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What 'The Influencing Machine' Teaches College Kids

Several colleges and universities have adopted a common read program, in which first year students read the same book during the summer, then discuss it when they get to campus.

NPR'S Neal Conan talks with Brooke Gladstone, co-host of On The Media, about her book, The Influencing Machine, a graphic novel that tries to decipher the rapidly changing media business and the ways people interact with it.

Interview Highlights

On why her book works as a freshman read

"I wanted to write a comic book ... before I wanted to write a book. And ultimately, I wrote a 2,000-year history of the media and a manifesto as to why it is the way it is and what one needs to do to make it be the way we want it to be — all in panels, about 160 pages, 2,000 years and tons and tons and tons of end notes. And I think it's because it's so compressed. It's a useful book, because every chapter, rather than completing the discussion, is kind of a launch for discussion, because you really have to say things in very, very few words."

On the process of writing a graphic novel

"The difference between a comic book and an illustrated book is in an illustrated book, the pictures support the text, but in a comic book the pictures replace the text. And as a result, I had to come up with every single image, and there's about a thousand of them. And I would write a panel in words and then I would cut it in half, and then I would figure out what could I indicate with the image, and then I would cut it in half again. So ... every panel went through three written revisions before they even went through the three stages of drafting, penciling and inking. That's pretty intensive."

On misinformation and the media

"It has been ever thus. We've always had a wide range of media choices. And stories have always been made up in the paper. I mean, Edgar Allan Poe made up a story about a balloon launch, and there are other stories about people landing — a telescope seeing people on the moon and so forth. ...

"[And] they are among the biggest sellers. But here's the thing is, you know, we buy that stuff. It's a business. We don't want it to be government owned. And I think my principal argument is that the sooner we take responsibility for that consumption the better, because there is every bit as much excellent, complete, thorough, contextual news out there as there is the load of crap."

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NPR Staff