Vermont Newspaper Holds Essay Contest To Find A New Owner

Jun 17, 2016

Want to buy a newspaper? The Hardwick Gazette could be yours for the low price of $175 and a winning 400-word essay. 

Ross Connelly, owner of the Hardwick Gazette, is hoping to hand his paper over to a worthy and willing successor who will be chosen from among the hundreds of essay contest entries he expects to receive in the next few months.

The essay subject is "Why I would like to own a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium," Connelly explained to Vermont Edition.

The essay contest began on June 11, and full information and rules are listed online at the Hardwick Gazette website. Connelly says he needs a minimum of 700 entries to make the contest work, and he will accept a maximum of 1,889 entries – a nod to the fact that the newspaper was started in 1889.

One reason he cites for looking to hand off the paper is his age.

"I'm 71. I've been doing this for 30 years," Connelly says. "Anything for that length of time, it's perhaps a good time to let someone else take over and bring new energy and blood to it. You know, I'm in good health, but I'd like to be able to do something else, or have a next chapter, if you will."

Connelly also mentions that his wife, who had been co-publisher, passed away about four and a half years ago.

"I've had tremendous support from the people that work here since then, but it's still different," Connelly says. "And I've had to hire people to do things that she did, and so financially, it's just not as quite as good as it is when the owners are the ones performing a lot of the functions."

An essay contest may not be the most conventional way to sell this kind of asset, but "the conventional way of selling the newspaper didn't work," according to Connelly. Connelly says he tried things like advertising in a trade journal and online, and through word of mouth, but the inquiries he received didn't really go anywhere.

"It just didn't produce anybody that would have been a serious buyer within a position financially to purchase the paper," he says.

A friend mentioned a bed and breakfast in Maine that had been sold through an essay contest, and Connelly eventually decided to give that route a try himself.

Connelly says there has been both national and international media interest in this story.

"I hope that the media is not just viewing this as a light, fluffy story, but recognizing that weekly newspapers are [an] integral part of our democracy and foundation blocks for providing ... information for civic engagement to citizens," Connelly says. "And we here at weekly newspapers, newspapers, radio stations all over the country, have a responsibility to provide professional news coverage to let citizens know what they have a right to know, and so they can make informed decisions in their own lives."

"That's a responsibility we take very seriously,” Connelly continues. "And so I hope that there will be essayists who will recognize that and see this as a real opportunity where they can take over this business and not have any debt serviced, won't have to worry about a mortgage and can devote their energies and the income from the newspaper to continuing to provide a quality newspaper for Hardwick and the nine surrounding towns."

As an assurance, Connelly says there will be a covenant that requires the winner to continue running the Hardwick Gazette as a paper for at least two years.

"I'm looking for serious people who have journalism experience and business experience and are willing to undertake the responsibility to take over the Gazette," Connelly says.

With an entry fee of $175, the minimum 700 entries would yield $122,500.

"The newspaper is worth more than that and grosses more than that," Connelly says. "That is the bottom figure that I felt, 'Well OK, I could live with that,' with the comfort that whomever won the contest would be serious about it and continue the Gazette. It is an institution having been around 127 years. But just from a straight money point of view, I'd much rather get the 1,889 [entries], because it would give me a little more money, as a pension if you will, in retirement."