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Cyberscribes.1 The New Journalists:

Writing for the Newest Media Markets

by Anne Hart

Cyberscribes cover

...here I was...downsized out the door...two journalism degrees...feeling trashed...in my forties...licking my burnt paws...Ouch! Today I am pumped up because this book confirms that I truly do have a journalistic future, and, more importantly, as a wise, loyal advisor, it blueprints for me the way in which I should go. Now it's steady on course, full speed ahead!

Rox Vanguard
Freelance Scriptwriter/Producer

In the first welcome page to Document Design, I chatted about the collapse of various job descriptions into one with typesetting, graphic design, and book layout. What the desktop computer did for document design the desktop computer and the Web is now doing to the profession of writing -- collapsing a number of otherwise discrete job descriptions into one.

With the new online media, writers can no longer think only in terms of the linear word. Text now has layers, various paths to follow, and often as not, plain pictures have given away to animation and music. In other words, the writer has now become a movie director of sorts. In Cyberscribes.1 The New Journalists, Anne Hart explains the big picture, what's happening to the writing profession we all knew and loved as that old sequential, left-brain process clashes head on with the Web.

There's been much gnashing of teeth on the part of writers as they have watched their jobs disappear and the pay for their work drop precipitously over the years. Out of the ashes, however, has arisen a lot of new opportunities in online publishing, but it's often hard for writers to keep up with the rapid changes in technology when many still pine for their old manual Royals. For many writers, computers were something you played games on, and who had time for that. Leave it to the kids.

In Cyberscribes.1, Anne Hart bridges this gap between the Royal typewriters and computers. She does a very good job in dispelling the smoke that always surrounds the lightning speed of technological development, pointing out where the new opportunities await writers and providing suggestions for how to adapt to the different style requirements of online content.

And make no mistake about it. Glitz has created a lot of smoke, but content is, Anne Hart says, king. Only the format has changed. Writers, she says, need to begin to think in terms not of manuscripts, but of screenwriting, which is after all, what multimedia writing really is. Hart explains how screenwriting is done, gives numerous examples, and provides guidance on the kind of shifts in thinking that writers need to make to get into the screenwriting frame of mind. All of this is interspersed with comments gleaned by interviews with people in the industry.

Once often functioning as independent contractors, writers for the new media will become members of production teams. It is not necessary to be able to actually perform all the multimedia tasks, but it will be necessary for writers to understand the process to work with the team. To that end, Ann Hart describes this process and encourages writers to decide which pieces of the scenario best fit their personal writing styles.

Anne Hart suggests writers do some serious thinking about the kind of stories they prefer to do, based upon their personality, and correlate this with the kinds of writing various types of audiences react most positively to. The better the match, Anne Hart says, the more successful writers will be in selling their work. She has provided an overview of the Briggs-Meyer personality test and given many examples of the different kinds of writing those with different personalities can do for various audiences. An appendix contains 28 questions designed to help the reader measure their preferred writing style. This test is also available online for those with a java-enabled browser.

There is much talk right now about the hybrid mix of news, entertainment and commercial content on the Web being a threat to literacy. Edward J. Keyes, executive vice-president of Inspired Arts Entertainment and a co-founder of DigitalTalkTV believes the current shakeout will definitely leave writers as the heart and sole of interactive multimedia:

Nothing of substantive value is created without the glue of story, relationship, scene, open, intro, meat, conflict, resolution, close, and options. (p. 65)

My only complaint is that the book uses valuable space discussing computer platforms and HTML coding for beginners, something that can be found in many places. I'd rather be reading about what writers in the industry are doing to meet the changing job market or perusing Anne Hart's comments on whether you have to think like a programmer to write for this industry -- all those niggling questions writers have wanted to ask for some time but didn't know where to direct them.

If you're a writer wondering where your career may be heading now that the web is here, or how you're going to carve out your niche in the online world, give careful consideration to the advice in this book!

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