[NOTE: EVEN IF THIS CAMPAIGN LOOKS SUCCESSFUL, IT MIGHT NOT BE YET! THIS IS NOT A NORMAL KICKSTARTER! READ ON!]
Hi, it's me, Sam Greenspan.
In 2017, I quit my job, moved to the desert, started reading a lot of science fiction, and got to work on a super-secret project. Two years later, I'm finally able to tell you about it, my biggest and most ambitious project yet:
BELLWETHER, a podcast of speculative journalism—true stories of the world as it is through the lens of what it might become.
The first episode is available right now, for free, in iTunes, Soundcloud, and everywhere else.
On Bellwether, the present is prologue. Each episode is a single work of narrative nonfiction, wrapped inside of an ongoing sci-fi radio serial.
Over two years of development, I’ve conducted more than 30 interviews, called in every favor, burned through savings, and gotten by on side-hustles. Now, I am asking for your support to finish Bellwether's first four-episode cycle of stories.
BELLWETHER, CYCLE 1
The first four episodes of the show focus on uncanny collisions between humans and complex information systems:
__01_AUTOPILOT OFF: For the first time in history, a self-driving car killed a pedestrian. But who's really at fault? (available now!)
__02_SERVICE PROVIDER: A law that was supposed to protect society's most vulnerable ends up making life a lot more dangerous—and is collapsing the entire internet in the process.
__03_SAFE SPACE: In the aftermath of a local tragedy, alt-right trolls mount an offensive that raises big questions about the future of the freedom of assembly in spaces real and virtual.
__04_KEEP IT 200: A meditation on the consequences of a dead hyperlink, and an inquiry into what the internet means IRL in the search for transgender care.
Each episode is a work of long-form narrative nonfiction, told inside of a gradually unspooling work of radio fiction. My reporting is occasionally interrupted and commented on (and sometimes criticized) by a pair of data archaeologists—one human, one AI—listening in from the future. Over the course of the show, we hear them try to deduce if this artifact can help explain for what happened to their world. Could this 'podcast' hold the clues that the Cloudburst Truth & Reconciliation Commission has been searching for?
Bellwether is an experiment in storytelling. It is a new methodology of seeking out and reporting the truth when journalists can't take for granted that their audiences will believe them. Bellwether is my attempt to inspire hope in this moment of emergency.
WHY THIS IS NOT A NORMAL KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN
This campaign is not [just] about raising money—I want to build a community of people who believe that these strange times call for new forms of reporting and storytelling.
And so, unlike any other Kickstarter, the victory condition here isn't dollars raised: the only metric that matters is backers.
Kickstarter doesn't have an easy way of setting this up, so we're breaking it. Unless we get 1,000 backers in 30 days, this campaign will fail and I'll get none of the money.
To make this work, Kickstarter has agreed to manually shut down the campaign from their backend unless we reach our 30 day/1,000 backer goal. (In the mean time, though, the campaign page will appear to be successful once the stand-in dollar amount goal is surpassed).
BELLWETHER MUSIC LIBRARY, VOLUME 1
While creating Bellwether's pilot episode, I had the chance to collaborate with Bay Area music legend and sound wizard Beau Sorenson, aka Beaunoise. In addition to making some of the most intriguing electronic music out there (his 2016 release Buchlaworks is a masterpiece), Beau has also made records with Death Cab for Cutie, Superchunk, Tune-Yards, etc etc etc.
I told Beau about my vision for Bellwether, and he built its landscape in sound. Now, you can hear it.
Bellwether Music Library: Volume 1 is your chance to eavesdrop on the progress of this show. It's a way to directly support production as we prepare for launch. And it's my promise of what's to come.
B E L L W E T H E R C H A M P I O N
This campaign is about asking folks to give at whatever level feels comfortable for you. If you're in a position to become a champion of this show, this idea, this future, I'd like to offer you a signifier of such in the form of a secret society-esque enamel lapel pin.
Q & A
- Who makes Bellwether?
The show is reported, written, and produced by me, Sam Greenspan. I've been working in radio and podcasting for over a decade, specializing in launching new shows. I was a founding producer at 99% Invisible (Radiotopia), The TED Radio Hour (NPR), and The City (USA Today). I also worked on Spacebridge, and a few other things you'll be hearing about soon.
People who've worked on or have donated time to Bellwether include: Jonaki Mehta, Sarah Ventre, Julia Barton, Ann Heppermann, Disasterpeace, Danielle Svetcov, Shani Aviram, Beau Sorenson, Lyra Smith, Austin McCann, Ashleyanne Krigbaum, and Sarah Henry. Voice acting is by Sunita Mani (of GLOW, Mr. Robot, the "Turn Down For What?" music video).
I've also accumulated a veritable brain trust of supporters, including Jeffrey Cranor, N'Jeri Eaton, Eliot Peper, Robert Smith, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Sam Woolley.
- Where is this money going?
Funds will go towards completing production on the four-episode story cycle. Making Bellwether is essentially like making two shows at the same time—one fiction, one non-— and it turns out that is really expensive. I have all the needs of normal journalism podcast, mostly human hours in the form of production assistance, story editing, and audio engineering. I also have the needs of radio drama production, which includes paying actors, and I know the show would benefit greatly by hiring writers to help with the sci-fi parts.
- Is Bellwether independent?
YES! I want to make the show I hear in my head, and the best way to do that thus far has been to work outside of a network or production house. This might change down the road, but this is where I'm at right now.
- When does Bellwether launch?
TBD. I'm hoping this Winter.
- How have you gotten it this far? Are you some trust fund kid?
Unfortunately I'm not that kind of Greenspan. I have had some support thus far from the Institute For The Future's Digital Intelligence Lab, and the Shuttleworth Foundation. Beyond that, I'm getting by on savings, side-hustles, and no longer paying Bay Area rent.
- I'm in a position to support Bellwether in a significant way.
Let's talk! email@example.com.
- Is the dollar amount of the goal a reference to what I think it is?
- Who did your art?
- If Bellwether were a vehicle, what would it be?
A mag-lev tuk-tuk.
- If you expect me to trust you then first I'm gonna need your natal chart.
Double Virgo, so you know I'm gonna get this done. Moon is in Leo.
- What is a Bellwether?
In the Middle Ages, shepherds would tie a bell around the neck of a neutered ram (a "wether"), so that the sound of the bellwether would tell the location and direction of the whole flock. Today, the word bellwether means something that indicates a broader trend, or is itself a trendsetter.
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Bellwether is the sound of where we are going.
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Risks and challenges
Making a radio show is hard, and making it good always ends up taking more time than one thinks it should. Supporting a creator is an act of faith, and requires some amount of risk--but I hope that the risks I have already taken for the sake of realizing this show will offer some assurance that I'm going to get this done.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)