September 21, 2016

So far, no one has wanted to buy a weekly newspaper in Vermont outright, and not enough people have submitted essays for the contest seeking a new owner.

So Hardwick Gazette editor and publisher Ross Connelly is making one final push, this time with crowdfunding.

According to a press release sent out today, Connelly is extending the contest one final time (a possibility laid out in the original rules) to Oct. 10 and launching a Kickstarter to raise $100,000.

The initial contest asked people to send in a 400-word essay and a $175 entry fee about why they’d like to take over the community publication. For anyone to be considered eligible, Connelly required at least 700 applications.

Now, after extending the contest once already, the Kickstarter will serve as a way to “raise the gap in funding to make it financially viable,” according to the press release.

“I’m not giving away the newspaper,” Connelly told Poynter in a phone interview. “The winner of the contest gets the newspaper for 175 bucks, but I’m getting more than that.”

If 700 people had entered the contest, Connelly would have made $122,500. If the crowdfunding campaign raises $100,000, the new owner will be selected from those who did enter the contest and the entry fees will not be returned. The crowdfunding approach is more digitally friendly than the essay contest, which required entries be sent by mail.

Connelly is still accepting entries, as well. So far, he’s received essays from across the U.S. and internationally. He hasn’t yet released the number he’s received so far. But he says a number of people in the community use the essay contest as a way to show support with “I don’t want to win” entries.

And while the quantity isn’t what he hoped for, the quality, he said, certainly is.

“People have journalism experience, business experience, a sense of community, recognize the value of weekly newspapers,” he said. “My belief is weekly newspapers are foundation blocks of democracy. They’re local news for people to learn about their own towns and neighborhoods. That sentiment is expressed in a lot of essays.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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