Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards
|Name:||Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards|
|Fandom:||Tolkien, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion|
|URL:||http://www.mefawards.org/ & LJ community|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
The Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards or MEFAs were awards given to online Tolkien fan fiction.
From their FAQ: "An all-encompassing Awards contest for Lord of the Rings fanfiction (including the Silmarillion and the Hobbit fanfiction). Anyone can nominate stories, poetry, drabbles, and essays by joining the MEFAwards Yahoo group. MEFAwards members can vote on any nominated story for as long as they are a member of that group; nominated authors can vote on stories in the year in which they are nominated. Votes will be comment-based, providing everyone with at least one vote with the award of FEEDBACK. Top three places per category will win award."
The MEFAs ran from April 22, 2004 until July 2012, with the 2011 awards season the last. The first awards season opened on May 1, 2004. The awards were founded by Ainaechoiriel, based on the ASC Awards from the Star Trek fandom. Ainaechoiriel set up four separate seasons--Nomination, Ballot (later Check Ballot), Reading, and Voting--which she identified as a key difference from the ASC Awards, along with requiring competing stories to be nominated.
The MEFAs were initially run on Yahoo! Groups. Participants posted their comments on nominated stories to the group. Based on the number of characters in the comment, the nomination was awarded a number of points. Later, the MEFAs moved to an independent website, although participation continued to require membership in the Yahoo! Group in order to better monitor the use of multiple accounts. Ainaechoiriel also passed administrative duties on to Marta, who continued to act as the lead admin until the MEFAs ended in 2012. For the 2011 awards season, the awards moved again to a website custom-built by Aranel Took and Tanaqui.
The minutia of the MEFA rules varied from season to season based on a post-awards discussion called the post-mortem. The post-mortem involved admins and sometimes members as well, depending on the awards season, although it always took into account feedback solicited from members. Several rules remained consistent from season to season.
- Nominations. Each member received a limited number of nominations. Members were allowed to make 20 nominations in the 2011 awards season. Self-nominations were allowed.
- Categorization. As part of finalizing their nominations, authors filled out an informational form about their stories, including selecting three categories in order of preference. Category parameters were based around Times, Race, and Genre. Stories were categorized after nomination season by volunteers, who placed stories in a main category and created subcategories if needed. Examples of categories from the 2011 season include Character Study: Aragorn, First Age and Prior: General, and Hobbits: Family.
- Voting. Voting was comment-based. The number of characters in a comment determined the number of points it generated for the author.
- Adult Content. The MEFAs allowed content rated "Mature" to compete but did not allow content rated "Adult." Authors who were unsure how to rate their stories could have the stories reviewed by a panel of volunteers. This panel also reviewed stories that were flagged by readers for violating the ratings guidelines.
The Ending of the MEFAs
During the 2011 awards season, Nieriel Raina requested review of three nominations by Esteliel for possible ratings violations. Nieriel Raina contacted Marta under a pseudonym email, stating that she'd found several stories that violated the ratings policy. Marta replied, asking for the titles of the stories so that they could be reviewed by the ratings panel. Marta indicated that Nieriel Raina would be updated with their decision. Nieriel Raina replied with the titles of the stories but heard nothing further. She next sent two additional queries and received no reply. The issue was addressed a final time via a comment on LiveJournal, initiated by Marta, and it was revealed that technical problems had prevented Nieriel Raina's email with the titles of the stories, as well as the additional queries, from reaching the MEFA admins. Upon locating Nieriel Raina's lost emails, Marta undertook an investigation of the stories, which resulted in the withdrawal of one of Esteliel's stories the day before the closing of voting season. Had it been allowed to complete the season, the story would have been in second place in its category.
None of this was made public during the 2011 awards season; however, it caused Marta and the other top-level admins to undertake a revision of the award's ratings policy during the post-mortem. On 16 June 2012, this policy was presented to MEFA participants. The awards were scheduled to begin on 1 July 2012, allowing little time for reconsideration and revision of policy changes.
One particular detail about the policy change upset authors who wrote stories they would typically rate as "Mature":
If your story is rated "mature" you need to show that it's not really adult before it can compete. This can happen in two ways: you can either run it by the ratings panel during the nomination period, or else you can show us a major archive (not just a personal site or blog) where the story is posted with a rating that clearly fits within the "mature" rating. And this doesn't have to be the link you give the MEFAs; it can be any other site that basically shows the story fits our mature ratings. Either way, you need to show us it's not adult during the nomination period; otherwise, it won't be able to compete. But the real point of all this is that it also won't be pulled out of the awards later, if someone complains that it's adult rather than mature."
On 28 June 2012, pandemonium_213 posted an open letter signed by several MEFA members on the MEFA Yahoo! Group, outlining their concerns with the new policy and requesting revisions to remove the perceived burden placed on authors of Mature ("5-rated") stories.  Marta replied to the open letter that day, at which point the situation involving Esteliel's withdrawn story was first made public (without naming either Esteliel or Nieriel Raina, both of whom publicly "outed" themselves in the interest of full disclosure during the ensuing discussion of the ratings policy). Marta attempted to frame the policy as a minor change. She also refused to consider revising the policy, on the grounds that it was too close to the start of the 2012 season, although she did offer to entertain discussion in September 2012, after the busiest part of the 2012 season had passed.
Reactions to the open letter and Marta's reply to it were myriad. Some participants who had not signed the open letter were nonetheless supportive of the change being made. Others were not and downplayed the concerns brought up in the open letter. On 1 July 2012, the original signatories of the first open letter posted a second open letter:
We recognise the pressures that the opening of the current 2012 season of the awards will place on the MEFA Admin team in the short term, but we believe it is crucial that the discussion is not delayed until September, as it has been proposed by the Admin team. A postponement of this discussion might result in an undesirable reduction of the current level of engagement by all parties and perhaps cause an erroneous perception about the matter being settled, implying acceptance of the 2012 policy for subsequent years."
The second open letter also announced the creation of an independent LiveJournal community called mefa_ratings for the purpose of further discussing the policy. During the discussion on the first letter, the request was made to open up posting permissions of the MEFA's LiveJournal community to allow for discussion there, due to the fact that the discussion was becoming unwieldy and difficult to follow on Yahoo! Groups. This request was not met by the MEFA admins. (On 30 June 2012, Marta had made a post on the MEFA LJ community, explaining the debate and again postponing discussion until September, which a number of members had already started to use as an unauthorized forum for discussing the policy and possible solutions.)
On 2 July 2012, Marta posted to Yahoo! Group, announcing that the MEFAs were ending, but giving members the choice of running the 2012 season under the controversial policies as stated or ending the awards immediately. The conflict over the ratings policy was identified as a major reason for ending the award, with Marta stating that "the way people presented and kept pressing these complaints has made the MEFAs less a pleasure and more a stressful burden for me." On 3 July 2012, Aranel Took made the final decision to discontinue the MEFAs entirely based on a host of technical problems plaguing the MEFA site.
The same day, participants on the mefa_ratings LiveJournal community opened discussion about continuing the MEFAs under new leadership and possibly a new name. Over the weeks that followed, the Tales of Middle Earth Awards or TOMEs were established, to be run along similar lines as the MEFAs.
- MEFA Mission (2008), This file was sent to new members in 2008. It is no longer available on the MEFA Yahoo! Group.
- Aranel Took. Announcement from Aranel: Cancellation of MEFAs (accessed 10 July 2012)
- Nieriel Raina. The Truth About the 2011 MEFA Rating Fiasco, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Marta. changes are gonna come - the results of the 2011 post-mortem, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Marta. the 2012 MEFAs are coming - and we want your help, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- MEFAwards 2012 Ratings System: Objections and Alternative Proposals, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Marta. Response to MEFAwards 2012 Ratings System: Objections and Alternative Proposals, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- New MEFA Ratings Discussion Community in LJ, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Marta. Ratings and MEFA Eligibility, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Marta. a difficult decision, and a poll, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- pandemonium_213. MEFA Rebooted: Next Steps, (accessed 1 September 2012).
- Rhapsody11. Taskforce 2 to Board of Directors/11. dark lords & ladies of the tower (accessed 11 July 2012)