Typically, journalism is the gathering of facts and reporting details pertaining to the goings-on of the day, based on reality and the accounts of people in the moment.
Sam Greenspan, creator and host of the speculative journalism podcast Bellwether, wants to blur those lines a little, introducing science fiction elements and transporting today’s issues into a future landscape.
“Anything you hear me say on my show is journalism,” says Greenspan, who likens his work more to being a radio producer than a podcaster. He points to his early experiences listening to and working on NPR podcasts and content as inspiration for his website. “I use the same tactics, the same rigor, the same approaches that I would any kind of journalism story. I think the reporting process is the same. What’s different is that story sort of lives inside of this bigger universe that is informed by the reporting I’m doing.”
This is a practice that has been done in other ways previously, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning article “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, detailing a massive earthquake hitting, and destroying, the Pacific Northwest. It’s based on the actual faultline under Washington State that could, and likely will, at some point shift and cause a catastrophic earthquake, but her reporting contained speculation as much as it did reported scientific fact.
“You can report the future,” Greenspan says. “When I started doing Bellwether, the article had come out but the KPPC show (on the same topic but looking at a massive earthquake destroying Los Angeles) had not. There’s a lot of futurists and forecasters I got interested in and influenced by.”
Bellwether also was born out of a need to escape reality, specifically the time after the 2016 presidential election and the following year. Greenspan says he developed a kind of “pavlovian response” to push notifications on his phone.
“I found myself retreating to sci-fi, going to it as escapism. What I found quickly is that sci-fi has always been about the cultural commentary and the present, however the authors were finding it. Speculative journalism, yeah, it’s about forecasting and trends, but it’s about giving us the emotional space and bandwidth and the space to deploy your imagination to look at some stories we might not otherwise be able to look at fully because it’s too scary.”
Sam Greenspan is the creator of Bellwether, a limited podcast series telling real reported stories inside a speculative fiction framework. Greenspan explains to It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell how this non-traditional approach to journalistic storytelling illuminates humanity’s collisions with technology.