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June 20, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:57am

Cash donors save Jewish Chronicle from ‘grave’ closure threat

By Charlotte Tobitt

A cash injection has helped turn around the fortunes of the Jewish Chronicle which had been facing a “grave” closure threat after a series of losses.

The 178-year-old weekly newspaper was struggling to stay afloat in the face of falling circulation and ad revenues, seen across the industry, while its pension fund required “enormous” financial contributions.

Editor Stephen Pollard said today that about 20 “community-minded individuals, families and charitable trusts” had donated to the newspaper’s parent charitable entity the Kessler Foundation to guarantee its future.

Press Gazette understands the donations amount to seven figures and have secured the title’s future in the long term.

Thanks to the donations a pension fund deficit, described by Pollard as a “huge drain” on the paper’s resources, has been dealt with after clearance from the Pensions Regulator.

Pollard, who has edited the Chronicle for more than ten years, told Press Gazette the title had been facing the “real threat” of having to close.

The Chronicle made an operating loss of £1.1m for the year ending 30 June 2017, according to the latest available company accounts, preceded by an operating loss of £460,000 in 2016 and a profit of £91,000 in 2015.

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“We’ve not made a profit [in the last few years] so that’s a drain on our reserves and we couldn’t carry on as we were,” Pollard said.

“Plus there was a threat of being liquidated by the pension fund because they needed their money, quite understandably. So there was a threat, a very grave threat, to the future of the paper.”

Pollard added that even if the Chronicle had gone bust someone may have bought the paper because “it’s a prestige thing to own”.

“But it wouldn’t have been the JC recognisably as the JC because our greatest strength has always been that we are entirely independent and we don’t have a proprietor, as such, so there’s no one whose line we have to take,” he said.

“For me as editor the best thing about this deal is the fact that it preserves our independence completely.”

Although the Kessler Foundation knows the identities of those who donated, none of the approximately 20 editorial staff, including Pollard, have been told who they are to avoid “constraining” news coverage.

The newspaper’s current governance structure, made up of the controlling Kessler Foundation and the Jewish Chronicle Trust, which was established to ensure the title’s editorial independence, will remain in place.

The donors came forward after an informal appeal by Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, who independently used his contacts within the Jewish community to help to save the newspaper. The title’s new chairman Alan Jacobs also helped with the appeal.

Jacobs said in a statement: “The editorial independence of the JC is paramount. In 1841, the paper published its first edition and I am delighted that, through the generosity of our donors in 2019, the JC will be able to continue to serve our community for many years to come.

“I look forward to working with the JC’s great editorial and commercial teams in deepening our engagement with our readership as we write the next chapter in the storied history of an independent Jewish Chronicle.”

The paid-for Chronicle has an average circulation of 20,141 in 2018 according to the latest ABC figures, down from 32,875 ten years earlier.

Looking to the future, Pollard told Press Gazette: “I’m really excited because, without sounding too pompous, I think the last few years there’s certainly been a huge need for the journalism that the JC does in especially looking at the anti-Semitism in the Labour party and elsewhere.”

Last July the Chronicle joined rival newspapers the Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph in an “unprecedented” front page collaboration to speak out about their fears of anti-Semitism within Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

One week earlier, the Chronicle also caused a stir when it ran a front page  using an image of Corbyn alongside Labour MP Margaret Hodge’s words calling him “anti-Semitic and a racist”.

Pollard added: “I just think it would have been, of all times, terrible if the JC had collapsed now and there’s such a huge need for our proper crusading independent journalism, so I’m really thrilled that we’re in a good place now.”

Kessler Foundation chair Clive Wolman said today: “In recent months, we received several interesting approaches, both commercial and philanthropic, to refinance the JC and resolve its pension fund deficit. We are very grateful to those who took the trouble to put together bids.

“In the end, we and the JC Trust decided that our primary consideration had to be to preserve the editorial independence of the JC, particularly at a time when its journalists are playing such an important role in exposing anti-Semitism in British politics.

“The Kessler Foundation is also appreciative of the huge unpaid contribution made by the JC’s outgoing chairman, Stephen Grabiner, over the last six years in applying so effectively his long experience in newspaper management.”

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