9/01/2008

Why I Don't Want to be Famous...

This is one of those cathartic posts. Lately, things have been changing rapidly in my life as far as my obsessive and time consuming hobby of paranormal investigation.

Many people think if you do this you either have a TV show or want a TV show. I'm not one of those people. Sure, I joke about having a show like Ghost Hunters but it is strictly joking with me.

The reason for that is simple. A long time ago I worked for a major internet company called About.com. Back then they were in the midst of the Technology revolution and were undergoing rapid changes. The major focus at that time was on becoming something of a combination information portal and major online magazine similar to Salon or one of the others. In fact, Salon was the major competitor.

I wasn't one of the top tier guides. I was a local guide in South Carolina and coincidentally covered the capital city of Columbia. That meant that, for the most part, politics was a major part of my "beat".

Today, About.com has evolved into more of a link site with a few short articles by the guides from time to time, but most of it is fairly link heavy and light on reporting or analysis. A lot of the content today is reader driven through forums and linking to blog posts by others.

In my day, blogs were unheard of, in fact we almost invented the format with articles at About. In that environment we tended to write full pieces on a par with magazine or newspaper articles.

Many of us gained a great deal of respect and notoriety either nationally or locally. In my case, most of my "fame" was local and regional. Still, I was eventually assigned representation through William Morris, the famed talent agency.

Beyond About.com I also wrote pieces for a living history magazine and various other pieces for local papers and regional outlets. I was interviewed in traditional media outlets, I was emailed and called for quotes or opinions on stories and it all seemed really cool.

Then I wrote the best piece of my life. At the time South Carolina was debating the Confederate Flag issue. They still flew it above the State House and had it hanging in chambers. Everyone was in a flurry of activity as the issue reached fever pitch. Most journalists were taking the line that it was strictly a "race" issue without any real analysis of the motives involved on all sides. I decided to dig a little deeper and look at it from both that viewpoint but also an historical one as well. After all, the major argument of those wanting to keep it was that it was "history not hate."

So, I prepared a four part piece spread over a month that dissected the "history" argument by looking at the true history of the flag they flew. I won't go into detail here but the basic premise was the flag they flew was the wrong flag and not the historical flag at all thereby dismissing the argument that "preserving history" was the real motive.

I can remember the first time I got a death threat. I opened my email and was assailed by a hate filled letter that threatened my life. I was dumbfounded and very frightened. After all, I did not live in a gated community with guards. I lived on a quiet street in my hometown near Columbia and everyone knew me. It would be no problem for someone to track me down.

I tried to dismiss the letter and laugh it off. Then I had one that threatened to kill my beloved dog, Zaide. The mail kept coming and I was terrified to let my dog even go outside, much less me or Michael go anywhere.

At one point I even called my niece's fiance who worked for the police department and he promised that they would patrol around my house. It's good to have connections I guess. Back then tracking down Internet threats was beyond most police departments and they weren't even sure of jurisdiction.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity things calmed down and life returned to some semblance of normalcy. But I was very shaken.

I returned to writing about more mundane things. I even found myself correcting reports on CNN and the networks about the public schools in South Carolina trying to ban the Harry Potter books. In reality it was a small group of fundamentalists and never even got to a hearing in the school boards.

Still, I couldn't shake that feeling of being slightly afraid of people I saw. It took me a long time to feel properly anonymous and "safe."

Of course, you're probably thinking "Yeah, but being a writer who covers controversial topics isn't the same as being a ghost hunter on a TV show."

If you think that, you underestimate the crazy factor in this world. In 2006 as Ghost Hunters reached it's new pinnacle among cable shows, a man in Minnesota began sending emails threatening to assassinate President Bush in Jason Hawe's name. He then began sending emails to female members of TAPS in Jason's name with suggestive content. Finally, he began making death threats against Jason and Grant. Sure, they caught him, but would you want to be subjected to that in your life? The uncertainty while they're trying to locate the guy? Wondering if this is for real and you or your family might be in danger?

No, it's not pleasant and I don't care to ever have that constant fear that someone might take a shot at me because of who I am.

So, for my money, I don't care to be a "famous" ghost hunter on TV. I like just being me and doing the regular everyday stuff that seeks explanations for the unexplained.

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