Sam Fenn is the producer of two popular podcasts: Cited, an award-winning documentary radio show about how ideas change the world (not always in positive ways) and Crackdown, a podcast about drugs, drug policy and the drug war led by drug user activists and supported by research. Prior to his career in journalism, Sam completed a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in the Department of History. Find out about Sam’s academic experience and how it inspires his work in documentary podcasting in the below Q&A.
Why did you choose to study history at UBC and what did you enjoy most about this program?
When I first came to UBC I had just finished an unsuccessful stint studying jazz guitar at Vancouver Community College. After getting accepted into UBC, I quickly found that registration was more competitive than at my previous school. I failed to get into any of the modern literature courses that I was interested in and, so, on a whim, I registered in a course on Canadian social history instead.
By the time Professor Tamara Myers had finished outlining the syllabus I had already switched my major on my laptop. The thing that excited me most about that course (and subsequent courses taught by Professors Coll Thrush, Eagle Glassheim, Tina Loo and Alejandra Bronfman) was how applicable historical knowledge was to my own community: I wanted to understand the origins of all of the problems I saw around me in Vancouver so that I could start to understand how to solve them. More than simply wanting answers, I found that I wanted to know the stories. I wanted to know how key moments in Canadian history were experienced by people at the time. I’m still interested in that kind of thing.
What were some of your most meaningful experiences at UBC?
Shortly after getting to UBC, my friend Gordon Katic and I started a documentary radio show about the politics of academic research, which is now called “Cited“. The folks at CiTR were generous enough to play our episodes when they came out. Over time, and thanks to the support of Kathryn Gretsinger, Dr. Dave Ng, and Dr. Allen Sens, we were able to apply for (and receive) funding from UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. Under this funding, we learned how to tell un-esoteric stories about academic research. Cited has now collaborated with popular radio shows like 99% Invisible and CBC’s The Doc Project. We’ve won an award from the Jack Webster Foundation and been nominated for two national awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists. In all of this work, I’ve drawn on the research and critical thinking skills I obtained in the masters of history program.