Brian Baker

The challenges of being a journalist who digs in the paranormal dirt

I could probably defend the reason why I started the Superstitious Times until my vocal cords seize up, but some people will still see the endeavour as a Fox Mulder-esque pursuit.

I prefer Dr. John Montague of Shirley Jackson’s universe because much like him, my fascination with what people believe draws me to share stories of the paranormal.

The subtle guidance to the reader, while remaining grounded in skepticism, is exactly the approach I’ve wanted to take with the Superstitious Times. I’m not interested in barking about bizarre theories.

I want to gather the stories, whether they be affirmations of the supernatural or complete denials. It’s the same process I’ve done for the past 15 years as a professional journalist.

Alas, your approach doesn’t always matter; people will still view the supernatural through a certain lens and they will also view journalism the same way.

Writers will always get a sideways glance from those who either don’t take the profession seriously or are armpit-deep in conspiratorial thought processes. Fake news! is the rallying cry of those who don’t have the time, patience or intellectual capacity for reading.

The latter is a symptom of the big C conservative ideals that are trying to dial back whatever social progress has been made.

But as Buzzfeed’s Shane Madej said to Ryan Bergara in their discussion about the Bermuda Triangle, “Let’s not get political. It’s too sad.”

Yes, let’s talk about the ghosts that haunt us. The fact that in an information-saturated society we still have these invisible barriers to asking questions, listening to the responses and pulling them together to create a story.

There shouldn’t be any narratives, for that’s when agenda and politics get involved. It should be something that is informative but also prodding the unanswered questions in our heads.

Perceptions, whether they be of the allegedly paranormal kind or just of writers, will be made regardless. Those who fancy the paranormal may be thought of as kooks, no matter what their level of interest is. Academics included.

We are a society that encourages risk-taking, but only if it’s in the sphere of entrepreneurial pursuits, or for making more of that social construct, money.

My questions are not overly outside the norm. I’m interested in what people have experienced at certain sites. I’m interested in exploring what scares us, and what tropes manifest from those fears. Say the fear of isolation in a sanatorium or in a hardscrabble ghost town.

I’m also interested in history, as that lays the foundation for ghost stories. This is one way to debunk stories because our subconscious fears arise from medical experimentations, dark recesses of buildings, dubious points in our past and lurking fears that can only be imagined by the minds of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.

With that said, I should let the cat out of the bag: I’m taking on the challenge of hunting down additional interviews for a book that I’m pulling together on Canadian cryptids.

Photo courtesy Dreamworks

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