August 10, 2016

The idea of winning a Vermont weekly through an essay contest drew a lot of entries, “good entries,” editor and publisher Ross Connelly told readers in Wednesday’s Hardwick Gazette.

But not quite enough.

So Connelly is extending the deadline by 40 days in hopes of reaching the 700 entrants required to begin judging (he declined to say how many essays he’s received so far).

The prizes for the contest, which was launched in June, are the offices of the Hardwick Gazette and the newspaper itself. It costs $175 to enter, but Connelly wants to receive 700 400-word submissions before moving the contest to its judging phase. Connelly, who has tried to sell the paper, will make $122,500 from the contest if he receives the requisite number of submissions.

Of the essays he’s already received, Connelly said he’s been struck by a real passion for community and local journalism. He’s also been surprised by the conversations he’s had with people around town who hope the contest moves forward so the Gazette can continue publishing.

“I’ve always, I guess all journalists do, held that what we do is important,” he said. “That’s us saying it. When we hear it from our readers, that’s an affirmation.”

We all have lives just like the newsmakers in Washington, Connelly said, and they’re important, too.

“People here have a right to have the newspaper, the media outlets, be there to provide information and reflect back their community,” he said, “and I’m getting that sense from a lot of the entrants.”

So far, he’s gotten essays from across the United States, plus one from Australia, one from Italy and one from Japan. If the contest doesn’t reach 700 entries by the deadline, he plans to include a note of thanks with the checks he’ll return, Connelly said, and make sure the people interested know they can still buy the paper.

On Tuesday, he shared a piece about John Oliver’s viral defense of local journalism along with a reminder about the contest on Facebook.

Connelly hasn’t yet had time to watch the whole thing because he was on deadline Monday and Tuesday for Wednesday’s edition. He’s looking forward to watching it today. And he’s happy that in a busy digital world, the essays he’s received show that people understand serious journalism still deserves a serious local home.

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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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