O ver here, Brooke Gladstone is an unknown quantity. But in liberal America, where she presents a public radio show called On the Media , she is something of a star: Kirsty Wark with extra frizz. Gladstone's exuberant curls are a neat physical expression of her presentational style, which is wry — and sometimes a little frisky. Her trick, I gather, is to balance scepticism and idealism in such a way that her listeners' rising outrage never cancels out their sense that what she and her guests are telling them might be extremely important.
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Brooke Gladstone—former Russian correspondent, Stanford fellow, and longtime cohost of On the Media, NPR's weekly radio show focused on the state of journalism and today's media—has turned to comics: The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media Norton , a nonfiction comics work created in collaboration with artist Josh Neufeld.
Like her radio show, Gladstone's book is an effort to offer an active analysis of the media, its broad history, and its inseparable relationship to technology—and the recurring bouts of public panic and hysteria that have characterized that relationship since the earliest days of reporting public events. But the book is also a very funny, lively examination of how big-time daily news reporting really functions, in the past and today, while peering ahead at the future as both media and journalism transition to a digital era and new problems.
Working with comics artist Neufeld the creator of A. Anyone who has listened to Gladstone reporting on On the Media will immediately recognize both her tone and approach, as she reinterprets her broadcast style for a book as well as for a comic. But the new book owes quite a bit to another critical work of nonfiction comics.
Indeed, in an interview with Gladstone and Neufeld at the PW offices she was about to leave for Egypt , she laughed heartily when we joked that she should call the book Understanding Media, in reference to the work of comics' theoretician Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics , a celebrated and serious critical examination of the formal elements of the comics medium delivered in the visual language of comics itself. Gladstone said she is more than happy to cite McCloud, and she does, in her acknowledgments.
All the great nonfiction comics works—books like Logicomix, for instance—are narrative driven. Constitution and beyond—and how the media's mission and its means have advanced through history. At the same time, Gladstone debunks claims of the media's nefarious influence on people—from mind control and presumed biases to "moral panics," recurring historical charges of cognitive distraction, intellectual diminishment, and social alienation, now lodged against the likes of Google, video games, and the virtual world in general as digital culture stakes its claims on our time and attention.
Technology and media are pretty much inseparable, she says, describing media that "take off" as a product of "technology and politics," and emphasizing a litany of venerable, now celebrated technological advances, from the printing press to radio and TV, originally condemned for their alleged negative effects.
And she trots out a variety of studies and prominent journalism and media analysts—from Michael Kinsley and Clay Shirky to Robert Wright, Lee Rainie, and Yochai Benkler—to challenge the proliferation of arguments claiming "digital culture makes you stupid" by critics such as Jaron Lanier, Nicholas Carr, and others. With a 30, first printing, Norton expects an audience. In fact, The Influencing Machine reads like several books mashed into one—a history tome; a formal critique; a confession of a journalist; a how-to manual; and a manifesto.
It's "a call to action," Gladstone adds, noting, "The challenge was to structure the book so I can weave all these essential strands together. It's a book for anybody who feels it's their business to understand the information environment they live in," she says, "a formal student of the media or just people who want to be at ease while swimming in all this information.
So every time you see something in the media you'll know where it came from, you'll be able to see the antecedents and maybe peer ahead to the next phase.
Although The Influencing Machine is her first comic, Gladstone has been a comics fan since she was a kid: "I love comics and collected them.
This was in the s, which was a different comics world—they were so cheap you could really support a comics habit on baby-sitting money. After an unsuccessful attempt to write a sci-fi graphic novel "I plotted myself into a corner" , an editor suggested she try nonfiction instead, and another editor suggested artists to work with, Neufeld among them. She knew she wanted to do a book about the media, but "I didn't like most media books and found them colorless and boring.
Not all of them, but I couldn't find what I wanted," she says. It's personal. Much like McCloud in Understanding Comics, Gladstone is the omniscient and comical shape-shifting narrator of the book, popping up as the headless Marie Antoinette to explain "Patient Zero," one of the earliest known cases of public hysteria over science or what then passed for science. In working with Neufeld to create the visual narrative, she sent him complex instructions about drawing a page and asked him "to expand the boundaries of time and space to do it, like some kind of brilliant director of photography.
He was the first line of defense when my copy wasn't clear, even before the editor," she says. Neufeld, a much acclaimed creator of autobiographical comics, who has worked with the late Harvey Pekar, among others, on a variety of nonfiction comics works, has been nominated for Eisner and Harvey Awards for A.
He returns Gladstone's praise. Gladstone says we live in a time when media are being transformed by technology, from the Internet to blogs, smartphones, tablets, and Twitter, and technology offers both the good the ability to spread a great story instantly and the bad the ability to spread a lie even faster.
So are we living in the best of times for media and journalism or the worst of times? I believe we're in the best of times, I really do. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here. To subscribe, click here. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw pubservice. If you have questions: Email: pw pubservice. Mon-Fri Pacific Not Registered? Click here. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.
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The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone On The Media
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The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld – review
Gladstone provides a handy list of media biases and an overview of psychological biases as understood by contemporary social scientists and neuroscientists. This machine is variously portrayed as a means of population control for shadowy cabals with aspirations of world domination, corrupt governments, or super-wealthy elitists eager to propagate their personal worldviews. Gladstone rejects this metaphor, arguing instead that the media is better understood as a mirror, one that reflects and amplifies the virtues and flaws of its consumers. She makes the case that media distributors, even ones that seem indestructible, are ultimately subject to the preferences of their audience: us.
The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone
Gladstone describes the book as "a treatise on the relationship between us and the news media,"  further described by the New York Observer as "a manifesto on the role of the press in American history as told through a cartoon version of herself. The Influencing Machine was released in hardcover in May A paperback edition with a new cover was released in May Much in the vein of Scott McCloud 's Understanding Comics , Gladstone appears in the book as an illustrated character, taking the reader through two millennia of history — from the newspapers in Caesar's Rome to the penny press of the American Revolution and the activities of contemporary journalism. Issues discussed include bias, objectivity, misinformation , ethics, and a large chapter on war reporting.