Terry, your summary of Benkler’s work is very clear. You call out the almost utopian vision he has for what is happening and what that might evolve into, and allude to his subtle taking of sides (“big media = bad, YouTube = good”). It is unfortunate that the default stance many of us assume is contrarian. Could it be that this is instead The Evolution of Production? One of the theories that anthropologists have regarding human evolution is that, before Neanderthal People disappeared, they co-existed with Cro-Magnons and then disappeared through absorption. Couldn’t that also happen here too?
I agree with you that a smaller number of journalists from the New York Times will contribute work that may most likely surpass many more amateur efforts. However, if instead of thinking of a professional/amateur divide we instead see this as a spectrum of contributors, then there is room for all. An in-depth report by an embedded journalist in Basra will certainly consist of a strong style, good focused facts and first-person reporting, but balance that with a blog by an American Marine blogging about her experiences, or a Red Crescent relief worker posting to a forum on rights, and we begin to see a more fully formed, multi-dimensional, and much less clean-cut view of the world. Life with humans on this planet is pretty messy.
I also found his case studies in less Internet-centric production industries (e.g. – agriculture) more difficult to follow. It’s not that this can’t or won’t happen; it’s just that there are a lot of other things that have to happen in the global societies and in the free availability of information to whomever actually needs it (so piracy doesn’t count…) before this can see the glimmer of the light of day. Also, mankind will have to learn to be much more kind to itself, which has been a niggling problem for millennia, unfortunately.