'The Influencing Machine' Traces Myths Of The Media Is there such thing as a media? Is objectivity even possible? Public radio host Brooke Gladstone illustrates the answers to difficult journalism questions in The Influencing Machine, a comic book about the media.

'The Influencing Machine' Traces Myths Of The Media

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Brooke Gladstone hosts ON THE MEDIA, a weekly show on many NPR stations that is, obviously, not about sports or car repair. She says that she's always really wanted to write a comic book. And now she has, sort of, a graphic comic, as they're called, about media: Who are they? Or is it we? What do they do? How do they affect us? Is objectivity really possible? And even is there a media, now that anyone will a cell phone can potentially reach millions of people directly?

Brooke Gladstone's new book is called "The Influencing Machine." It's illustrated by Josh Neufeld. And Brooke Gladstone - who by the way, used to be our editor here on WEEKEND EDITION - joins us from WNYC in New York.

Brooke, thanks such much for being with us.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Long time no see.

SIMON: So good to have you. Thanks very much.

GLADSTONE: Thank you.

SIMON: Well, this is a lot to go into. So let me, you know, let me try and...

GLADSTONE: It sure is.

SIMON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let me take it piece by piece. Can reporters be objective?

GLADSTONE: No. Reporters can be fair. This has always been a problem. Reporters can report things so they don't win the argument. 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. And nowadays, with the media enabling us to go to lengths anytime we want to, to primary sources, to all sorts of documents, people who follow the media today say that transparency and disclosure is the new objectivity. We don't have to pretend to be a monastic order of passionless priests in order to do the job of journalism.

SIMON: Is there such a thing as the media?

GLADSTONE: It exists in our head. That's the influencing machine. Really, there is a media, the same way that there is a human race. It's as varied and as enormous, but in certain contexts, you can look at it as a whole. And I think that the state of the media is and always has been mixed, as great as it's ever been, and as awful as it's ever been.

SIMON: So the greatest we've ever been, we'll assume it's your show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But at the same time, there are millions of people who are already functioning as their own journalists, aren't they - their own media?

GLADSTONE: More and more all the time, as their own curators. Or they create, they assemble a community of curators. I mean, people who don't understand Twitter, they think that it's just people talking about what they had for dinner.

But more and more, it serves a curation purpose. People are using them, using Twitter feeds and Twitter communities to deal with the problem of filtering that we have now with so many streams of communication coming directly at us, unmediated by huge institutions.

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

SIMON: But let me point out the inevitable: How do you know it's true?

GLADSTONE: How do you ever know it's true? It is a matter of experience. Trust is built on experience. Your listeners trust you. Well, 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 prove 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.

SIMON: Is media - as we might think of at the moment, which is, in the best sense, seasoned, professional journalists taking a look at the world directly, not just reading tweets, and reporting what they see, hear and feel - is that going the way of buggy whip-makers and telegraph operators?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GLADSTONE: No. I don't think so. I think journalists, professional journalists, will always be with us. And they'll always be on the ground. But they can be supplemented by ordinary people who are not paid for the journalism they do that supply eyewitness coverage. And they can find out who those trustworthy people are.

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.

And I think that it's important for people to understand that objectivity, per se, is kind of a construct of a particular time and place, a short period in American history. Great journalism was done then, but great journalism was done before, and great journalism will be done after.

SIMON: Brooke, so nice to talk to you.

GLADSTONE: Scott, thanks a lot.

SIMON: Brooke Gladstone, who hosts ON THE MEDIA, her new book, "The Influencing Machine." It's illustrated by Josh Neufeld.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News.

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