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'The Influencing Machine' Traces Myths Of The Media

Brooke Gladstone has served as senior editor for NPR's <em>Weekend Edition Saturday</em> and <em>All Things Considered</em>. She is currently host and managing editor of NPR and WNYC's <em>On The Media</em>.
W.W. Norton & Co.
Brooke Gladstone has served as senior editor for NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday and All Things Considered. She is currently host and managing editor of NPR and WNYC's On The Media.

Once a week, journalist Brooke Gladstone can be heard reporting on the state of journalism on her radio show, On The Media. Now, the former Weekend Edition editor has a book out that asks difficult questions about the future of journalism, and then literally draws the answers out for you.

Illustrated by Josh Neufeld, Gladstone's The Influencing Machine is a comic book about the media: Who are they? What do they do? How do they affect us? Is there even a media anymore, now that anyone with a cellphone can potentially reach millions? Is objectivity even possible?

Gladstone answers that last question with a resolute "No."

"Reporters can be fair," she tells NPR's Scott Simon. "But there's no way that we can divorce ourselves from the experience gleaned over a lifetime that forces us to come to certain conclusions."

More important, Gladstone says the ability to link stories to their primary sources is slowly changing the meaning of objectivity in journalism.

"People who follow the media today say that transparency and disclosure [are] the new objectivity," she says. "We don't have to pretend to be a monastic order of passionless priests in order to do the job of journalism."

Gladstone says the idea of a monolithic media that would uphold values like objectivity is yet another myth of the trade. Media, she says, only really exist in our heads — "That's the influence machine."

The New Media Of Citizen Journalism

The definition of media becomes even more confusing when you consider the number of nonprofessionals who are dabbling in digital journalism. Gladstone says social media users are stepping in to help filter the seemingly infinite amount of information available online — and they're doing it free from the oversight of huge media institutions.

"If your friends send you a link, you'll open it; you'll pass it on," she says. "You can get really informed that way — just as well-informed as you would be [or] far better informed than reading most daily papers because it's coming from everywhere, all around the world."

And while the anonymity of the Internet may make something like a trustworthy source seem impossible, it actually isn't.

"Trust is built on experience," she tells Simon. "Your listeners trust you. They trust you because you've proved to be trustworthy. This community of friends on Twitter, which is just one example, they get their followers because they've proved to be trustworthy. We saw this most explicitly during the so-called Arab spring where these communities came up and were able to really counter the lies of their own governments."

The Endurance Of 'Great Journalism'

Despite all the dreary predictions out there, Gladstone sees journalism as being in a state evolution, rather than a state of decline.

"Just because you get a paycheck doesn't necessarily mean that you are more trustworthy than somebody who is there out of conviction. And I think that is a change that is being wrought by the digital age," she says. "Objectivity ... is kind of a construct of a particular time and place, a short period of American history. Great journalism was done then, but great journalism was done before and great journalism will be done after."

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