June 8, 2016

The Hardwick Gazette sent out a press release Wednesday for an essay contest with a newsworthy prize – The Hardwick Gazette.

The contest winner will assume ownership of The Hardwick Gazette, the historic Main Street building where the newspaper has been published for better than 100 years, and equipment and proprietary materials necessary to operate the business.

It’s real, said Ross Connelly, editor and publisher of the Hardwick, Vermont weekly. He hasn’t gotten any entries yet, of course, since the release just went out, but they’re supposed to come in by mail anyway. “Real mail,” he said.

The cost to enter the contest is $175. The guidelines: 400 words “about the entrant’s skills and vision for owning a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium.”

From the press release, which you can find here:

“We want to hear from people who can hold up a mirror in which local citizens can see themselves and gain insights into the lives within their communities,” says Connelly. “We want to hear from people with a passion for local stories that are important, even in the absence of scandal and sensationalism. We want to hear from people who recognize social media is not the same as a local newspaper. The winner of his contest will demonstrate this is a business that employs local people, that keeps the money we earn in the communities we cover, that is here week after week because the people who live here are important.”

Connelly, who turns 71 on Saturday, bought the paper with his wife in 1986. She died four years ago, and running the weekly paper by himself isn’t the same, either emotionally or financially, as it was with his partner, he said.

“The newspaper needs more energy than I have to offer now,” Connelly said, “I’m older than I used to be.”

He switches lines for a moment to answer another call, joking, when he gets back, that he’s also the switchboard operator. The Gazette has one full-time person in production, two people in part-time production, a reporter who recently went part-time, several other correspondents and a courier who picks up the paper at the printer each week in New Hampshire.

So why offer the paper as the prize in an essay contest?

“You want to buy it?” Connelly asked. “There’s part of the answer.”

He previously advertised the newspaper through Editor & Publisher, and people did come and look at it, but they were mostly tire kickers. The conventional way of selling the paper didn’t work, but Connelly felt that this institution that’s served the community since 1889 is still an important one.

Weekly papers fly under the radar of the mainstream press, who swoop in when big news hits, he said. But there’s still a lot going on that residents have the right to know about.

“Part of democracy is an informed citizenship, so if we’re not covering the news here, who is? We have that responsibility.”

A minimum of 700 entries are required for the contest to continue and the maximum number of entries is 1889. (Update: Connelly said he will return checks if the contest doesn’t reach 700 entries.) He is on a panel of judges who will read the entries and, if enough people enter, chose The Hardwick Gazette’s new owner. Connelly hopes that new owner will arrive with the same enthusiasm, passion and skills that he and his late wife brought here 30 years ago.

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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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