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Local news website gains charitable status in landmark decision

Martin GilesA local news website has been awarded charitable status in a landmark decision which could open up new revenue streams for news providers.

The Guildford Dragon, an online newspaper in the Surrey town, has been approved by the Charity Commission after demonstrating that it delivers “public interest news.”

The move is being seen as potentially paving the way to other local news providers to gain charitable status, opening up new revenue streams from foundations and individual donors.

Both the Public Interest News Foundation and the Independent Community News Network have previously adocated charitable status as a potential business model for local news outlets.

Martin Giles, pictured, editor of the Guildford Dragon News, said: “It’s really good news that we have been awarded charity status and I thank all those who have supported our application.

“It wasn’t a simple task. Now, the fundraising work will need to begin to make the Guildford Dragon News sustainable so we can continue to serve our borough with a local news service. Hopefully, others will be able to follow our example.”

Lawyer Tom Murdoch, who helped Dragon News with its application process, said the decision “should act as a signpost for other, similar public-interest news organisations”.

The PINF previously became the first news organisation promoting citizenship through journalism to join the charity register in 2020.

Commenting on Guildford Dragon News’ registration, PINF executive director Jonathan Heawood said: “It’s great to have confirmation that local journalism can be charitable.

“At PINF, we believe that many other local news outlets could become charities, which would open up new revenue streams from foundations and individual donors.

“At a time when millions of people in the UK live in news deserts, without access to relevant and reliable information, the need for high-quality local news is greater than ever.

“Charitable journalism might not be the solution to all the challenges facing local news, but it is a crucial part of the mix, and we congratulate the Guildford Dragon, CJP and their legal team for making this possible.”

Emma Meese, director of the ICCN, told HTFP: “We have been working for years to get the Charity Commission to agree to give charitable status to public interest news providers. This is an excellent outcome and a boost for journalism in the UK.

“Charitable status won’t be a one size solution for all, but it could be hugely beneficial for many independent news publishers who wish to be registered as a charity.

“It is incredibly important that the option of charitable status is available to independent news publishers who wish to follow in the footsteps of the Guildford Dragon.

“We are all too familiar in the UK with the emphasis being put on preserving the journalism sector as we know it. Achieving charitable status for the purpose of public interest journalism helps create a new landscape, one that allows for growth and innovation in journalism rather than simply preservation.

“At ICNN we cannot be more thrilled with this outcome and would encourage any independent news publishers who wish to follow in the footsteps of the Guildford Dragon to get in touch.

“The more ways we can assist public interest news publishers to build strong foundations, that allow for growth and sustainability, the more hope we have for the future of the journalism sector in the UK.”