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The Influencing Machine

NPR’s Brooke Gladstone entertainingly recounts media history in a graphic novel.

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The Influencing Machine
By Brooke Gladstone
W.W. Norton
181 pp.

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“I wanted to write a comic book long before I wanted to write a book about the media,” Brooke Gladstone explains in The Influencing Machine, her new book about the news business. The host of NPR’s “On the Media,” Gladstone makes what could have been a chewy book on media theory – snooze – more fun with the help of something unavailable at her day job: pictures.

“I thought writing in bubbles would be easier, more like radio,” Gladstone writes. “It was more like radio, but it wasn’t easier.”

Although writing it wasn’t easier for the radio host, “The Influencing Machine” will prove easier on her readers than most of the inside-baseball navel-gazing done by media personalities. As digital publishing buries newspapers and books, writers either wax nostalgic for dead trees (like former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans in his memoir “My Paper Chase”) or drool over the possibilities of the Internet age (like Cory Doctorow, publisher of the tech blog BoingBoing, who blurbed “The Influencing Machine”).

Gladstone, more level-headed, charts a middle course.

“Everything we hate about the media today was present at its creation,” she writes. “Also present was everything we admire – and require – from the media: factual information, penetrating analysis, probing investigation, truth spoken to power. Same as it ever was.”

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