Psychic News closes down after 78 years — but why?

Now let’s get this straight. I am NOT a Spiritualist, a Spiritist, a psychic, a medium, or anything similar. I’m an Anglican Christian, and one who happens to be passionately interested in psychical research. Still it came as a surprise today to learn from the JREF of this —

Psychic News final issue

Psychic News final issue: 1932 -2010

Now as it happens today is the busiest I have been in a very long time, and I really did not intend to blog about anything, but as the old gal disappears, I felt a few words were in order. Firstly, my best wishes to everyone who was involved in the publication — I know only too well how traditional print and broadcast media are struggling to compete with new media claiming an increasing share of advertising revenues. ITN is the poster child for this issue; as more satellite channels and web advertising take up, commercial television has taken a huge hit. ITN have bounced back, with advertising revenues up, but a lot of traditional print media has suffered what may be an irreversible downturn, and had to look to internet editions and subscriber services to pick up the slack.

Secondly, I am aware of the byzantine politics of the Spiritualist movement, and the complex theological, administrative and personality clashes which sometimes (always?) arise. In this the Spiritualist National Union is much like any other church, or much like any other organisation, be it poetry club or gardening society.

In those two factors, economic issues and doubtless some political manoeuvring we see the immediate reasons for the decline of Psychic News (a newspaper that as long term reader of this blog may recall once featured me on the front page!). It is a shame, but possibly to be expected. And yet…

CJ is confuzzled…

The reason for my confusion is simple. While the actual reasons for the ending of publication are pretty straight forward — see the Paranormal Review blog for a good explanation and commentary — I am deeply puzzled as to why the Psychic New should have fallen a victim to the challenge of new media etc.  While independent it was published by the SNU, and as such one might have expected it to be immensely popular among adherents of that organisation, which maintains a good number of churches, though possibly not enough to give the PN a future. Still, every time I go to Tesco to get my shopping I see this, and several similar publications…

Chat It's Fate!

Chat It's Fate! (c) IPC Media

There has been an explosion of ‘psychic’ publications. We have also this one…

Spirit & Destiny magazine

Spirit & Destiny - click for their website

and probably others I don’t know about. Back in the early years of this decade I noticed that Jane Millichip was changing LIVING TV from a channel that basically was Loaded magazine on screen, for the lads and laddettes, to something closer to the women’s interest magazines like Chat etc – a brilliant, visionary formula which paid off in spades. They brought Most Haunted to our screens, John Edwards,  Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, and a host of others. Above all, Derek Acorah became a household name.

I doubt Spiritualists were wildly enthusiastic: the few members of the SNU I know seemed concerned that the glitz and excitement of celebrity mediumship was at odds with their own experiences of ‘Spirit’, and there were as always accusations of fraud. It’s an odd fact, but spiritualism does seem to attract critical thinkers, perhaps because it is such an empirically based religion — it professes to demonstrate the reality of its theological claims on platforms in spiritualist churches up and down the country every week after all, and almost every spiritualist i have ever spoken to has been convinced by the evidence they have seen of afterlife communication — yet remain sceptical of the claims of other mediums they have also witnessed.  As such, they can be  difficult audience to address for their Class A mediums (a designation something like ‘vicar’, not a dangerous drug!) and I doubt many Church of England vicars could handle the level of criticism and empirical demands of a Spiritualist congregation.  Quite the contrary to public perception in my opinion, spiritualists are not wild and wooly believers – they are often VERY sceptically minded folks, with a “i’ll believe when you show me proof” attitude.

As the 90’s ended and teenage Wiccan wannabes ceased to be fashionable and became more and more figures of ridicule, many who had been intoxicated by the promise of The Craft now wanted something more real, more empirical, and more directly answering to their needs – the need to see if their was a life after death, to deal with the terrible pain of bereavement, to deal with the inevitability of our personal deaths. These are real human concerns – you can find them on atheist forums, discussed and disected, just as much as in churches and in psychic groups.

Around 2003-2004 I think the UK underwent a major cultural transformation, as a TV-led taste for the psychic and for empircal rather than occult (in its literal sense of ‘hidden’) religions picked up. People did not just want comfort, vague promises of ‘pie in the sky when you die’ — they wanted proof. They wanted direct spiritual experiences – signs and wonders, something that the Charismatic Christian Churches had been providing since the late sixties, and especially in the late eighties and early nineties, and that Wicca had maybe provided for others. A religion that had in my youth been the staple of advertising jokes (I’m with the Woolwich/Toffee Crisp, etc, etc) and associated with elderly ladies and slightly dotty maiden aunts in the public mind suddenly became credible and relevant — and more than that, it provided something really appealing — the chance to experience the truth, not be told it second hand.

The years that Living TV and the psychic boom led to a population of facebook names like Bob Smith (medium) – an example I made up though there may be one – happens to coincide with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the grim litany of names in the media of our fallen warriors. Historians always point out that the years of the the First World War marked a highpoint in Spiritualism (or so it is claimed) — yet after the grim death toll of the war it faded away again, and the Second World War does not seem to have seen a huge increase in numbers. I don’t know if there is a link, but there may be — please do comment with your thoughts on any of this, I’m no expert, I’m just thinking aloud!

And suddenly we have an explosion of popular interest in the paranormal and the psychic. Two other things arise from it — firstly, a plethora of Ghosthunting TV shows, following the path blazed by Most Haunted — and with them an explosion of paranormal research groups, up from maybe 30 in the late seventies to over 700 in the UK by 2006, if my memory of Dr Ciaran O Keefe’s research is correct – again a “hands on” empirical approach to finding out where spiritual truth stands. That ghosthunting group can be seen as a “New Religious Movements” is I think self evident – they are often technological approaches to ancient questions, a sort of hands-on theological investigation.  Enquiring minds that might have been involved in a church group, or in a occult prctice, or in a scientific pursuit were more and more going out and seeking personal experience – if in the sixties they dropped acid and sought Nirvana, in the seventies looked to the skies for UFo’s and talked to space-brothers, and in the eighties joined a charismatic church or in the nineties a Wiccan coven, in the 2000’s these same peopel became ghosthunters or psychic, or organised sceptics…

Hey, something to offend everyone? Yes, I regard the modern development of many organised sceptic groups as allied to these same cultural phenomena, albeit a critical response to them.  For established folks like CSI(COP), the JREF, or UK Skeptics it must be puzzling — now one can hardly throw a stick without hitting Sceptics in Little Snoring, or some other sceptical group.  While the mainstream media has not been as kind to sceptics as the psychics  – Derren Brown, James Randi and Penn & Teller made it by having other very real talents, ditto the immensely charismatic Dr Richard Wiseman, and Dr Susan Blackmore and Dr Chris French — there are now dozens it seems of sceptical podcasts (sceptics seem very New Media savvy) and while scepticism has been around as a movement since the 1950’s, i think the explosion of interest may well be a direct response to the ‘paranormalisation’ of our popular culture.

I’ll go a stage further, and even allege the New Atheists, and the public interest in Professor Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion and the TV shows he did on these subjects was a response to the same upswing of ’empirical’ religion (undoubtedly strengthened immensely by 9/11 and the genuine fear of religious fanaticism and old fashioned xenophobia as alien religions and ethnicities become apparent on our streets.)

Ironically I think the thing the New Atheists and Dawkins champion, empiricism and science, have won the battle for the minds of the UK — and the strength of their victory, and the fear of faith based beliefs, can be seen in the upswing of empirically based ‘psychic’ and ‘ghosthunting’ faiths. The adherents of these “new religions”  have taken on-board the dangers of dogma and blind faith, and arcane theological formulations, and are part of the scientifically minded “show me the evidence” culture of doubt and “I’ll believe it when I see it”.   The Atheists are partly a response to some of the spiritual anarchy that has arisen as more and more weird claims are peddles as truth — I often offend by my statement that I prefer institutionalised religion to spiritual anarchy, but that is a discussion for another day — but the New Atheists are at least partially independent of all this – and share the same basic critique of taking things on faith many of the psychics, spiritualists and ghosthunters do as they reject the established faiths and go looking for themselves for the evidence.

The New Sceptics – they serve their role in the new religious landscape of the UK, providing (often badly, sometimes very well), a critique of the experiences that are taken as evidential by the ghosthunters and psychics, explaining them usually in terms of psychology, or less often having a stab at neurological explanations.  New Scepticism is a response to the psychics and ghosthunters to some extent, as Dawkins and the New Atheists are a response to the established Churches?

So why did Psychic News fail?

Well we know the obvious reasons, and looking at the glossy covers of the “rival” psychic magazines, we can why people might pick them up – glossy, polished, exciting, rather then poor old  Psychic News.  As I have hinted above, “people hate noobs”; while SNU churches are undoubtedly welcoming to new members, the criticism and rational analysis I might expect to find of the celebrity mediums in a spiritualist church may make them appear stuffy or conservative to the fans of the big name mediums who pack out theatres all over the country, rather than spiritualist churches.  We have seen this before – in Anglican resentment of John Wesley’s popular preaching in the 18th century, in the distaste for Charles Spurgeon’s evangelical meetings in the 19th century, in the at times snide response of the ‘traditional’ churches to the Charismatic churches in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  And sometimes, as history has shown, the conservatives are right — one remembers the collapse of the Nine o clock Service  rave-church back in the 90’s, and hell, plenty of big name psychics and mediums have been exposed — some like Colin Fry in the pages of Psychic News itself.

We see the same thing in ghosthunting circles – perhaps the SPR ( uk ) could do more to reach the new ghosthunters, though it appears to me they are, in Atheism – many critiques of the New Atheists come from ‘old atheists’ rather than the religious — and even in scepticism, where politics and personality clashes are as apparent as in any human group. Enthusiastic ‘noobs’ (an internet culture term for a ‘newbie’)  are often a little brash, a little over the top, a little – well ‘enthusiastic’ (in the 19th century sense) – for the tastes of the ‘establishment’.

If I am thinking correctly though, it is not really the fault of those ‘establishments’ though, because a sceptically empirically minded bunch, be they psychic practioners, ghosthunters, sceptics, or whatever, out to tear done the nonsense they perceive in popular belief, and to find out the facts for themselves, put the emphasis not on membership of a church, a certain prestige group, or any organisation that impedes their independent thinking, but in their own experiences, their own thoughts, and their own findings. None like chiefs – they smack of dogma – and none like idols much either. The new spiritualism may be a grass-roots movement that nods at organised Spiritualism, but can’t be bothered to check if their beliefs and experiences tally with the principles of the SNU or orthodox spiritualist theology, or to get out of bed to attend a service or meeting — this is religion for the ‘me’ generation, and  they want a feel good Nescafe friendly morning read not an exposition of often technical spiritualist thinking and history: emotional, personal, experiential, not intellectual and institutionalised religion. The divide between the It’s Fate readers and the psychic news readers may be like the divide between the readers of Paranormal magazine and the ghosthunters and those who subscribe to the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research or the European Journal of Parapsychology — and that I think may be the key to why Psychic News has died, even as psychism as a belief system may be reaching its apogee in the uK??

Dunno, just some quick thoughts. I’d better go do some work, but I’d love to hear your comments…

cj x

About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
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7 Responses to Psychic News closes down after 78 years — but why?

  1. Steve says:

    It is odd, and as I’m the first poster can I make the expected comment of “So much for being psychic – they didn’t see it coming”.

    I suspect they just didn’t move with the times and got left behind. Not that moving with the times is always good – I cancelled my long running subscription to Fortean Times when it simply seemed to turn into a magazine that would cover anything, for example a 5 page article on Dracula when there was a new vampire movie coming out.

    Maybe they were too serious and not full of “juicy” “celeb” “stories”. Living TV might have been a great success but they’ve put serious paranormal research back by years and I suspect the same dumbing down with Derek Acorah and John Edwards and others actually doing the name of psychic mediums a lot of damage has had a similar effect on publications like Psychic News.

  2. Chris Jensen Romer says:

    Yes, that’s pretty much what I said or implied I hope? I think we agree totally.

    cj x

  3. Lis says:

    Steve makes the comment ‘so much for being psychic – they didn’t see it coming’ – a remark that is actually a long way from the truth. I think there were more than a few who saw the closure of PN coming, but simply did not have the power to stop it from happening.

    No doubt what Chris has said holds a great deal of truth, and in terms of PN or Spiritualism for that matter, there are many other ‘attractions’ that have lured people away in recent decades. But I believe that PN has closed not merely as a result of loss of revenue due to falling subscriptions or loss of interest in what it had to offer its readers, or because other magazines with glossy pages are of more interest, or even because the new generations are seeking a personal experience and confirmation and no longer look to reports of others experiences.

    Sadly, I believe that PN has been closed for much less genuine reasons, and with motives that would be considered shameful if made publicly known. I hope the truth will become public in time but until then I can only say from what I do know that the closure of PN serves only one purpose and satisfies just one organization.

    The question could be asked just who decided to close down PN and why. Equally it could be asked when did this decision actually get made and why did that decision not get made public in order to prevent the innocent subscribers from wasting their money when those in power knew for months the intention to put PN into liquidation.

    As a subscriber and a contributor of articles to PN I may be biased but I do believe that PN, like the newspapers or periodicals of any other religion, served a vital purpose – it offered information on what was happening within the Spiritualist movement around the world. It related the good stories and the tales where so called Spiritualists acted inappropriately or cheated (something many orthodox religions would seem quite unwilling to give public attention to when it occurs within their ranks) and helped to keep Spiritualists and others interested in the paranormal from feeling too isolated. There are many who are not internet savvy, who relied on PN for their news and sense of community, something that is of great importance in every religious movement.

    It is my hope that PN will rise from the ashes of this disaster brought on by selfish people with dishonest motives, so that it may once more be independent of an organization that did not deserve the right to own it.

  4. Chris Jensen Romer says:

    Yeah, PN was always willing to expose frauds, and to give those accused of fraud a chance to explain what actually happened. It also provided as you say a vital INDEPENDENT voice on the spiritualist scene, and iot was from it I first learned of things like the Noah’s Ark Society, and many other organisations and groups.

    Well the SNU killed PN: possibly because they did not wish to continue to fund a genuinely independent organ, that was at times critical of SNU personalities and moves, I think that much is clear. What shocks me is not that it allowed PN to pass from its control, but that it made no effort to sell or pass it on to another group.

    I find it hard to believe there are no legacies or monies left for the purpose for the publication of PN, and that there are no wealthy interested parties who would not have helped bankroll it. I know nothing of the politic Lis, but as an outsider I am curious as to why this ws allowed to happen.

    Even one of those er, ‘interesting’ glossies could have incorporated PN as PN incorporated Two Worlds. WHatever is going on must be rather deeper than we are seeing – why kill a newspaper that was at least potentially viable?

    I’d like to know more — and again, I am very much an outsider in all this.

    cj x

  5. Lis says:

    Chris writes: “What shocks me is not that it allowed PN to pass from its control, but that it made no effort to sell or pass it on to another group.”

    Yes, that is one aspect of the situation which is both shocking and puzzling. Why would the SNU not try to offset their losses by selling PN or allowing another Spiritualist body to take it on?

    Then again, look at the situation at bit more closely. The SNU ‘owned’ Psychic News via its shares in the Psychic Press (1995) Pty Ltd. If the SNU no longer wished to foot the bill because the financial cost was too high for them, the logical thing might appear to be to on-sell PN and so divest themselves of the financial burdon.

    However, a condition of the SNU owning PN was that the paper must remain independent in terms of both its editorial and general content. While this was so, there is little doubt that the staff, located as they were within the grounds of Stansted and in constant interaction with the directors of Psychic Press who were also members of the senior executive of the SNU, may have found it difficult to avoid some level of ‘self’censoring’ in order that the SNU should not become annoyed with PN.

    In selling the SNU would lose both control of the main Spiritualist paper in the world and be quite unable to restrict (overtly or covertly) any potential criticism of the activities of the SNU.

    Much better, to close PN down, not allowing anyone else to get it. Especially if there was in the minds of those behind the action to close PN, the idea of ‘resurrecting’ a new PN or some variant of it within the SNU system, in a form that was wholly accountable to the SNU executive, and subject to tight editorial control.

    Chris also commented he found it hard to believe: “there are no legacies or monies left for the purpose for the publication of PN, and that there are no wealthy interested parties who would not have helped bankroll it.”

    Again, a very relevant remark. There were, indeed a number of potential ‘benefactors’ who were or might have been willing to assist in a financial way to keep PN in publication and to fund a major promotion/marketing campaign with a view to increasing circulation and subscription. All such offers, and indications of support were turned down by the SNU.

    At this point one can only speculate as to why.

  6. Natalie says:

    Hello, thought i might put my two-penneth in here . . . .

    I have known about the PN problems for sometime, but remain shocked that it has been stopped completely. I have however, heard from multiple sources who attended the SNU’s AGM at Blackpool about the “goings on” that occurred. So, allow me to share with you the information that i have to hand and you can make you own decisions . . . .

    As Chris has already stated in his original post, the SNU strive to find empirical evidence of continuous life with the human term “death” being no more than a word that describes the transition back in to that we came from. Mediums are stringently tested by both the congregation, church committees, district councils, national executive councils and the general public as well!The information given by the medium to any individual MUST contain evidence of the person that they are communicating with, what constitutes “Good Evidence” is judged so that mediums can attain insurance and recognition by the SNU (Such as CSNU, DSNU, OSNU, MSNU). So, many hoops must be jumped through within a mediums “career”. At no point is PSYCHIC information permitted to passed off as spirit communication, psychic information is not permitted to be used on an SNU rostrum. All mediums use both their psychic and the mediumship when working, but ALL information retrieved psychically should be identified as such when used unavoidably. As a result of this striving for pure spirit communication, we do not pertain to be psychics but mediums.

    An argument that ensued at the AGM was why the newspaper was entitled “Psychic News” when the SNU does not endorse psychic work from its rostrums. So, a change of name was suggested. It has been suggested that IF resurrected, the Psychic News may become “Spiritualist News”, “SNU News” or something similar. Despite being a member of the SNU, and i do enjoy my membership (or else i would not be a member), I would prefer it if the “PN” continued in an independent way, that the SNU had sold its shares to other interested buyers and allowed the PN to continue on on its merry way. That way it would (hopefully) be less influenced by the SNU. This would then enable to SNU to publish its own “magazine” (as this is the format that was suggested at the AGM) for their members. Thus leaving the spiritualist movement to have an independent newspaper and the SNU to have its own magazine for its members! But, as always, people cannot live in harmony together and so PN was axed.

    Unfortunately, the purchase of PN at churches has been declining over many years, and i believe that it was just the nail in its coffin.

    As a Class B SNU member (Just to let you know Chris your mediumship levels are incorrect; Classes are the types of members associated with the SNU. Level of mediumship demonstration is identified through letters which prefix SNU), I am aware of the many strings of politics, each with a different take on what has happened. I am not naive nor blind to what i perceive to be going on, and i believe it is just the tip of an iceberg that has been growing for around 4-5 years at least, further changes and their repercussions remain to be seen.

    L+L Natalie

  7. Pingback: In Praise of Epistemological Anarchism: Science, Ghosts and the Guardians of Order « "And sometimes he's so nameless"

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