After two years in seclusion, I'm re-entering the world to bring you my super-secret project: Bellwether www.bellwether.show, a podcast of speculative journalism—true stories of the world as it is through the lens of what it might become. After a decade of launching and working on other people's radio shows and podcasts (including 99% Invisible, NPR’s TED Radio Hour, USA Today’s The City, and others), Bellwether is my attempt to take what I've learned and move the podcast medium forward.

The first episode of Bellwether is now live on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and everywhere podcasts are RSS'd. Also here: https://soundcloud.com/thisisbellwether/01_autopilot-off and http://thisisbellwether.libsyn.com/01_autopilot-off.

Episode 01, "AUTOPILOT OFF," concerns the car crash in Tempe, Arizona, in which, for the first time in human history, a self-driving car killed a pedestrian. But who’s really at fault? If the person behind the wheel takes the fall, suddenly we are living in a world where a person can go to jail for the crimes of an AI.

This non-fiction reporting is told within a sci-fi radio serial: my 'podcast' has been found in the future by a pair of data archaeologists—one human, one AI—listening back, trying to figure out if this reportage from back in 2019 holds clues to what happened to their world. Over the course of the show, we'll learn more about these [fictional] protagonists, the world they inhabit, and what it might tell us about our own.

Bellwether is currently 100% independent. I'm currently running a Kickstarter to help me complete the first cycle of four episodes. Unlike a normal Kickstarter, the victory condition here is not about hitting a certain dollar amount, but to find 1,000 people to back the project at any level. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bellwether/b-e-l-l-w-e-t-h-e-r-a-podcast-of-speculative-journalism. If you're into Bellwether existing, please consider supporting the show!

I am currently a fellow at the Institute For The Future and will soon be a fellow at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. Ask Me Anything!

Proof: https://twitter.com/samlistens/status/1151627300405780480

More proof: https://i.redd.it/orybvesdahd31.jpg

EDIT: TAKING A NOURISHMENT BREAK AS OF 12:51PM PST! Will be back on by around 1pm :)

EDIT 2: AND WE'RE BACK! Answering questions again!

EDIT 3: OK, everyone, I think I'm gonna call it a day [as of 3:39pm PST]. Thanks for all of your questions and for the rousing debate! I'm gonna log off for a bit but will check back tomorrow [Thursday] morning and answer anything I missed. I hope you get a chance to listen to the pilot, and if you like it, please support our Kickstarter [tinyurl.com/bellwetherKS] and help me get the first cycle of stories finished! We only get funding if we get to 1,000 backers, so every pledge counts. OKthxbyebye!

EDIT 4: [Aug 8, 11:02am PT] Gonna hop back on periodically througout the day to answer any additional questions. Yay!

EDIT 5: [Aug 9, 10:18am PT] I think we can call this done-zo. Thanks everyone! This was really fun.

Comments: 487 • Responses: 99  • Date: 

BadAim392 karma

I am afraid that "speculative journalism" is an attempt at gratifying peoples' love of conspiracy and slippery slopes. How much are you going to be intending on the speculation being a realistic and grounded approach to news, and would you describe it more as popcorn entertainment, or realistic projections of (for lack of a better phrase) "the timelines?"

samgreenspan187 karma

I'm really glad to answer this.

First, I want to clarify that Bellwether is not the first endeavor of speculative journalism. Pretty much any financial/business reporting is speculative (what are the markets going to do? How will this new CEO change the company?) , as is most political reporting (how will this new policy change things? Will this politician live up to their campaign promises?). The podcast "The Big One" from KPCC was a fantastic work of speculative journalism about what happens if and WHEN Southern California is hit with a massive earthquake. See also: the weather report.

As for conspiracy theories and disinformation and fake news—this was not something I really thought about when I got into making Bellwether, but certainly one that I've paid a lot of attention to over the past couple years. I wound up becoming a fellow of the Institute for the Future's Digital Intelligence Lab, which was founded by Sam Woolley, one of the foremost researchers on disinformation and "computational propaganda." In talking with him and his team, I got to wondering if speculative journalism might also be used to combat disinformation as well, in that it might inspire audiences to do their research after engaging with a story.

I'll shout this from the hills: MY GOAL IS NOT TO CONFUSE PEOPLE, OR MIX FACT AND FICTION. I am telling stories in a way such that it might not be imminently obvious what's real and what's not, but I'd much rather have people be inspired to do their own fact checking rather than just take my word for it, or not.

So, for Bellwether, everything you hear me say and everyone you hear me talk to is 100% real and lives up the guidelines of "normal" journalism. But that's presented within a sci-fi frame that is a way of me expressing opinions and what-ifs in a way that I can't do (and, frankly, can have more fun doing) than as "just" a journalist.

I hope that it's more than popcorn entertainment. I'm covering difficult topics, and this is my way of covering them in a novel way.

gwinerreniwg191 karma

Whoa, whoa - You need to go further here:

"I am telling stories in a way such that it might not be imminently obvious what's real and what's not, but I'd much rather have people be inspired to do their own fact checking rather than just take my word for it, or not. "

This sounds almost deliberately deceptive. Please explain why misleading the reader would be useful to the reader.

Mephistophelesi-12 karma

Yeah this is super fucking sketch

dukeimre156 karma

Weirded out by the negative reactions here. OP is describing a show with legit journalism presented inside a clearly fictional far-future frame story. Sounds kinda cool for people who are into futurism and inoffensive for those who aren't, and in any case, not at all shady...?

aybrah75 karma

I think people read the phrase "speculative journalism" and their brains stop processing any other information.

To be fair, I think it's a stupid way to label a show and lends itself to incorrect interpretations.

The broader point that people don't seem to understand is that journalism is more complex than simply reporting "what happened." How often is the reality that simple? Everyone can list 1000 different moments in their lives where they argued with someone over "what happened" even in simple scenarios. Yes, journalists should be held to a higher standard, and there are certainly real issues in today's journalism but people genuinely don't seem to understand that reality and truth can mean different things to different people in the same situation.

samgreenspan46 karma

Well-put. Though I do defend the label.

Canadave9 karma

Yeah, maybe it's because I also listen to Theory of Everything, but I think that a) there's definitely a place for media that forces you to question how truthful it is, and b) from the sounds of things, not having listened yet, this show is very clear about where the line falls. I really don't see the problem here.

samgreenspan3 karma

I love TOE—Benjamen's super power in radio is messing with people's expectations that things are true just because you hear them in an audio format. With him, it's not always easy to tell what's real and what's not. I think he's struggled with this in the fake news era, which is a lot of what the False Alarm series is about.

As much as I admire BW, I think what I'm doing is different. I only narrate stuff that is real, and the fiction comes from someone else.

samgreenspan2 karma

Thanks, I hope so!

samgreenspan27 karma

Again, deception is not the goal. All of my reporting is 100% real. But there's a component of the show that's obviously fiction. I think as people listen to the show over multiple episodes they'll get the framework and what I'm doing, though it might not be obvious from the outset. Especially because a lot of the stuff that I'm covering is stranger than fiction even though it's true. If journalists can't take for granted that the audience will believe them anyway, what are other ways of establishing trust? That's my guiding principle here.

Does that answer your question?

DrColossusOfRhodes21 karma

What's interesting about this is that there is lots of precedent for exactly what you are describing with comedy (daily Show, last week tonight, etc), but not so much with other forms.

BroDameron9 karma

Folks just aren't listening to it and Sam might not have done the best job describing the podcast as it is and the fine and clear line between the reporting and the speculative stuff.

DefensibleSpacecadet6 karma

It’s a really fine line to walk because you need to both let the audience know that you are reporting on facts, while simultaneously using satire to project into the future. All of which needs to happen seamlessly without telling the audience “OK, now we are switching into speculation mode.”

I think /u/DrColossusOfRhodes gave a great example with The Daily Show. You have to make your audience trust your background research using actual journalism, but also make it entertaining by using satire and speculation on the analysis back end.

Even with guys like Jon Stewart, it’s impossible to always blur that line without causing some confusion. If Jon got called out on certain political discussion, he could (and would) say “I’m a comedian, this is satire that comes on after Crank Yankers.”

Conversely, he and Colbert were politically involved enough to hold a political rally at the DC Mall that brought in tens of thousands of people that specifically came because Jon and Stephen were, for many, their primary source of political “news”.

That being said, I think it is very doable in an audio format and really look forward to listening to Bellwether.

samgreenspan6 karma

It's true that comedy has had artistic license to do this for a long time. If I was funny, I'd do that instead.

donkey_democrat7 karma

So if you are covering real events, but some of the content presented by you is potentially fictitious, would the consumer of your media ever be told, perhaps at a later date, which aspects of your media are fact, and which is fiction?

samgreenspan9 karma

Yes, and it's my goal that this format becomes apparent over time.

BroDameron15 karma

Listening to the first one now, the speculative fiction parts are very clearly separate from the fact portion (so far).

I was also a little sketched by it and wondering what the case might be so I figured I should give it a listen. 18 minutes left on it, we'll see how it goes.

samgreenspan9 karma

Thanks for listening! LMK what you think.

1310459821013 karma

As a former financial journalist turned financial analyst, I can say you are simply wrong.

Financial journalism is reporting on other people's speculations. Analysts do the speculating.

There is a pretty clear line between the two. Journalists may do analysis of the current situation to understand its context and explain it to the audience, but they don't speculate.

Speculative journalism sounds horrible.

samgreenspan16 karma

Fair point about analysts doing the analyzing. But financial journalists are the ones who decide which views to present, and how.

BadAim12 karma

Thank you for your answer. If you dont mind, I would like to ask a followup question:

I'll shout this from the hills: MY GOAL IS NOT TO CONFUSE PEOPLE, OR MIX FACT AND FICTION. I am telling stories in a way such that it might not be imminently obvious what's real and what's not, but I'd much rather have people be inspired to do their own fact checking rather than just take my word for it, or not.

What do you mean by this phrase? The way you have posed "speculative" journalism is a fundamental base in current or past fact, and the forward view is what is speculative. However, the quoted phrase does seem to indicate that even fundamentals could be questionable.

It is worrisome that someone may need to fact check even the platform of each story. Where, exactly, would perceivable fiction begin? What is the structure of the speculative storytelling?

samgreenspan11 karma

Have you listened to the episode yet? I think a lot of your questions will be answered upon hearing it.

pav101067 karma

I am an avid NPR listener because I believe it to be the least sensationalist and most balanced although i know it tends to bend left. What other news sources to you believe meet similar standard with a right lien?

samgreenspan52 karma

Also, sorry, I did misread this question. I'm trying to do this as quickly as I can and glossed over the end of your sentence. I do actually really like Reason, and delve into the Ricochet podcast from time to time.

samgreenspan5 karma

Not sure if it's what you're looking for, but I really like The Guardian and Vox. My default is the NY Times. I also like Quartz. For the more partisan stuff I'll look to Jacobin and the new magazine Commune. I'm also having a love affair with The Baffler rn.

I still <3 WIRED and the New Yorker.

Bobby-Samsonite4 karma

Have you ever seen the clip of The Simpsons

(here it is --->> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjZ0GBL9ArA)

when homer confuses Wired Magazine for Weird Magazine?

samgreenspan8 karma

d'oh!

Wazzawazzawaz-12 karma

LOL you people don't even try to hide it anymore.

samgreenspan10 karma

LOL "you people"

KillAllTheThings53 karma

What happened to simply reporting events as they occur without bias?

samgreenspan102 karma

Great question! Gonna have to break this down into a few parts:

  1. "simply reporting events" - Reporting is never simple. If a news report reads as simple and straight-ahead, it's because writers and editors are doing a very good and often invisible job of distilling information into a clear narrative.
  2. "as they occur" - The pace of the news is insane. When I worked at NPR, my desk faced four always-on muted TV screens with the major news networks so we could always know up to the second what other outlets were covering. It was exhausting. I'd leave the office feeling like the blast from all that artificial light was just killing not, not to mention the constant deluge of information. For me, one of the great things of the podcast revolution has been the ability to take a step back from having to 'get there first,' and offer more considered and measured comment on the news. Sometimes it takes a while for things to settle before one can really have anything to say about it.
  3. "without bias" - Anything I have to say about this is just going to be a less good version of what Brooke Gladstone has already said on On The Media. In short: there's no such thing as no bias, at best there is balance and transparency. And, plenty of other people are already doing that. I'm just trying to offer a more essayistic and novel way of presenting the stories of our weird world
  4. "What happened" - I know, right?

BlueIncal36 karma

"without bias".... and this kids, is why an education in the humanities is important despite what 12 year olds, the right wing and Margaret Thatcher will tell you.

I implore you to educate yourself on the most basic level in topics such as philosophy and history.

You will find countless examples of great Historians, Philosophers, Generals, Kings and Emperors whom all understood the same thing: There is only bias, and the winner gets to choose which bias becomes history. Its part of the restrictions of having a brain and eyes, that even with the internet and video camera, we always bring a host of assumptions and pre conceived ideas about the supposed "reality" we are seeing.

samgreenspan32 karma

I do really think the decline of education in the humanities is what's lead to so much division in the country.

TunerOfTuna41 karma

What is the difference between news being biased and news reporting on a negative thing someone did?

samgreenspan39 karma

I do think about this, like when is it OK for a media outlet to outright condemn something. Like a mass shooting—obviously this is not a two-sides issue. For things that are less clear cut, I think a lot or reporters struggle with what their role is. Personally, I don't know if I have a specific dogma. I just try to follow a north start based on my experience as a "regular" reporter and trying to know when to call bs when I see it.

carltheawesome27 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one ever asks about?

samgreenspan41 karma

The most important and difficult thing in the world is silence.

Bobby-Samsonite13 karma

Isn't it clean water?

samgreenspan26 karma

And clean water :)

thorban23 karma

How is "speculative journalism" not fiction?

samgreenspan29 karma

The same way that "science journalism" or "narrative journalism" isn't fiction. It's an approach, a frame, a beat. I'm reporting true stories, but instead of just stopping at the "time will tell if..." part of the story, I go more into what-ifs that are all rooted in as much fact as the reporting will bear.

DrColossusOfRhodes22 karma

One thing I'm curious about with people who make media is about their consumption habits. How many podcasts do you listen to regularly? What's your favourite (other than 99PI {which, to be clear, is wonderful...I recommended it in another Reddit thread earlier today})?

samgreenspan47 karma

Current rotation (in no particular order)

Today, Explained

Today In Focus

The Bay

Flash Forward

Nancy

The Organist

The Daily

Gender Reveal

Fresh Air

HowSound

Longest Shortest Time

This American Life

Radiolab/More Perfect

Van Sounds

Ear Hustle

How To Survive The End of the World

An Arm and a Leg

Have You Heard George's Podcast (listening through for a second time now)

the memory palace

Reply All

Lost Notes

Welcome To LA

xantivenomx8 karma

If you haven’t listened, you should check out The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Awesome science content with a heavy dose of critical thinking. We need more science literacy and critical thinking in the media. :)

samgreenspan4 karma

Cool, will check it out!

gortmend7 karma

Have a favorite episode of How Sound?

samgreenspan10 karma

Probably Rob's deconstruction of Ira Glass's "Dead Animal Man" from way back in the day.

https://transom.org/2015/story-dissection-dead-animal-man/

Side note, I'm fairly certain I met that guy when I lived in DC and found a dead cat on my stoop 📷

gortmend3 karma

No way! Did you gush like you'd met a celebrity? Did you hug him and yelll "You're the guy who's in the price that taught me about signature sounds!!!!!"

Because you totally should have.

samgreenspan4 karma

It was a really fast interaction. I was like, "wait a minute, were you...." but then he was gone.

decentwriter1 karma

Damn Sam, we must have the exact same taste in podcasts. Which doesn't surprise me because I also work as a podcast producer and was most recently based in SF. Really excited to listen to your new show!!

samgreenspan1 karma

thanks!

KarateKid198420 karma

Alright Sam, IF that is your real name, here's a question I've got:

In a very special episode of Full House, which included guest star Kirk Cameron, there's a conversation between Kirk (his character's name is Steve) and DJ where she's asking him if he wants to hang out. At first she says "how about tomorrow" but sadly, he's busy, to which she replies "then how about tomorrow?" and at this point we find out he's free.

My question is this, do you think they should have fired the continuity expert who overlooked this clearly obvious mistake, OR do you think this was something writers got wrong and should have been looking out for? I don't know what to think and frankly I'm tired of obsessing over it.

samgreenspan21 karma

I think that this was the critical moment when Full House crossed over into an alternate timeline.

Also, my name "really is" Sam, but it's not the name I was born with. I was Gordon until I was 10.

dfay4 karma

Can we know for certain that the conversation wasn't taking place at 11:59 PM?

KarateKid19845 karma

We simply do not have those details. Also, it did appear to be nighttime outside, so it's entirely possible this conversation took place over the span of two days. My life has been flipped upside down.

samgreenspan4 karma

time is relative

gwinerreniwg18 karma

What are the goals of speculative journalism? Can you give some good examples or references for those who are having trouble grasping the approach?

samgreenspan46 karma

This is the speculative journalism ur-text for me: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Kathryn Schultz reported out what we know WILL happen to Seattle WHEN the Cascadia Fault spurs its next earthquake. She (and the seismologists she interviews) use what we know in the present to predict the future. And hopefully, plan for it.

One goal I have is to help fight news fatigue. Current events can feel so draining and make the world feel hopeless. What I want to do with Bellwether is use lateral thinking and imagination to find new approaches to the challenging and existential stories of our time.

Also, as I've written elsewhere in this AMA:

In my survey of sci-fi literature and film, I've found that even just a TINY amount of deviation from reality can help people grapple with what might otherwise feel like a totally hopeless story. A great example of this is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, in which there's a literal railroad (with a conductor and everything) who helps the protagonists escape slavery. But the eponymous railroad is really only in the book for like maybe 10 pages—the rest is just a very realistic and believable account of the horror of the antebellum South. I think that space between what we know to be true and what might be true gives the reader a new context for thinking about difficult subject matter. That's a lot of what inspires me with Bellwether.

bluepenonmydesk17 karma

Any relation to Alan?

samgreenspan22 karma

None that I'm aware of.

I'm also sitting here with my PA, Aisha Lomax, who I also had to ask if was related to Alan.

Named_after_color11 karma

Oh hey, have you considered finding old alarmist newspaper and speculative journalism, that clearly did not come to pass as anything important, but was sensational?

Actually, secondary question. How important are op ed articles to the general functioning of a news company?

samgreenspan8 karma

I'm not sure what you mean in the first part. But if it is sensationalist, it is likely not journalism.

I really like Op Eds! It's my favorite part of a newspaper. But I've never worked at a newspaper so I don't really know how they work internally within the enterprise.

JAHammermeister9 karma

What was your favorite piece that you worked on during your time with 99% Invisible and NPR?

samgreenspan18 karma

As far as reporting, I'm most proud of my last two, Plat of Zion and Half a House.

Still, my real legacy might be that one about Pizza Huts.

samgreenspan10 karma

For NPR, I did two stories about the musician Emperor X that I'm proud of. In one of them I SOQ'd out with GPS coordinates, which was fun.

https://www.npr.org/2010/10/08/130436918/digging-for-tunes-with-emperor-x

https://www.npr.org/2017/09/10/549489252/emperor-x-we-are-much-more-than-the-sum-of-the-diseases-and-disabilities-we-carr

Also I got to cover Jeff Mangum's comeback: https://www.npr.org/2011/11/27/142708775/witnessing-the-second-coming-of-jeff-mangum

Bobby-Samsonite2 karma

I have noticed how many Blockbuster video buildings are now cellphone stores, doctor's clinics, Taco Stands...etc The architecture of former Blockbuster Buildings with the big glass windows on 2 adjacent sides is unique in my opinion.

Could you/would you write an article about places that used to be Blockbuster Video locations?

Or is it a lot more difficult for you to notice which buildings used to be blockbusters than Dine-In Versions of Pizza Hut?

samgreenspan5 karma

I've never noticed this, but would love to read about it! You should write it!

Bobby-Samsonite2 karma

I am terrible at writing anything over a paragraph. I was giving you an idea, if you want to run with it for a future story you have my permission.

samgreenspan2 karma

OK thanks! will keep it on my radar

JunkFace9 karma

Do journalists feel any guilt about the part they play in giving mass shooters that temporary ‘celebrity’ status?

samgreenspan11 karma

I was really moved when the New Zealand PM vowed never to speak the name of the Christchurch mosque shooter.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2019/03/21/new-zealand-shootings-why-pm-jacinda-ardern-wont-say-shooters-name/3223947002/

NB: this headline is itself speculative journalism—the author is inviting speculation into whether this decision could shape future outcomes.

From_Wentz_He_Came7 karma

How do you feel about the future of the podcast industry as it has quickly gone from a niche platform for the tech savvy to mass media. Thoughts on sponsored shows and dynamic ad insertion? How do you think the industry will change in the next five years?

samgreenspan10 karma

Oof how much time you got?

It's a really interesting time for podcasting right now. The sands are ever-shifting. There's a lot of money flying around, though it remains to be seen how this will shape the fates of indy creators like myself.

I think dynamic ad insertion is great because it gives creators the ability to imbue their work with a higher value.

I tend not to listen to sponsored content, though I dabble.

How will the industry change? I hope that the idea of what a podcast is begin to transform. Right now they're treated kind of like TV shows—they come out on a regular schedule, or have seasons, and have a very specific format. What would podcasting look like if they were thought of more like indy movies? Or records? Not sure if this paradigm shift will happen but that's my hope. This is probably the aspect of the future about which I am the least clear.

naivemediums7 karma

How did your time at New College of Florida prepare you for this unique and exciting endeavor?

samgreenspan2 karma

Answered elsewhere:

--

Hah oh man, deep cut. I hadn't thought of this but yes, probably. Much of what I took away from New College was a DIY aesthetic. Pretty much anything that happened at New College beyond classes was due to the very deliberate effort of students. It gave me the confidence that I could learn anything by just reading about it and/or talking to smart people.

Also, the challenge of creating one's structure and learning path have served me well.

S/O to Uzi and Maria <3

justin_quinnn6 karma

How did your time at New College shape your podcasting aesthetic, if at all?

samgreenspan4 karma

Hah oh man, deep cut. I hadn't thought of this but yes, probably. Much of what I took away from New College was a DIY aesthetic. Pretty much anything that happened at New College beyond classes was due to the very deliberate effort of students. It gave me the confidence that I could learn anything by just reading about it and/or talking to smart people.

Also, the challenge of creating one's structure and learning path have served me well.

S/O to Uzi and Maria <3

justin_quinnn4 karma

Glad to see you're taking that ecstatic wonder with you, man. Keep up the good work, and most definitely big ups to those two :)

samgreenspan3 karma

"that we should settle for nothing less"

justscottaustin6 karma

Isn't "speculative journalism" just another way of avoiding reporting the truth in a factual and unbiased manner?

samgreenspan12 karma

I’ll paste my answer to a question that was asked earlier and similar to this:

“First, I want to clarify that Bellwether is not the first endeavor of speculative journalism. Pretty much any financial/business reporting is speculative (what are the markets going to do? How will this new CEO change the company?) , as is most political reporting (how will this new policy change things? Will this politician live up to their campaign promises?). The podcast "The Big One" from KPCC was a fantastic work of speculative journalism about what happens if and WHEN Southern California is hit with a massive earthquake. See also: the weather report.

As for conspiracy theories and disinformation and fake news—this was not something I really thought about when I got into making Bellwether, but certainly one that I've paid a lot of attention to over the past couple years. I wound up becoming a fellow of the Institute for the Future's Digital Intelligence Lab, which was founded by Sam Woolley, one of the foremost researchers on disinformation and "computational propaganda." In talking with him and his team, I got to wondering if speculative journalism might also be used to combat disinformation as well, in that it might inspire audiences to do their research after engaging with a story.

I'll shout this from the hills: MY GOAL IS NOT TO CONFUSE PEOPLE, OR MIX FACT AND FICTION. I am telling stories in a way such that it might not be imminently obvious what's real and what's not, but I'd much rather have people be inspired to do their own fact checking rather than just take my word for it, or not.

So, for Bellwether, everything you hear me say and everyone you hear me talk to is 100% real and lives up the guidelines of "normal" journalism. But that's presented within a sci-fi frame that is a way of me expressing opinions and what-ifs in a way that I can't do (and, frankly, can have more fun doing) than as "just" a journalist.

I hope that it's more than popcorn entertainment. I'm covering difficult topics, and this is my way of covering them in a novel way.”

samgreenspan6 karma

no

fa1afel5 karma

What do you think major print media outlets need to do moving forward to generate revenue and stay relevant?

samgreenspan14 karma

I dunno dude, I just make podcasts!

Bobby-Samsonite4 karma

So do you make money from just the advertising on the podcasts? How do you decide which products you will accept to be advertising on the podcast? Is it simply the best offer or something you will use yourself?

samgreenspan7 karma

Right now I make no money on the podcast, other than a couple of small grants and the current Kickstarter (tinyurl.com/bellwetherKS). I'm on the lookout for a way to make this show financially sustainable!

Nicycler5 karma

1.) How can NPR be improved in your opinion?

2.) How do you think NPR compares with other public broadcasters like the BBC and CBC?

samgreenspan16 karma

  1. I grew up on NPR, and I'm lucky enough to have worked at NPR, so I know it pretty well from the inside and out. Hands down, the best thing about NPR is that they have some really amazing people working there. So I do respect the hell out of the organization as it is. They are definitely aware that their target demo is aging. I'd like to see them take some risks with they put out, especially stuff that might be different enough to appeal to lots of other people outside of their core. I think they are moving in that direction already, and I hope they continue.
  2. They're all great, just really really different so it's hard to compare. BBC is just so massive and multi-platform and just everything all at once; not everything they make is great but they put out so much stuff that a lot of really excellent work does get broadcast. And the CBC is wonderful in that it does a lot in terms of identity building in Canada—they love Canada so much and when I listen I love Canada too. Once I visited the CBC in Toronto and they gave me a scarf. Yes, for real. What NPR has over either of them is a really specific voice that just appeals to me more, though admittedly it's probably because it's what I grew up with.

dog_in_the_vent4 karma

speculative journalism—true stories of the world as it is through the lens of what it might become.

How can you logically call these stories "true" if they haven't happened yet?

samgreenspan9 karma

I encourage you to check out the episode! Most of what I'm reporting on has already happened. The speculative part is sussing out what it might mean.

gwinerreniwg4 karma

What is speculative journalism, and how do you ensure it remains grounded in practicality or relevance? Is that even important?

samgreenspan6 karma

And yes, good speculative journalism HAS to remain grounded in what we know to be true. Like how Schultz starts with data that scientists know to be trustworthy, and then building a cone of possibility what that mean. On the forthcoming stories of Bellwether, I ask a lot of experts and normal people what they think the future holds and take that into consideration for what happens in the sci-fi part of the show.

Philosophile423 karma

Is this kind of like Flash Forward?

samgreenspan2 karma

I'm a huge fan of Flash Forward! Everyone should subscribe if you don't already: https://www.flashforwardpod.com/

I really admire what Rose is doing, and am not trying to replicate it. I think Bellwether will be quite a bit different.

mr-mobius3 karma

Hello Sam, could you give us a list of the top 11 reasons (because top 10 are for cowards) to listen to your podcast?

samgreenspan8 karma

I WILL GIVE YOU 12 BECAUSE I AM NOT THE 11 POINTS GUY! That is someone else.

  1. The nonfiction is a story that has not quite been covered this way.
  2. I literally ran across 6 lanes of traffic several times in order to report this.
  3. The results of this case will tell us a lot of what the next 20 years of AI policy will look like.
  4. We should all care about the Phoenix/Tempe area and the Southwest in general.
  5. The original score is by Beaunoise, who is amazing.
  6. Sunita Mani is a very good actor.
  7. Latif Nasser has a very nice voice
  8. Phoenix-based reporter Sarah Ventre helped report this, and she is awesome.
  9. Jonaki Mehta helped produce it, and she is also awesome.
  10. It was edited by Julia Barton (who normally edits Malcolm Gladwell) and she is also also awesome.
  11. I have worked very hard on it
  12. I think you will like it.

jillanco3 karma

Why do you look just like my dad in 1992?

samgreenspan7 karma

I can neither confirm nor deny that I am a time traveler and/or your dad.

SSJGodFloridaMan2 karma

Do you feel there's been a shift in NPR's editorial bias with the recent reliance on corporate sponsorship?

samgreenspan11 karma

Do they rely more on corporate sponsorship? The model has always been that NPR member stations pay for subscriptions to All Things Considered and Morning Edition and the like (yearly fees based on size of audience). Corporate underwriting is a big part of it I'm sure but as far as I know the member station model is still at the core of the mission. And having worked there I know that there is a pretty strong journalistic firewall between fundraising and content.

TLDR: support your local NPR member station!

emotoaster2 karma

Is the BBC model of funding public news/channels one way to get bias out of our reporting? Could investing in NPR or PBS, etc. so that ratings and money don't have as much of a role and impact on the news a tangible answer?

samgreenspan2 karma

I do believe in the mission of public media and public-interest journalism. That said there are plenty of for-profit companies that do great journalism. The most important thing is to keep a firewall between sponsorship and content. I worry some of the newer media startups don't have this, but many do.

uncleluu2 karma

What was it like doing 99% invisible? Mainly because I feel like you guys peaked more curiosity than any common core education ever would.

samgreenspan3 karma

I mean, amazing. Just the ability to have the job of being curious and having something to say is such a privilege. Plus it's a great team and a great mission. Glad you listen!

justscottaustin2 karma

Do you understand the irony of using a phrase like "speculative journalism" when all the while journalism is scratching its collective head and wondering why people don't trust the media anymore?

samgreenspan4 karma

I do understand how the concept of speculative journalism can seem confusing or misleading. Here’s the response to a similar I was asked earlier:

“Sure. First of all, as I noted before, I'm not the first person to do speculative journalism. Anyone who poses in a question in a piece of journalism like "Could this mean X?" is basically engaging in speculative journalism. Also, I really like speculative designer Stuart Candy's quip that anyone who looks at the sky and decides to take an umbrella when they leave the house is essentially engaging in an act of speculation/foresight/forecasting, etc.

If you still think journalism and speculation shouldn't be mixed, read Kathryn Schultz's "The Really Big One" for the New Yorker. It's about the earthquake that, at some point, WILL destroy Seattle and environs. It won the Pulitzer Prize. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Anyway, all the reporting I'm doing is real. It's the same journalistic standard as anything else I would make. It's just that instead of saying "I think X will happen because Y," I'm choosing to tell it through a science fiction story. I'm not saying that this approach is the only way this can or should be done, it's just a way I'm trying.”

Does that clear things up a bit?

Nihilistic-Fishstick2 karma

I would add Robert Evans podcast 'it could happen here' as a brilliant example of what you're trying to get across. I feel a lot of people are already enjoying the media you talk of but either don't realise, or are disengenuously picking on your choice of words to describe it.

samgreenspan4 karma

Oh right! I keep hearing about this and promptly forgetting to add it. Subscribing now.

cracksilog2 karma

Found 99% on a random YouTube video about doors. Instantly hooked! What do you think is the most infuriating design flaw in society (shoes, window, whatever) that can be solved with a simple fix?

EDIT: shoes not shows

samgreenspan2 karma

I really think gas pumps could use some work.

samgreenspan2 karma

also, napkin dispensers!

patpowers19952 karma

Many progressives feel that your former employer NPR systematically excludes or diminishes progressive viewpoints, and hence that NPR is nothing but a propaganda outlet, and hence its employees can't be described as "journalists." How do you respond to that charge?

samgreenspan2 karma

I don't work for NPR so I can't really speak for them, but I do agree that they are often more centrist than the far right often makes them out to be. NPR is in no way propaganda, though.

timhortonsbitchass2 karma

Hey Sam! Two questions, one fun one serious.

Fun question: Have you seen the new HBO show, Years and Years? It's speculative fiction, but spends a lot of time on speculating what the news will be like in the future. I think you might like it!

Serious question: As an experienced journalist, what's your speculation on the future of journalism work itself, and did the current state of journalistic work have any role in you choosing to launch your own podcast? I graduated from journalism school a few years ago, and now work in finance -- journalism jobs were brutally competitive, nepotistic in hiring, and almost all unpaid for the first 3-5 years out of college. I know some folks in the industry who have worked for reputed publications here in Canada like CBC, Postmedia, Torstar for years, and are still "permalancers".

samgreenspan2 karma

  1. I haven't! I hear it's really good. I just finished Euphoria, which I loved. I'll put this in the queue next.
  2. It's really hard to say. I feel for "permalancers" and those in similar positions. I was one for a while and it sucks being in a total state of professional purgatory. There's certainly a reckoning going on with journalism right now. I don't feel qualified to make any sweeping proclamations about the industry. All I can say is that things are weird with journalism, media, and the world right now, and that Bellwether is my attempt to find a way to tell the stories that I think are important, and build a scaffolding for it in a way that hopefully is financially sustainable. (Related!: tinyurl.com/bellwetherKS)

facelessqueen2 karma

I just need to say that I miss the regular updating of 11points! Are you going to continue the SuperBowl bets?

samgreenspan3 karma

THAT'S NOT ME. THERE IS ANOTHER SAM GREENSPAN OUT THERE.

I do think he has written some funny stuff but there have been times when I've been starting to date someone new and have to give the disclaimer that I am not the author of a PUA book :/

amarubud1 karma

Tap water or bottled? Best tap water experience?

samgreenspan4 karma

Tap always! I'm already dreading the thought of having to explain to the youth of the future just how many plastic bottles I consumed in my lifetime.

NYC is known for its great tap water but I've never been there long enough to give it a full evaluation. I'm pretty content with my tap water here in LA though I run it through a filter pitcher. Because, you know, Flint.

BlakAcid1 karma

Is there a difference between speculative journalism and historical fiction?

samgreenspan2 karma

Yes, I think so. Historical fiction is by definition fiction, and also about things that have already happened. Speculative journalism is non-fiction about the past and present, but potentially fictional about the future.

Bombauer-1 karma

Did you expect this AMA to get so controversial?

samgreenspan6 karma

trying to challenge my forecasting abilities hmm????? :)

Aphid611 karma

Are you the Sam Greenspan from 11Points?? Mercy, I have quoted you often. ;)

samgreenspan2 karma

nope. different guy.

Iwouldlikesomecoffee1 karma

Fan from 99PI here.

I'm trying to add Bellwether to my feedly, but bellwether.show isn't getting anything, and I don't see an non-soundcloud ways to subscribe. Could you help me find the RSS link?

samgreenspan1 karma

For sure!

http://thisisbellwether.libsyn.com/01_autopilot-off

Thank you so much for listening!

Iwouldlikesomecoffee1 karma

much appreciated; please have many listeners.

samgreenspan1 karma

will try!

cprime1 karma

What will be the qualities of your podcast that move the medium forward?

samgreenspan1 karma

One thing that I'm really trying to do with Bellwether is create a space where people can feel safe and ready to hear difficult news. So much awful stuff is happening all of the time, and want to find a way to tell difficult stories without just dog-piling on. I have two approaches here:

  1. In my survey of sci-fi literature and film, I've found that even just a TINY amount of deviation from reality can help people grapple with what might otherwise feel like a totally hopeless story. A great example of this is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, in which there's a literal railroad (with a conductor and everything) who helps the protagonists escape slavery. But the eponymous railroad is really only in the book for like maybe 10 pages—the rest is just a very realistic and believable account of the horror of the antebellum South. I think that space between what we know to be true and what might be true gives the reader a new context for thinking about difficult subject matter. That's a lot of what inspires me with Bellwether.
  2. A lot of this is also with music and sound design. On everything else that I've worked on (like 99% Invisible, The City podcast, TED Radio Hour...) I think of music as punctuation and typography—it can move us along, or make us stop and notice a particular moment, or give us queues about the overall emotional mood. With Bellwether, though, I'm thinking a lot about what the audience needs in order to feel safe and ready to engage with some harsh stuff. So the music palette I'm drawing for this is a lot of "West Coast"-type synth stuff. The awesome musician Beaunoise made an amazing soundtrack for the show (get it on our Kickstarter!), and I'm also really into Caterina Barbieri and Alessandro Cortini.

Avant_guardian11 karma

What think tanks are you affiliated with?

What companies sponsor you?

samgreenspan9 karma

I'm a fellow at the Institute for the Future, which provided some seed funding for the show.

I'll also soon be a fellow at ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination. Very excited about this!

Right now the only sponsorship I've got going is the Kickstarter. I'm also seeking other ways to secure a financial future for the show. (If you can help, hmu!)

DrunkWino1 karma

Why not call it what it is, fiction?

samgreenspan1 karma

I call it narrative non-fiction told within the frame of a sci-fi radio serial.

BroDameron1 karma

After having finished the first episode, I backed the project! (First non hobby gaming thing I've backed on kickstarter actually haha, but that $1 level is an easy one to support!)

  • So, as for my questions, do you anticipate each episode to come in at the ~30 minutes mark? Or will they fluctuate given the subject matter?
  • Whats' your history with speculative fiction and creative writing?
  • Who are your speculative fiction guys?

samgreenspan2 karma

thanks!

  1. Episodes will probably land in the 30-40 minute mark
  2. I've always been a dabbler but have never been published. I have notebooks filled with thoughts and ideas and sketches for stories going back like 15 years.
  3. The actor who plays Cass (and by proxy, Icarus) is the amazing actor Sunita Mani (from GLOW & Mr. Robot). She's amazing. The other voice in the fictional part of the show is none other than Latif Nasser from Radiolab, who happens to be my neighbor in Los Angeles.

kibblznbitz1 karma

As a big fan of Radiolab and 99% Invisible, I’m looking forward to what this will bring. Thanks for doing an AMA :)

Given you mentioned science fiction in your first episode Manifesto, I’m curious of what you think of CRISPR. Gattica, and general dystopian ideas involving genetic selection and superiority, seem to have one idea. What do you think?

samgreenspan2 karma

I don't think I've spent sufficient time with these topics to have any one take right now, other than to say that CRISPR and related topics are things that I would DEFINITELY like to cover with Bellwether.

It's been years since I've seen Gattica (side note: I remember it being the first DVD that I rented!), but one thing I remember that struck me about it at the time was that when the protagonist was found out to be an imposter, the powers that be let him keep going rather than bring him down and admit that they had made a massive screw up in the process. Which is to say, structures of power are never totally transparent, and be suspicious of anyone who ever claims a pure meritocracy. Given that we live a time of such rampant inequality, Gattica will surely be coming up again. Maybe time for a reboot?

sluuuurp1 karma

I still don't get it, you said it's 100% real at one point, but also that it's going to be hard to tell what's real and what's not. Are you making up facts to make it more interesting and entertaining? If so I think you should communicate that more clearly.

samgreenspan1 karma

Yes, the facts are 100% researched and real. I’m just framing it through a science fiction lens. I received a similar question earlier and here was my response:

“Sure. First of all, as I noted before, I'm not the first person to do speculative journalism. Anyone who poses in a question in a piece of journalism like "Could this mean X?" is basically engaging in speculative journalism. Also, I really like speculative designer Stuart Candy's quip that anyone who looks at the sky and decides to take an umbrella when they leave the house is essentially engaging in an act of speculation/foresight/forecasting, etc.

If you still think journalism and speculation shouldn't be mixed, read Kathryn Schultz's "The Really Big One" for the New Yorker. It's about the earthquake that, at some point, WILL destroy Seattle and environs. It won the Pulitzer Prize. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Anyway, all the reporting I'm doing is real. It's the same journalistic standard as anything else I would make. It's just that instead of saying "I think X will happen because Y," I'm choosing to tell it through a science fiction story. I'm not saying that this approach is the only way this can or should be done, it's just a way I'm trying.”

thehughman1 karma

Do you think all white people are racist and there is no cure?

samgreenspan1 karma

no, and no.

tomatoesarenotgood1 karma

Were you still part of 99% Invisible when the podcast broke Mazda and Nissan radios? I listened to the Reply All episode where they investigated the problem lol

samgreenspan3 karma

Nope, left in 2017. I did love that episode though. LOL'd so hard with 89% Parenthetical.

tibbon1 karma

Do you also have any personal enjoyment of Gonzo journalism?

samgreenspan2 karma

I haven't delved as much as I would like to. The fact/fiction bluriness is actually what gives me pause, tbh. I like both, but as I've said, not mixed together.

TransposingJons1 karma

Why leave 99% and the NPR promotion team???

samgreenspan1 karma

Honestly, after 5+ years working for 99 I was just kind of out of ideas. My interests were shifting away from the built world. Plus I hadn't written anything on my own in a really long time, and I wanted to know what I sounded like on the radio having learned all the stuff that I had by that time. It was a tough decision, but ultimately the right one, I think.

Same with NPR—it's an awesome place, but sometimes you gotta leave to follow your dreeaaaaaaaams. Leap and the net shall appear, etc.

(Also I never worked on promotions--my first job was in News Operations)

skip_tracer1 karma

Thanks for doing this Sam, I'm looking forward to following your new work. I have one question: in your opinion, where do you think the best sources for unbiased reporting exist between TV and digital media?

samgreenspan3 karma

I don't believe in unbiased reporting. The best thing to do is find things that skew left, and skew right, and try to learn through a constellation of ideas. See previous post for my media habits.

SurprisedSmiley1 karma

How did you get your past job at 99% invisible? Meaning, what did you study in high school and what courses did you take in college?

samgreenspan6 karma

I studied anthropology in college. I love the approach of "being there" with people and participant-observing; I once wrote about 60 pages of academic jibber-jabber about performance rituals among a Rocky Horror Picture Show company in St Pete Beach, Florida.

I never liked how wonky anthropology writing (and academic writing in general) tends to be, though. I wanted to apply those learnings to something more artful and affecting. Also I always loved radio. That's what lead me to study at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME (now part of MECA). I did that as my "study abroad" in college, went back to my anthro program and turned in a thesis about common genealogies of anthropology and radio documentary. (VERY niche audience)

After college I moved to DC for a summer job teaching kids radio at the Art + Media House. I stuck around and wound up freelancing for the NPR stations WAMU (in DC) and WYPR (in Baltimore), and later an entry level part time job at NPR. This was around 2008-10 when podcasting was starting to take off. I discovered 99pi pretty shortly after it launched and was hooked. I somehow convinced Roman to let me be his intern from afar when I wasn't working for NPR or doing other freelance work. When Roman decided to do the Kickstarter, he made the goal a little higher than he had previously planned in order to try to get me a little work.

I quit my job at NPR and drove a very busted Chevy Lumina across the country from Baltimore (where I was then living) to Oakland. The first 99pi Kickstarter was going on while I was on the road; by the time I landed in California, we had raised enough money to give me a full-time job. The rest is history, I guess?

Gizzo041 karma

Do we actually exist or is this all a dream? Are we a speck of dust in a massive cosmic universe where we exist within a greater being?

samgreenspan4 karma

patience, grasshopper

hashish161 karma

Why isn't "speculative journalism" an oxymoron?

samgreenspan6 karma

I answered a similar question earlier and here was my response:

”Sure. First of all, as I noted before, I'm not the first person to do speculative journalism. Anyone who poses in a question in a piece of journalism like "Could this mean X?" is basically engaging in speculative journalism. Also, I really like speculative designer Stuart Candy's quip that anyone who looks at the sky and decides to take an umbrella when they leave the house is essentially engaging in an act of speculation/foresight/forecasting, etc.

If you still think journalism and speculation shouldn't be mixed, read Kathryn Schultz's "The Really Big One" for the New Yorker. It's about the earthquake that, at some point, WILL destroy Seattle and environs. It won the Pulitzer Prize. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Anyway, all the reporting I'm doing is real. It's the same journalistic standard as anything else I would make. It's just that instead of saying "I think X will happen because Y," I'm choosing to tell it through a science fiction story. I'm not saying that this approach is the only way this can or should be done, it's just a way I'm trying.”

cocainebubbles1 karma

Are you related to Alan Greenspan?

samgreenspan1 karma

Nope, no relation :)

original_greaser_bob1 karma

All things considered being equal, do you think you could take Ira Glass in a one on one fight?

samgreenspan6 karma

I'd much rather challenge him to a dance-off. It'd be a fairer fight.

AbrahamWoodhullLives1 karma

[deleted]

samgreenspan2 karma

I'd like to see more reporting on "the tic tac incident"

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/26/us/politics/ufo-sightings-navy-pilots.html

darkoptical1 karma

What is your favorite color? Also what kind of toilet paper do you use?

samgreenspan3 karma

Being from Florida, I have a hard time not gravitating towards anything seafoam green and/or salmon-colored.

TP: whatever is on sale at the Super King in Glassel Park!

pls_send_me_boobs1 karma

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

samgreenspan10 karma

Mint chocolate chip!

Buzzismydog1 karma

Hello Sam!

I love 99% invisible. It’s a great show for thinking about design in unique and surprising ways.

I was wondering if you have and formal education in design? (and if not, would you ever consider pursuing an education or career in design?)

samgreenspan2 karma

Definitely not—my artistic abilities peaked around the second grade. I studied anthropology in college, which mostly taught me how to think and be curious.

I probably don't have it in me to be a designer—I'm using my spare time to learn music and jazz/modern dance.

benjustforyou-2 karma

You've only got one 30 min episode?

samgreenspan1 karma

Yes, one episode for now. The rest will be released this winter.