Yesterday marked a milestone in the life of this blog when page-views reached six figures – and we thought that it was perhaps an appropriate moment for reflecting on what we think we are doing.
Our initial thoughts on a joint blog were developed over a pint in the Maltsters pub in Cardiff during a break from the LLM (Canon Law) course, between Frank’s lecture on “Canonical systems of regulation and the secular law” and the John Lewis Memorial Lecture on “Children, crucifixes and classrooms: a semiotic cocktail” given by Alison Mawhinney of Bangor Law School. When we started in June 2013 we did not have much idea of what blogging entailed (and certainly no expectation either that there would be so much material to blog about or that it would be such hard work). We did it simply because we thought that there appeared to be a gap in the market that we might usefully try to fill.
Since our first tentative beginnings we have acquired 70-odd subscribers and 300+ followers on Twitter: still only a small number of regulars, but what we write is obviously being picked up by a wider audience than that. Ebuzzing currently ranks us at No 17 among the most popular blogs on religion and belief but does not list us among the legal blogs at all – which we think is rather strange, given that we regard ourselves very much as academic lawyers blogging about law in relation to religion, not as theologians blogging about religion in relation to law.
Coming as we do from a culture of academic publication – with editors, peer-reviews and proofs to correct before you get anywhere near a finished product – the instant (and rather scary) exposure after pressing of the “publish” button imposes new disciplines, particularly when covering current events that are sometimes a little beyond our respective comfort-zones. What readers may not appreciate is that behind the “posted by” attribution on each item is a lot of e-mail correspondence on what and when to publish, what contribution each of us might make and whether the draft conveys the intended message. Broadly speaking, David tends to originate posts about Anglican and Roman Catholic canon law and environmental issues while Frank tends to concentrate on issues such as Scotland, employment law and human rights. But there is no hard-and-fast division of labour: we frequently edit each other’s working drafts and the weekly round-up is always a joint effort, irrespective of whose name appears on the post.
We also try as hard as we can to discuss current legal issues as objectively as possible –or at least to make it clear to readers when we are being opinionated. But perhaps the most surprising thing about blogging is that our own view of what is important and what might be fairly trivial is sometimes totally contradicted by the amount of traffic on the site.
The extremely obscure piece on Calling the banns in Scotland that Frank posted simply because, having had to do the research to answer a query, he wanted to write it up properly – and did so in the expectation that hardly anyone would bother to read it – has had over 600 hits. On the other hand, our post on prayers at council meetings and R(NSS) v Bideford Town Council – an issue which, at the time, attracted considerable coverage in the media, questions in Parliament and the wrath of Mr Secretary Pickles – has been viewed just 19 times though, admittedly, it was first posted in the very early days of the blog when we had very few followers.
Over the past 400-odd posts, the format of the blog has changed little: an overview of the basic facts, usually followed by a comment section, although the length has varied according to the complexity and importance of the item. In October 2012 we began the practice of starting each week with a review of the events of the past seven days, plus additional items that did not warrant a dedicated post. This has become a regular feature, as has the listing of forthcoming events, which will in future be more closely aligned to parliamentary sessions and the law terms. Another recent addition has been the inclusion of links to the latest consistory court judgments on the Ecclesiastical Law Association website, in addition to reviews of the more noteworthy cases.
Apart from the front page itself, far and away the most popular post has been Sharia and the English legal system: the Government’s view, with over 6,000 page-views. Otherwise, as one might have predicted, the themes that have generated most traffic have been the various posts on Eweida, women as bishops in the Church of England, same-sex marriage and the exhumation and intended reburial of Richard III. Church and State – an idiot’s guide has received over 1,200 hits and we would like to think that, as a result, at least some commentators might be less inclined than previously to confuse “Great Britain” with “The United Kingdom” – though we aren’t holding our breath. But perhaps the most unexpected traffic-generator, with over 1,000 hits, has been the post on Charitable status, public benefit and “closed” congregations and the on-going dispute between the Hales Exclusive Brethren and the Charity Commission. The Commission’s initial decision has obviously attracted a considerable degree of attention far beyond the Exclusives themselves; and like everyone else we shall be extremely interested in the final outcome.
Finally, many thanks to those who have authored guest posts. We would very much like to see more of them, not because we want a break from writing but because they make a very welcome change from the predictability of our own views. We should also thank the increasing number of readers who provide useful comments and further insights into our posts. Frank has described legal blogging as the “Graffiti Wall of Death”; and given the inevitable limits to our own knowledge in relation to the range of current issues we respond to, it is very useful to have our views supported, amended or corrected by those with a more detailed insight.
So that’s where we’re at. We shall now try to forget about statistics and concentrate on blogging, conscious of the fact that in the big, wide world of legal blogs we’re still very tiny.