Originally published in The New Hampshire, September 12th 2014 issue
On Wednesday evening in Holloway Commons’ Piscataqua Room at the University of New Hampshire, the Seacoast community, comprised of journalists, photographers, radio buffs and avid newsreaders, gathered to witness the experience and seasoned knowledge of NPR pioneer Brooke Gladstone.
A media avant-garde, Gladstone was brought to the university by New Hampshire Public Radio and was interviewed on stage by NHPR’s own Word of Mouth host, Virginia Prescott. Gladstone herself is the co-host of NPR’s well-known program titled On The Media, which focuses on media critique and analysis.
Gladstone’s background in the journalistic and radio world traces all the way from The Washington Post to The Boston Globe, to covering news in Russia for NPR in the 1990s. In fact, Gladstone was hired as NPR’s first official media reporter in 1995 as the new global age of technology and digital writing crept into the foreground.
Nearly 10 years later, Gladstone is a national leader of media criticism with many press awards under her belt and a slew of accomplishments that follow her. She also released a self-proclaimed “graphic nonfiction novel” titled “The Influencing Machine” in 2012, which was recognized by The New Yorker, Publisher’s Weekly and many more.
Topics touched upon in Gladstone’s 90-minute question and answer session included nude celebrity photos, the Islamic State conflict, NFL player Ray Rice’s domestic abuse scandal and the media glorification of mass shootings. Nothing was off limits.
Today’s media has managed to engross most of our culture. Gladstone’s one-hour program on NPR examines this phenomenon and how it has transformed how we digest our news.
“We are no longer in an era of scarcity; we are in an era of super abundance and in result, the responsibility shifts from the gate keepers, who are receding, to the consumer who has to figure out how to filter for themselves,” Gladstone said before her presentation.
She emphasized how the burden has now been transferred to the one who absorbs the news and media. As a global citizen, one must filter through personal cares, as well as what a person should care about. She acknowledges that this a difficult task when paired with the language and enticement of today’s reporters.
“These choices have an immense potency,” Gladstone said, referring to the language that reporters select to include in their articles. A word is not taken lightly when it is being implanted into the minds of world citizens.
Gladstone began the presentation by posing the question, “What is our relationship with media now and how did we get here?” referring to the progressive digital age we are in. But she also remembers a time when breaking news was not flashing headlines across our television screens or 1 million retweets on Twitter.
“The crucial difference is the fact that (news) is no longer a passive experience; it hasn’t been for some time. People always talk about the 24-hour news cycle. Yes, that is important. But the Pulitzer papers and the Hearst papers in New York at the end of the 19th century put out nine to 10 issues a day,” she said.
“For breaking news stories, they would just write across the front of the building in chalk. There has always been a hunger for breaking news, and people have just figured out a way to provide it,” she continued.
Perhaps one of the most resonating statements of the night, especially with today’s young generation, was Gladstone’s comment that “every re-tweet has a consequence.” Not only is it important to properly produce news, but it is equally as important to propagate it responsibly. This speaks leaps and bounds to a generation with Twitter accounts consisting of thousands and thousands of posts.
Gladstone believes it is our duty to tell the truth and to be honest.
Later in the interview, Prescott addressed the concept of young journalists emerging onto the scene and any advice Gladstone could relay from her steady years of experience. She emphasized the theory of specialization and expertise.
Freshman journalism major China Wong said that Gladstone’s words really resonated with her and attending the presentation was extremely worthwhile.
“I thought it was very beneficial,” Wong said. “I think for me, just different ways to give news and tell a story is really important. She touched upon so many different ways and what to be aware of.”
Towards the end of the presentation, Gladstone stunned the audience with an answer to a difficult question: Would 20-year old Brooke in 2014 become a journalist? Her answer was no. That being said, she followed with a statement that showed where her passions and motives truly lie.
“I love radio. Radio was right for me,” she said.This is clearly Gladstone’s area of expertise, her specialty.
UNH’s own journalism mogul and professor Tom Haines felt that Gladstone’s presentation was influential and important for students.
“As she said on stage, she cares most about stories,” Haines said. “That journalists get facts right and look for ways to tell stories in ways that engage listeners and readers about ideas and issues that shape the world in which they live.”
NHPR’s President and CEO Betsy Gardella, who also introduced Gladstone on Wednesday night, was thrilled with the outcome of this event.
“In the digital age, media permeates everything we do,” Gardella said. “With media, the focus of Brooke’s show, her unique voice and perspective is more than interesting. She gets us to think about our own media habits, and makes us better and more discerning consumers. We really value our partnership with UNH and were delighted to have Brooke in Durham for the students and larger community.”
A thematic element of the evening, Gladstone urged media consumers to maintain the curiosity for knowledge.
“If you are hungry for media information, stay hungry,” she said.
For the journalism program students in the room, Gladstone endorsed the perception of true identity and success.
“Real authenticity is what makes you marketable,” she said. “Use what’s real about you.”