June 8, 2016; Poynter
We know that the news business is changing, with lots of small experiments going on, but this particular story caught my eye not just because it is highly unusual, but because I used to live in North Walcott, close to where it is happening in Hardwick, Vermont. A small, gritty, and gorgeous town way up north, Hardwick smelled like wood smoke last time I was there. With 3000 residents, it is the big city in the area.
Anyway, the Hardwick Gazette is its local community paper, and Ross Connelly and his wife owned it for 30 years until her death four years ago. Now, at age 71, he wants to hand it over to someone who understands community journalism and Hardwick. So, rather than selling it, he has announced an essay contest with a strict 400-word limit. The winner will become proud owner of the weekly.
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.
The entries must come by real mail. Entrants will pay $175 and must write “about the entrant’s skills and vision for owning a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium.” Ross Connelly describes what he’s looking for from entries this way:
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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. 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.
So, why an essay contest? Well, it’s a special thing, running this kind of endeavor. It takes…well, heart, so advertising the newspaper for sale through Editor & Publisher did not attract the type of stewards needed.
“Part of democracy is an informed citizenship,” Connelly said, “so if we’re not covering the news here, who is? We have that responsibility.”
Connolly needs a minimum of 700 entries, with a maximum number of 1889. Connelly said he will return checks if the contest doesn’t reach 700 entries, but that should not be necessary. A panel of judges, including Connelly, will choose the Hardwick Gazette’s new owner.—Ruth McCambridge