We published our first post fourteen years ago yesterday. Fetchingly simple, it bears no hint of what was to follow. As you can see from Slugger’s first archive grab nearly two months later, there wasn’t even a commenting facility with the software we used at the time.
It started as ‘A Letter to Slugger O’Toole‘. The Slugger in question had been a pastiche sock puppet character on a rough house bulletin board devoted NI politics called Debate Central: he was a drunken Orangeman who would only drink Bushmills whiskey.
It struck me at the time that trying to explain Northern Ireland (if that’s what we were trying to do) was a little bit like talking to a permanently drunk man: it needs easing out little by little, lots of repetition and it inevitably takes a very long time to strike home.
Well, fourteen years is not a hugely long time. What started as a one-man band developed a year later into a group blog, when I was confronted with the need to keep a 1000 readers a day happy during my annual retreat to Donegal (when wifi was but a dream).
Few of that initial team have survived. Some have gone on to other things, some promised, but never showed. One or two had a ball of a time and have continued to do so ever since under their own bylines (with the very occasional exception of Belfast Gonzo).
Slugger for me in those days was a simple research instrument for a paper I was planning to publish on the future of Unionism. I had an inkling that if I made good choices, I would attract a good audience.
I would never make the claim (as the Guardian did within four months of our launch) that Slugger was balanced. Rather its intention was always to be plural. So in picking that first team I tried to cover all bases.
As Ulrich Beck once put it, the 21C is a search ‘simultaneity, mulitplicity, uncertainty, the issue of connections, cohesion, experiments with exchange, ambivalence’. Slugger has been a mere scratching of that surface.
Since then it’s been a roller coaster. In our archives you can find a blow by blow account of the fall of the executive in October 2002. It is truly fascinating to watch/reread the contemporary accounts of just how it occurred and in what order.
Similarly you can read the running and the conduct of negotiations at Leeds Castle in September 2004 and two years later at Saint Andrews. In more torrid terms, where is the controversies around the Northern bank robbery, the killing of Robert McCartney, and the Liam Adams and Iris Robinson affairs.
The first time I met Noel Thompson in the flesh was in the Hearts and Minds office preparing for broadcast by searching those very same archives. In early days Slugger first ‘owned’ breaking news then gently ceded it to the machine that is Twitter, but it is our archives that are the main reason why Slugger is stored by both the British Library and the Irish National Archives.
That’s not bad for a shoestring operation like Slugger. At times our largely professional approach has bamboozled some into thinking we are in receipt of public funding. But for a short period when we were funded by NI Screen and Channel 4, we’ve survived on a combination of fundraising events, on-site advertising and the kind donations of friends and strangers alike.
Fourteen years sounds like a long time. But it wouldn’t have lasted three if it had only been me churning out blogs entirely on my own. It owes its longevity to an amazing array of old and new talent stretching back to that summer of 2003. There’s too many of them to count out loud, but I think them all for making Slugger the well read watering hole it is today.
A word too for our conversationalists in the comment zone. We have our moments of madness, but over the years I’m fairly sure the play the ball and not the man rule has prevented us from disappearing into the incoherence so many other volume sites have.
We still have too few women or minority views, but underlying the culture is an imperative to compete co-operatively, after all in nature nice organisms finish first. 🤓
So thanks to everyone for keeping Slugger alive and relevant, even after all these years… ]
[You all know where the ‘poor Mick’ box is – Ed]