As a news junkie I have noted with sadness the recent decline of newspapers in towns large and small. Formerly great newspapers are shadows of their former selves, feeling the effects of a multimedia world where their product--news--is out of date the minute it is printed. The downward spiral of newspapering in this economy is not a result of papers not making money; rather, it exists because they are not making enough money to satisfy the profit demands of their shareholders who, for the most part, are investors rather than journalists.
Yet the print press supplies an important social good as an independent watchdog of government and other malfeasors. Not for nothing did the Founding Fathers enshrine the freedom of the press in the First Amendment. But the economics of journalism have changed to the point that newspapers have cut back on foreign and national bureaus. Fewer reporters are assigned to the state house or city hall, much less the courthouse. And TV news has not stepped into the breach.
The SPO is a welcome business form that allows the private sector to perform a public good without completely ignoring the profit motive. It also introduces a new legal practice area: the Some-Profit Lawyer.
Bruce Collins is the corporate vice president and general counsel of C-SPAN, based in Washington, D.C.