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Back to the Future & Back Again with Rose Eveleth

If life were a sci-fi blockbuster, Rose Eveleth would be on the frontline warning a bunch of bureaucrats what doom was headed our way. But this isn’t a movie. It’s 2021, which means Rose shares her thoughts and theories through one of the most beloved forms of communication we have these days —  a podcast. Rose is the Head Futurologist (we know, cool title) of her very own podcast network, Flash Forward Presents where she talks about issues we’re living through right now like immunity and voting rights, and helps us understand what our future as a human race might look like.

On her Flash Forward podcast, Rose tackles topics as diverse as robot educators, drug legislation, and antitrust suits against the stalwarts of Silicon Valley. But in her coverage of all things forward-thinking, she’s conscious of the fact that technology isn’t always the answer. In fact, sometimes it can make matters a whole lot worse. She also dives into the links between scientific, cultural, and political ideas. In her mind, all those aspects are intertwined  when we’re talking about the future and it’s impossible to tear them apart. “I think a lot of people are drawn to science because they think of it as this very pure pursuit, where we’re freed from the challenges of subjectivity,” she says. “But if you ask anybody who’s marginalized about any of their experiences in science, they will tell you that’s not true.” We all have biases; it’s human nature. “It’s worse to pretend like you don’t have any than it is to acknowledge it and think about how it might impact your work,” she explains. 

Rose doesn’t just talk the talk. For the past four years, she’s kept a running list of all the experts she’s invited on to her show to help her reach her goal of 40% BIPOC guests. Realizing that science is dominated by white, cis men, she decided it was her responsibility as a host to create a show that explored these topics with a more diverse range of specialists. She even made that list available to the public to hold herself accountable. 

“If I’m going to try and paint this picture of a future that is built by lots and lots of different kinds of people and push back on the overwhelming whiteness of futurism, then I need to have those people on the show,” she says. After not meeting her goal for a few years, she finally exceeded it in 2020 by welcoming 50% BIPOC experts onto the podcast. With the help of those guests, Rose breaks down dense and oftentimes confusing topics to make science approachable and clear to anyone who wants to learn about it. After all, the future affects everyone.

“I want to give people agency for their future, to identify the place you fit or what you want to fight against.”

It’s hard to tell from her serious hosting chops that podcasting wasn’t her lifelong dream. It wasn’t even on her radar. She didn’t grow up listening to NPR and she never really thought about journalism — what she was interested in was science. So, Rose followed that scientist path for a while, working in a lab during, and a bit after, her undergrad in ecology until eventually she realized it just wasn’t a good fit. “It became pretty clear that the actual doing of science was not the thing that I was excited about. It was learning the stories and talking to people and explaining it,” she says. So she headed to grad school for science journalism at NYU.

She fell into podcasting when a friend asked her to come to a WNYU radio station meeting and somehow they ended up with their own one-hour slot. One thing you should know about Rose: “I’ll always say yes.” They hosted a terrible science podcast — her words, not ours. “No one listened to it,” she says. Whether it was the scientific spin or the awkward 9:00 pm time slot that turned people away, it didn’t matter to Rose. She wasn’t going to quit. 

Since that fateful radio show in grad school, Rose has been the producer of the Story Collider, special media manager at Nautilus, editor of all things animated at TED Education, and she recently helped ESPN turn its legendary 30 For 30 documentary series into a podcast. Rose also wrote for WIRED, BBC Futures, and Motherboard, and held editorial roles at LadyBits and the Smithsonian magazine before launching an initial season of Flash Forward (then called Meanwhile in the Future) under Gizmodo — a pretty impressive portfolio for someone who didn’t even know what science journalism was just a few year prior.

Rose Eveleth on camera

She made 20 episodes of that Flash Forward precursor podcast before Gizmodo’s then-parent company Gawker fell into some legal issues. Then it was up to Rose to find a way to fund the Flash Forward podcast, so she took her show into her own hands and launched on Patreon. Now, she doesn’t need to think about selling her work to a platform or network. “All of the current people who are spending money on podcasts would require me to no longer own and control [my podcast],” she explains. “If I sell Flash Forward to Spotify, I no longer own it and it’s not mine to do what I want with it.” So far, there hasn’t been a network that has offered, or been willing to offer, both independence and money — and that’s a deal breaker. “I’m very fortunate to be in the position where I don’t have to settle,” she says. “The only reason I’m able to take that stance and say ‘no, I only want to do this on my terms’ is because I have Patreon.”

Rose has some big things in store for the future (which she knows a thing or two about). “I want to build Flash Forward Presents into something that has a creative core, and also the ability to bring in other shows that could fit thematically. I want to support people who have great ideas but don’t know how to execute them,” she says. She recently made her first hire to help reach that goal. She used to do everything herself — we’re talking around 100 hours of work per episode — but with a second set of hands, she could scale her business further and more sustainably. 

As the world gets a little stranger and a lot more complicated, Rose is ready to explore all the possibilities of what’s to come with her patrons. She’s geared up to try new things, invite collaborators aboard, and expand her Flash Forward audience the right way. She would never claim to know exactly what the future holds, but she’s not going to stand still and watch it dictate itself to her.

“I’m not here to get acquired or be Gimlet. I just want to do my own weird shit. I want to make enough to do what I want, and support others who want to do the same.”