What is Public Interest Journalism?

Journalism that serves the interests of the public, for example investigative work and local democracy reporting, is under threat.

It’s often about topics that are essential for our democracy but that can be difficult or dry to understand. It’s hard, complex and time-consuming to do, but it often challenges the powerful and stands up for the powerless.

Despite the undeniable benefits for democracy, the economy, human rights and society at large, people are not queuing up to pay for this kind of journalism. Philanthropic support for public interest journalism is common in other countries such as the U.S., but not yet in the UK.

Those who do this kind of journalism – especially at the local and community level across the UK – are increasingly working not within public service or commercial media organisations, but in independent, investigative, small, local, not-for-profit and even civil society enterprises that focus solely on journalism in the public interest.

In 2019, the Cairncross Review unequivocally recommended that the government change the law to permit organisations like these to be eligible for charitable status. Among other benefits, this would enable these newsrooms to receive funds from the many charitable trusts and foundations across the UK who would like to support journalism, but who can’t make grants to non-charities. The government and the Charity Commission do not yet fully agree – though it seems things are starting to shift, and the House of Lords agrees.

In addition, international reports such as the Forum on Information and Democracy’s A New Deal for Journalism call for charitable status for journalism as a key pillar of improving the sustainability of journalism worldwide.

The CJP has been established by a cross-industry group of journalists, media industry analysts, philanthropies, academics, and charity law experts to conduct action- and policy-focused research considering in detail the potential for public benefit journalism to be a charitable object under UK law.

For more detail about our current work, see our focus areas and research projects.

What the Experts Say

“The inclusion of journalism as a charitable endeavour might go a long way to attract funding for those enterprises which specialise in supplying public-interest journalism…”

Dame Frances Cairncross
The Cairncross Review: a sustainable future for journalism (2019)

“[The] public benefit of public interest journalism is evidenced by the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications and Digital Committee (in its inquiry into the future of journalism) and the Cairncross Review (in its report on the sustainable future for journalism)”

The Charity Commission
Charity registration decision: Public Interest News Foundation (2020)

“We welcome the Charity Commission’s recognition that our inquiry has evidenced the public benefit of public interest journalism and encourage the Charity Commission to continue to recognise public interest journalism as a charitable purpose.”

House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee
Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism (2020)

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