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Hold the Front Page!
The Press, the Paranormal and the Voice of Joe Public
by Michael J. Hallowell


Well, itís a while since I penned a column for IRAAP. To be honest, itís been too long Ė about five or six years, if my memory serves me correctly. And it might not be serving me correctly, but that could be down to the fact that I recently hit the big Five Zero and Iím starting to feel my age. (Go onÖall together now, say, ďAh, bless!Ē)

Okay, now that thatís out of the way letís get down to business. The world of paranormal research is still big business here in the UK, and, once again, magazines and journals covering every aspect of the Weird and the Wonderful are starting to proliferate. Some are superb; others are, to put it bluntly, execrable. Thatís life.

We live in a humdrum world that is becoming ever-increasingly bogged down in a mire of money-oriented tedium. Watch the news, and youíll see just how sad weíre becoming. I turned on the TV the other day and saw a picture of poor Paris Hilton. I switched channels and saw a picture of the sheriff who jailed her. On another channel was footage of the City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Iím pretty sure he was talking about Paris Hilton, too. I switched to CNN (always a sign that Iím getting increasingly desperate for something to watch) and saw a woman. She smiled a sweet smile at the camera with her artificially whitened teeth and started to talk about, uhÖ poor little Paris. Enough already, said I. I watched the Simpsons instead and found it infinitely more entertaining. I havenít the slightest inkling to learn more about Paris, her car, her mother or her hair. If Iím in need of a cultural icon, give me Homer every time.

What I find scary is the publicís obsession with mind-numbing trivia such as this. There are other stories out there screaming for airtime and yet they struggle for the oxygen of publicity. Last week I read about a woman in Birmingham, England who saw a UFO. It passed within eight feet of the roof of her car, terrifying both driver and passenger. She estimated that the spherical UFO was roughly the size of a football pitch and hummed loudly. As it soared through the ether she saw what looked like piping attached to the undercarriage.

ďIt was definitely a machineĒ, she stated.

So here we have an incident in which a woman and her friend had close contact with something beyond our ken. There is a possibility that it was - please excuse the clichť Ė something from another world. For all we know, this lady may have had a brush with an alien presence; a presence that had dislocated itself from another part of the galaxy and relocated itself here by means we can only guess at.

To any rationally-minded person this should be big news. First Contact with Them has to happen sometime, and probably did many moons ago. Okay, so maybe what she had wasnít First Contact with Them. Maybe it was the 5,387,486th Contact with Them, but, seeing as we have yet to have any official acknowledgement of ANY contact with Them it should still be pretty big news, right?

Well, not exactly. You see, something of far greater cosmic significance occurred at the same time: Paris Hilton got banged up for violating her probation.

Is it just me, or is this seriously spooky? Someone has a Close Encounter with alien intelligence and no one needs to know. Some B-List celeb spends a week in the slammer for being a naughty girl and the whole world sits up and takes notice. Methinks it should be the other way round, but neither the US or the UK press covered the UFO story.

Now it would be easy to find a scapegoat at this juncture in the form of the US government and/or ours. Your government played down the UFO story whilst ours played up the Paris Hilton story to cover up the UFO story, right? Baloney. The problem is worse than a government cover-up; its called public apathy. Oh, Iím not saying that the powers that be donít engage in cover-ups; of course they do. Maybe sometimes they have good reason to, but unless we know what it is theyíve covered up, then we donít know whether they were right to cover it up, do we? But then again, if theyíve covered it up well we might never know anyway.

Iíve worked as a journalist for years, and I know that nothing stops a reporter from covering a story that he or she knows will sell. If any of my media colleagues thinks for one moment that a UFO story will impress the editor then theyíll do the story and Lord help anyone who tries to get in their way. The truth is Ė and itís a scary thought Ė that most people would rather hear about poor little Paris, her hair, her breakfast and her altercation with the judge.

UFO stories do still get into the press here in the UK. Our civil liberties are being eroded at a frightening rate, but we still have a free press and media. The BBC is slightly biased towards the left. ITV probably leans ever-so-slightly to the right of centre. Sky News is the most balanced and dispassionate of all the major news channels and will always give you the facts without hype and spin.

The newspapers are pretty free too. The Guardian is distinctly left-leaning, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express overtly right-leaning. Overall, left and right have struck a balance. The government gets roasted slowly over a spit in the press every day, which I enjoy immensely; its always a sign of a free and healthy press when the Prime Minister and his cronies get metaphorically executed every day on the news.

And yet ... and yet we still donít get good coverage for UFO stories or other paranormally-related events. Itís not that the press canít print them; every now and then they do, and none of my journalistic pals ever get a knock on the door in the night for spilling the beans. Its simply that the public only has so much interest in this sort of material before they switch off and look for the feature that reveals more juicy secrets about Paris, her jail time, her mother, her car, her manicurist, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Trust me on this one; if the public start to demand more news stories on the UFO phenomenon, Bigfoot and the spirits of dead presidents who allegedly still walk the floors of the White House, weíll get them and the government wonít be able to stop them. In truth, Iím not sure it would want to.

Youíve probably heard that hackneyed old phrase, ďBack by public demandĒ; the key word here is demand. What you see on TV and in the papers is what we, the public, have collectively told the editors that we want. If the papers were filled with stuff we didnít want, we wouldnít buy the papers and theyíd go out of business. TV channels that donít pander to public demand also go bust. The government doesnít control the media; we do. So, if we arenít happy, we have to tell the media and slowly but surely things will change.

Some years ago in the UK there was a spate of new, paranormally-related magazines hitting the news stands. They caused a glut, and one by one they all fell by the wayside. Well, not all; you could still buy the Fortean Times and UFO Magazine. Then the guy who ran UFO Magazine died and it ceased publication.

Around this time a number of conspiracy theories arose. The idea was that the government was systematically pulling the plug on all these magazines to suppress the truth. When four ceased publication within the space of a few short months it did look suspicious, but the truth was that there were simply too many magazines of the same ilk to fill a niche market and, as some predicted, the market eventually collapsed. Now the paranormal is undergoing a renaissance once again, and a new litter of magazines has been born. Maybe the bubble will burst yet again, who knows. I hope not.

For nearly a decade Iíve penned a column, Bizarre, for the Shields Gazette. The Gazette is the UKís oldest provincial newspaper. Every week I take my readers on a jaunt across the landscape of the Spooky Zone, delving into all kinds of mysteries including UFOs, cryptozoology, hauntings etc. I believe it's now the oldest paranormal column running in a provincial paper, and it's extremely well read. Iíve covered conspiracy theories, black helicopters, cattle mutilations et al, and Iím still awaiting my visit from the Men in Black. Maybe I was in the bath when they called.

Well, itís good to be back. Next column Iíll try not to rant Ė ďScoutís honourĒ, as we say here in England. Iíll bring you some of the latest stories in the world of anomalous phenomena from this side of the Pond.

Just try and stop meÖ.

© Mike Hallowell, 2007


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