There is great value in a weekly newspaper. According to Hardwick Gazette owner and Editor Ross Connelly, "citizenship and democracy start at the local level."
Connelly is giving The Gazette to the winner of an essay contest that ends Sept. 20. The word count is 400 words, on the topic of why the applicant would want to own and operate a paid weekly newspaper. The entry fee is $175.
"I tried to sell it [The Gazette] conventionally, but that didn't work," Connelly said in a phone interview. "I got the idea [for the contest] from a bed & breakfast in Maine, which was operated by a woman who won it in a similar essay contest. I met with a lawyer in Vermont, and seeing as it's a matter of skill it's legal; it's not a lottery."
Connelly was sure to distinguish the role of community newspapers versus the role of media conglomerates, such as Digital First Media, which used to own The Berkshire Eagle, The Bennington Banner, The Manchester Journal, and The Brattleboro Reformer before being bought by local ownership.
"Mainstream media often flies over the local communities," Connelly said. "[That being said] we often mirror the communities we cover, whether it be a major metro or not. Community news is a foundational block of journalism. It has a serious and important role to play in our country and beyond."
Connelly cited coverage of local events, issues, and political coverage as major services The Gazette provides to its community.
"[The people here] have every right to get professional news coverage," Connelly said. "We're citizens in small towns, just like the people we elect to government. These are the dusty back roads of journalism. Kids go to school here, this is where people's neighbors are. There are events in these towns, issues that are here. The Hardwick Gazette is a vehicle that will provide them that info."
According to the contest's website, The Gazette grossed $240,000 in 2015, but despite this, it has never been about the money for Connelly.
"I made just enough to live on it," he said. "It never got me rich, but my main concern was the news coverage; not shareholders."
He is also open to another husband and wife team [or their equivalent] taking over. Connelly ran The Gazette with his wife, Susan Jarzyna, until she passed away in 2011. She served as co-publisher and advertising manager of The Gazette.
"I've gotten people who want to make this a family paper, as well as single people," Connelly said. "I've gotten people from New England, the South, the Midwest, and even people from outside this country."
However, any additional staff will come as an extension to the essay winner, which Connelly clarified there will only be one of.
As of Sept. 7, Connelly has not gotten the 700 entries he needs to make the contest financially viable. After the Sept. 20 deadline, he can extend the contest for a maximum of 20 more days.
"We're not there yet," he said. "[The entries] are coming in steadily. I can't say that we're going to get to 700, but I'm hopeful we can get to that number."
To enter the contest, visit hardwickgazette.com to print out the application form. The winner will receive the offices of the Hardwick Gazette, which is a mortgage-free property and all furniture left on it, as well as office supplies, computers, equipment relevant to the paper, a subscription list, advertiser list, and all the propane left in the building's tanks.