Death of ‘Psychic News’?

Psychic NewsSpiritualism’s only weekly independent newspaper, Psychic News, is fighting for its life. It has a small loyal readership spread across 36 countries and is doing an excellent job of reporting what is happening in the Spiritualist movement around the world. But, like many other newspapers, it is struggling to survive in the face of declining advertising revenue and competition from online sources of information.

The irony is that having proclaimed that death is not the end, every week for the past 78 years, it may now have only one week left in its current incarnation.

Its demise would be a tragedy for Spiritualism globally.

All major religions have independent publications that provide news, in-depth discussions, philosophical features and historical perspective. For Psychic News to disappear would rob Spiritualism of an important vehicle of communication, not only with dedicated followers but with a potential audience of many thousands who are being attracted to it by TV and stage demonstrations of mediumship.

I have a special reason for taking such an interest in the publication’s fate. For eight years in the 1960s I worked as assistant editor, alongside Maurice Barbanell, Psychic News‘ founder and editor, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to see and report on top mediums.

Many years later, I became a director of Psychic Press Ltd, the company which published it, and eventually its chairman. In time, as it encountered various financial problems, the Spiritual Truth Foundation (STF), of which I was a trustee, provided support. But by the mid-1990s, the STF decided it could not continue to pour money into the newspaper. The cost of running the publication from Central London offices was identified as the overhead that was most crippling.

Fortunately, after negotiations, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) agreed, exactly 15 years ago, to take over ownership of Psychic Press Ltd and its publishing and bookshop arms and relocate them at Stansted Hall – better known as The Arthur Findlay College, a large residential centre at which it runs various courses — to guarantee Psychic News’ survival “for the foreseeable future”.

History, however, has repeated itself and after a decade-and-a-half the 16-page weekly newspaper’s losses have forced the SNU to review that commitment.

It’s a situation I have been aware of for several weeks and I was pleased to offer some publishing advice, at an informal meeting in May with David Bruton, who was then its finance director but will become the new president of the Spiritualists’ National Union at its annual general meeting in Blackpool this coming weekend (17/18 July).

That topics discussed and other matters I have since been made aware of remain confidential. However, the question mark over Psychic News‘ future is no longer a secret. I have received several emails from people asking me if it is true that the newspaper is closing, it has become a hot topic on Spiritualist online forums and one member has even launched a campaign to save the newspaper – despite the fact that the SNU has made no public comment about its future. So, I no longer feel it necessary to remain silent. My concern is that the SNU may take a narrow view of the current situation and go for an easy option. But Psychic News is too important for a “quick fix” execution.

What I believe will happen is that Psychic Press (1995) Ltd will go into liquidation very shortly – an announcement to that effect can be expected at the AGM. What I and many other observers are waiting to see is what happens next.

One option is that Psychic News becomes part of the SNU, to be run by an SNU committee. If that is the case, it seems highly likely that the newspaper will lose its independence – but independence was a requirement of the transfer from the STF to the SNU back in 1995. It is certain that editor Sue Farrow, who has done a superb job since she took over at the beginning of 2008, would also find it extremely difficult to produce a publication that was just the voice of the SNU. Would she, for example, be allowed to write about non-SNU mediums and events? And since membership of committees can change regularly, how would she cope with the inconsistencies that would arise as new people with different views tried to exert their influence?

The other big question is in what form Psychic News might survive this latest near-death experience, assuming it survives. Would it cease to exist as a printed publication and become a totally online newspaper? If that is the case, it would need an energetic marketing campaign to promote its existence and increase circulation.

I don’t envy the new president and his fellow-directors in trying to tackle these issues. They have some very difficult decisions to make. But throwing in the towel and eradicating nearly eight decades of effort on the part of pioneering Spiritualists is not an option.

The SNU website’s homepage declares that the union “promotes knowledge of the religion and philosophy of Spiritualism. We unite Spiritualists throughout the world and support 340 Spiritualist societies and churches …”

How would it promote knowledge and unite Spiritualists throughout the world if it didn’t have a published mouthpiece that was easily accessible and commanded the respect of those who read it?

I’ll be watching with great interest this coming weekend to see what solutions they come up with.

They should be brave and bold. And hopefully they will agree that the death of Psychic News is not an option that can even be considered.

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