fellow blogger during the year I always relish it, but it is just a small weekend — a slice of pie if you like, just a small outdoor nibbling experience. At Kendal, there are so many bloggers around, and others associated with the outdoors, that it’s like sitting in a pie shop all day gorging on the options. I love Kendal — the festival, the awards, all that’s associated with it — and left gorged, full up and expectant for next year.
However, over the past few days, my elation has come crashing down. When I first read Alan Sloman’s report on his blog, and saw the associated social media frenzy, I was curious. He not only teased us with one post, but then followed it up with another, and subsequently left us hanging on for the third. I’ll wait patiently for repeats of the X-Files but I’ve never screamed at my PC before in anticipation of an overdue blog post.
Alan would be the first to admit that he doesn’t post that often, but when he does, it’s sometimes controversial. Alan ruffles feathers. He’s annoyed a few people in his time and that’s part of what makes him readable. If he accepted a £5000 holiday to the Alps in return for some blog exposure, he’s the sort of guy that wouldn’t hesitate to tell you if it was a load of shite.
His piece centred on the winner of the Outdoor Blogger of the Year, a certain Siân Anna Lewis and her blog, The Girl Outdoors. This choice did raise a few eyebrows and Alan posed questions on how this blog won, how it would appeal to readers of TGO, that somehow Siân was career-hungry enough to attempt a vote rig, that her taste in outdoor gear left a lot to be desired, and that the scar left by a camp fire in the Brecon Beacons was poor show.
Hungry for more, I devoured the post and sat back to see social media come alive, dipping in occasionally. Then it turned nasty.
The vilification, slander and abuse being thrown at Siân and others this week is frankly shocking. I couldn’t believe some comments, particularly on Twitter, and it has left me ashamed to be part of the outdoor blogging community. Some have pointed out that Siân and a friend of hers also threw around their fair share of aggressive tweets, but they have since been deleted.
No, Siân’s blog is not something I would read often, based purely on the fact that she is appealing to a significant but niche target audience that doesn’t include me. However, her site is well-presented and neat. Most of the bloggers I associate with apparently don’t like it and have ripped it apart, but that does not mean it’s poor. She has her interests, as we do, focusing around twenty-something females who like to dip into the outdoors looking fashionable.
Yes, the Brecon Beacons camp fire was naive. Leave no trace camping is something I like to think we all try and adhere to, but we all screw up sometimes. If I was asked whether I had ever camped somewhere I shouldn’t have done, had lit a fire against better judgement, or if I had nipped through a piece of private land I would answer yes. And so would a lot of others.
I’m aware that her post containing the fire incident was forwarded to the national park, which I don’t think was completely necessary and as I understand, it was removed on advice from the park authorities. On the flip side of the coin, it has been noted that if Siân allowed comments on her blog then the leave no trace thinking could have pointed out to her, and notifying the park wouldn’t have been necessary.
Her choice in winter clothing is not what many would choose, just as my choice in winter clothing is not what most of the female population under thirty would choose either.
No, The Girl Outdoors is not a blog written for your average TGO reader. But as far as I’m concerned she won fair and square.
I was told the voting totals in confidence and, believe me, the gap between The Girl Outdoors, Two Blondes Walking and myself was tiny. So small in fact that I wish I could have squeezed in a few more votes and nabbed the award myself. It was very, very close. Close enough to convince me that there were never any underhand tactics on Siân’s part.
Others are aware of the voting totals as well and doubt has been cast over whether they add up. This aspect is something only TGO can clear up but I’m happy there has been no wrong doing.
I’ve also spoken with Daniel Neilson, who assured me that no skullduggery was being skullduggered at TGO Towers HQ. He also pointed out that it is not only Siân that has been targeted by malicious comments on social outlets, but also him. Daniel has responded on behalf of TGO on Alan’s blog but I get the impression there may be something more official in the pipeline. He is in Canada for a week and understandably, steering well clear of social media sources.
Can we all realize as well that TGO is not huge organization employing dozens of staff. It is a handful of people dedicated to producing a decent magazine and Daniel is at the brunt of it, over-worked and last week, I guess, taking odd swigs of scotch when he actually managed to prize his head out of his hands.
My only area of doubt, which no one seems to be able to clarify at present, is whether it was possible to vote multiple times with the same email address. Usually in these circumstances the answer is an obvious no due to the possibility of abusing the system. This is one aspect I feel TGO need to clear up. If it was possible, and it seems likely that it was, based on the voting figures I don’t get the impression that it was abused.
It’s a shame. All the rumours have succeeded in achieving is damaging TGO, the Awards, the bloggers and the outdoor industry. The whole event has been tainted and, instead of bringing a great community closer together, I feel it has driven a spiteful wedge straight down the middle.
So, what does Siân think of it all? The social media hounding is what has hit the hardest. Not just aimed at her, but her friends as well. Whilst she is happy she has not only won, but won with her head held high, I think deep down she wishes the whole mess had never happened.
I called her first to congratulate her, and second to apologise (not that it was my fault) on behalf of the outdoor industry for the hounding she has received. Her statement below was her idea and I’m happy to forward it.
I would ask those responsible in social circles to let the bad comments go, and to accept, regardless of their personal blog preferences, the winner.
Let’s all get back to what we do best: enjoying the outdoors.
I’ll start by saying that I know what my blog is and what it isn’t. My blog is aimed at young women who enjoy the great outdoors in all its many forms and who are mainly beginners at walking, climbing, surfing and so on, just like me. I love being outside trying new things and so does my readership. My blog isn’t specifically tailored towards hillwalking men, and it has never professed to be.
I didn’t nominate my blog for the TGO Magazine Awards, or spend time campaigning for votes. Despite that, it won, and I am proud – and I deserve to be proud.
I was very surprised to discover I was at the centre of an angry storm of men begrudging me the award and attacking me both personally and professionally.
I have chosen not to read any of the unpleasant blog posts, as I’m only interested in feedback from people who are actually my readers, and that has been overwhelmingly positive.
Twitter abuse is just bullying, especially when attacking my friends and well-wishers. Sending creepy tweets to my female friends is disgusting and the people involved should feel ashamed.
If people are angry about how the awards are run, may I suggest they contact TGO instead of me? I’m very happy I won the award and I’ll continue my popular blog for the audience who read it.
Siân Anna Lewis – November 2014
She also points out the following:
• Her gear reviews are honest and if she likes something she’ll review it. If not, she sends it back.
• She is a professional journalist, like plenty of other bloggers, and is proud to get paid to write about the outdoors for BBC Countryfile Magazine.
• She is not sure how or why she would cheat to win the award (especially as it wasn’t something she cared hugely about winning) but if people suspect foul play they can go to TGO — it’s nothing to do with her. She doesn’t know any of the team and has no idea how they count votes.
Essentially, after everything is taken into account, we are left with one simple fact. Whether you agree or not with Siân’s blog, whether it is purely advertising, if you don’t like her gear reviews, if it doesn’t contain mountaineering, or whatever, she is simply trying to do one simple thing.
She gets outside, enjoys the outdoors and promotes the fact.
This, despite all the criticism, is an underlying thread we all share and agree with.
In the currently favoured disclaimer alert fashion, I should point out that I am no way affiliated with The Girl Outdoors, I did not receive compensation in the form of women’s clothing, financial incentives, nor am I making a guest appearance on Countryfile anytime soon.