HARDWICK >> As he approaches his 71st birthday, Ross Connelly is ready to retire as editor and publisher of the 127-year-old community newspaper in Vermont he and his late wife bought three decades ago.

He was unsuccessful at selling the weekly Hardwick Gazette, so he came up with a novel way to find a new owner: an essay contest that kicks off on Saturday, his birthday.

If he gets at least 700 essays, he'll pick a winner from among them. He's looking for someone who can show they can handle the responsibility of providing strong local coverage at a time when people are increasingly relying on the internet and social media for their news.

"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," Connelly said. "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 newspaper is based in Hardwick, a community of about 3,000 residents in northern Vermont. The new owner also must be committed to the community.

"The winner of this 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 said.


Connelly and his late wife Susan Jarzyn bought the newspaper in 1986 after moving to Vermont from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She died in 2011. He said now seems like a good time to retire.

The entry fee is $175, and contestants are expected to write up to 400 words about their skills and vision for owning a weekly newspaper with paid subscriptions.

The winner also will assume ownership of the newspaper's historic building, equipment, website and proprietary materials needed to operate the business. The newspaper is printed offsite at a press not owned by the paper.