Brooke Gladstone "On the Media" in Kalamazoo

Mar 31, 2013

One of Brooke Gladstone's Avatars from her book
Credit W.W. Norton & Company

Brooke Gladstone says the title of her book The Influencing Machine really means the opposite of what she’s saying. The host of the NPR program On the Media says people think of the media as something that influences them, but she says the media really does its best to appeal to its audience rather than to manipulate. Gladstone will speak at Western Michigan University Tuesday night at 7:00 in Knauss Hall. WMUK is one of the event's sponsors (find details here). 

The Influencing Machine is done as a graphic novel or comic book. Gladstone says she has always liked comics and always been a bit of a science fiction buff. She says she likes getting to play different avatars, but Gladstone says she’s disappointed that she didn’t get to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Brooke Gladstone
Credit NPR

Gladstone says there have been major shifts in the media. For many years things became more expensive and required greater audiences. Now she says things have become less expensive so it can appeal to a smaller audience and be economically viable.

That’s also allowed more people to participate in journalism as well. Gladstone says media used to be a one to many operation and now it’s many to many or many to one. The audience doesn’t exist in the way that it used to, it now is a back and forth. 

The book reflects some of Gladstone’s work for NPR, including the so-called “Goldilocks number.” She says that refers to the recurrence of the number 50,000. She looked into an NBC news report that 50,000 child predators are online at any given time. The number was then cited by the Justice Department. Gladstone says it’s also been cited as the number of human sacrifices in satanic ritual, people who have died due to traffic noise. Gladstone says 

“When you see 50,000, your red flag should go up.”

When asked if she is optimistic about the future of media, Gladstone says she is optimistic about the future of information and our relationship to it. She acknowledges the risks, such as lies spreading quickly. Gladstone says there should be more skepticism about what information people receive. She also says there is a tremendous risk to the media business model. But Gladstone says the collapse of the advertising model may mean that direct payment for media makes a comeback.

“When I was very young, no one paid for television and certainly no one paid for water”.