I never know what to make of online awards and rankings other than to be surprised when Slugger continues to make them. Reader site Feedspot puts us at 70 amongst English language pol blogs, and 17 in the UK.
My friend John Arovosis who runs the America Blog (No 58) once jokingly said to me that the best way to have a really successful blog is to start in 2002.
In fact it was, I think the third or fourth blog I’d set up that year. The others were tryouts on Theatre, Development in Africa, and one on the Irish language (I was teaching a small group of adults at the time).
The first post was full of passion and intention (and not much else):
At that time I just opened it up on the Blogger platform, and for the first month or so, I didn’t bother much with titles. Three weeks later I learn to read the site logs and found there were 90 readers a day.
My colleague at River Path at the time David Steven advised me to buy the URL and take it seriously. I bought it, and then promptly went off to get married, only launching the site at Sluggerotoole.com when I got back.
It was pretty simple and clunky. Blogger didn’t do comments at the time so I had to append the code from someone else. In any case there were few wanting to comment in the first seven months or so.
I began use it as a researcher’s pin board for a paper we were planning to write on the future of Unionism.
I also let us bring in other writers. After a call in the summer for politicos of all sorts, Belfast Gonzo and Mark McGregor became important mainstays in the output each bringing different perspective from mine.
A year later Pete Baker joined us, making him the longest continuously serving blogger on the team. He’s remains one of out most valuable and incisive analytical bloggers.
Aside from those very early days it’s been a team effort ever since. By 2004 it was our rich commenting life that drew the attention of the New Statesman Awards, winning their Community and Information Award.
Now, what seems like many internet years Slugger has a whole offline life of its own, which since I’m still in exile on John Bull’s Other [Other] Island I’m only able to fitfully take part in.
Alan in Belfast’s conference reports, for political parties and various academic institutions, provides an amazing aural public service capturing the detail from the largest to the smallest events.
One academic told me last year that when he gets an invite to go to a seminar or conference, he’s taken to asking if Alan is going to be there to determine whether or not he should go.
Brian O’Neill is the unsung hero of modern Slugger. Before he joined the team as a tech master I was shelling out £57 a month for hosting a large (smart, but unpredictable) commenting system.
After his overhaul, there are few outages and Brian is always on the lookout for ways to make the site work faster and more efficiently for the readers, particularly now that over half our readership is on mobile.
He’s also responsible for reviving Slugger events, with the most recent launch of our SluggerSession series in partnership with Queens University, Belfast. Our third fundraising End of Year Review raised over £1000.
David McCann has brought fresh energy to the editorial output, establishing the Soapbox slot to bring us in a slew of fresh voices (although despite his boyish good looks we still have trouble attracting women writers).
There are many others of course. Brian Walker, for instance, is a class act and by far the best writer amongst us regulars, whether you agree with him or not (agonistic* permission to disagree is a key Slugger value).
Chris Donnelly is a regular commentator on the mainstream for his clear pro-Republican analysis. He continues to make a critic contribution to the important business of exploring the post-GFA future of nationalism.
If I’m to be a little self-critical: we have too few women, too little policy, and too few unionist voices. We’ve had good offers, but our great team of regulars are, so to speak, the mud that’s stuck (to the job).
Our door is always open to new (preferably stubborn) talent: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we are always grateful for your support. We don’t get official funding (and having tried it, we kinda like it that way, since it leaves us with a freer hand to say what we feel has to be said).
If you want to help keep Slugger lit for another year, send us what you can by hitting the paypal button below.
*Look it up, it’s a great word, kindly donated to me by Professor John Barry quite a few years back when I was a visiting Research Associate at the Institute of Government at Queens University.