This is a lot more than a sourcebook for all you Medias out there. It talks about how pervasive media is in the contemporary world of Cyberpunk 2020, about who the movers and shakers are, how stories get created, distributed - and squashed - and how the corporates get their message out. The truth is out there, but will anyone find it and recognise it, let alone report on it?
What is power? Is it in the hands of the corporations that have replaced governments, or is it in the hands of those who provide information? Most of the big name corporations have more manpower, greater wealth, than the mediacorps, but they have the ability to reach out and influence everyone to a far greater extent than any other corporation can dream of, even if their products are everywhere. Thus says the Introduction.
The first chapter, History of the Media, describes how it got to its current all-pervasive position, beginning with an academic discourse from a professor from Ontario Online University. It's been there a long time, the media. To inform, to entertain, to sell stuff. This discussion takes 'media' widely covering newspapers, TV, books and even word-of-mouth as it scans history, showing that 'the media' really began to flourish only when the entire population (rather than a small elite) had leisure time and spare money. It looks at changing trends in how media is consumed, at the balance between production costs and income (from sales and from advertising), and how many factors influence what is actually produced and disseminated. It covers how changes in technology over the years have changed the way in which we consume 'media'. Up to about 1990, this is our history too, subsequent changes parallel real life surprisingly well even if things are a bit different - including the effect of the Sewell Act on American investigative journalism, restricting freedom of speech and introducing censorship. Underground media flourished with guerrilla journalism providing information mainstream broadcasters could not. Fortunately by 2020 the Act was repealed but its effects linger on. Makes for a riviting read. Fake news, anyone?
Next up, Tools of the Media. This describes what is going on today, starting with more than most 'punks probably know about how a screamsheet is put together. The heart of it all is an AI system that classifies every story thus empowering the selection process when each customer accesses a screamsheet, which is tailored to that user's preferences. There's still a human editor who decides if any given story will run at all. Most print reporters are freelance, while TV ones are usually on the staff. And then of course there are the underground screamsheets, which range from hard-hitting investigations to complete whack-job rants. TV, on the other hand, seems to be more about technological advances than much of a development of content. A lot of the predictions are spot on, especially those regarding cable and satellite TV channels. There's also underground illicit TV stations (see Max Headroom, an excellent resource for all things Cyberpunk, for an example of a pirate TV station). It's not just TV, the music scene is still as active as ever. Corporate music labels put out a load of pap, naturally, based on lots of audience research aimed at just one thing: making the label loads of money. The musicians themselves have very little artistic freedom, a trade-off for a good wage and some measure of security. Of course, independent spirits still carve out their own little niches, playing live and recording their own material. There is also a new entertainment medium: braindance. Any kind of experience available in the privacy of your own head. Porn is naturally rather popular, but if that doesn't appeal there are adventures, simulated drug trips (all the feelings without the side effects) and even educational ones available.
You are probably getting the idea already, but the next chapter is The Power of the Media. This provides examples of abuses of power and trust (fake news, anyone?). Reading these probably gives you ideas (it certainly gives me some) about plots that could be run in a media-centric campaign. There's mention of subliminal advertising, as an example. What if your party got wind of a major corporate station using these, and set out to find the evidence. In Max Headroom, the very cyberpunk show from 1987 I mentioned earlier, these were called 'blipverts' and an entire episode centred around them. This section also touches on braindance addiction and other topics - public executions (with live voting for clemancy), fake news and stings like one news corporation being suckered into extracting another corporation's newsreader and ending up with the extraction team on live TV (that appeals to my evil GM mind!), and even news as a medium for crusading for a cause, focussed on the reporters themselves.
Next up, In The Spotlight. This begins with the account of a day in the life of Angie Wu, a junior reporter on a local Night City screamsheet, The Tab. Whilst it could have been made easier to read by not using a cluttered background to the text, it makes for an interesting read for any aspiring journalists in your group... with ideas a-plenty for the devious GM to mine. This leads into a discussion of character motivations for Medias, and some new templates. Some journalists are crusaders, who desires to get 'the truth' out there to the reading or viewing public, no matter what they have to do to find it out. Others might be adrenaline jukies who enjoy getting in the middle of events. The former might choose the Investigative Reporter template, the latter might prefer the Police Beat Reporter or even War Correspondent ones. Budding Papparazzi can be Social Reporters, while those who have built up a name for themselves on air can use the On-Air Star template. And so it goes on: freelancers, ambulance chasers, propagandists and the like are all catered for. If you intend for your party to be on the receiving end of the publicity (and this can be fun...) there's a sample newscrew complete with stats, comprising a star, a junior reporter (both Medias), a Techie to work the camera and a Netrunner to do research. Add in a Solo to provide protection and a Corporate to be their editor or producer and you have a nice group. Use it as inspiration if your party wants to be the ones reporting the news, and to fill out the roster if there are not enough to fill all the roles. As well as sample NPCs, there are news vehicles (an AV and a chopper) and loads of information about how you actually go about finding that story that's going to win you fame and fortune, or at least let you shout "Stop the press" or "Hold the front page" very loudly. As most players are not professional journalists, rules are provided for things like conducting interviews and writing the actual story.
If, by now, you are all fired up to run one, the next chapter is Media Campaigns which is jam-packed with useful advice on how to do so, as well as more general ideas on how to use the media creatively and to effect whatever the focus of your campaign might be. You'll need to decide if the media outlet in question is actually working for the public good or if it has an ulterior motive... scope for a 'loss of innocence' scenario if the party finds out their real agenda. Or you might prefer freelance or underground medias rather than those working for a news corp. There's also the option of 'media-terrorism', using the power of the media to spread discord or even just to get the truth out there by any means fair or foul. You could even have the party in the employ of the Federal Communications Commission, policing the media. There are more ideas here than you can shake a stick at, like really messing with a typic group by having them become (in)famous - good advertising, perhaps, but being recognised at every turn gets old fast. Following on, The World of the Media Corps provides a few sample media corporations to feature in your game - Diverse Media Systems (DMS) and Network 54 (who are bitter rivals), and others like World News Service. For each, learn how they recruit, how they operate, and what sort of programming they put out. This ends with an account of how one hapless fellow was suckered onto a violent game show.
In a game where style is rated over substance, the media needs to play a major role. Armed with the material here, you can ensure that it does!
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Reviewed: 15 February 2019