Watch out for secondary characters with more interesting stories than your protagonist

That’s good advice up there in the title of this post. I got it from a screenwriting teacher, and it’s been a running joke around our house for the last week based on a couple movies we’ve watched lately.

And it’s also good advice for narrative journalists.

But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the Long Bet between Dave Winer and Martin Nisenholtz.

Just in case anyone is keeping score, I’ll add my name to the list of unofficial judges who think Wikipedia was the winner.

Here’s the kicker from Rogers Cadenhead’s post on the topic:

“Winer predicted a news environment ‘changed so thoroughly that informed people will look to amateurs they trust for the information they want.’ Nisenholtz expected the professional media to remain the authoritative source for ‘unbiased, accurate, and coherent” information. Instead, our most trusted source on the biggest news stories of 2007 is a horde of nameless, faceless amateurs who are not required to prove expertise in the subjects they cover.”

He’s exaggerating (‘nameless, faceless’) to harp on the contrast between the interesting secondary character in this story and the protagonist/antagonist pair, but the point is clear:

The crowd beats the individual and the organization when it comes to …well, SEO is a factor… but the reason the crowd’s version of events floats to the top of search results has more to do with individuals linking to the crowd’s record than a header tag matching a title tag.

There’s plenty of intriguing thought about this being thrown around, including these bits:

  • Dave Winer: “The world that I hoped would come about did not. While blogs have broken many stories, they have not, in general, turned into the authoritative sources I hoped they would in 2002. When the blogosphere resembles journalism it’s often the tabloid kind.”
  • Paul Boutin: “Cadenhead has exposed the flaw in my genius idea: I presumed there were only two sides. That’s journalist math. Any real techie knows there are never only two values to anything in real life.”

Where’s Martin Nisenholtz’s blog, anyway?  I’m eager to hear his take on this.

And the last open-ended question: Who’s the third player in the scene you’re writing? For example, is there a third element in the Newspapers vs. craigslist equation?