Friday, June 10, 2016

Want to own a weekly newspaper? Write the best essay and this one in Vermont will be yours

Ross Connelly
Essay contests have been used to sell property, such as inns. Now, a rural Vermont newspaper owner is offering up The Hardwick Gazette to an the best 400-word essay "about the entrant’s skills and vision for owning a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium." Editor and Publisher Ross Connelly, who turns 71 Saturday, has spent 30 years selling ads, paying bills, assigning articles, editing them, laying out the paper and emptying the trash, and says he can't keep up with the 60-hour weeks needed to run the 2,200-circulation paper, Christopher Mele reports for The New York Times.

"His wife, with whom he bought the paper and who served as co-publisher, died after a prolonged fight with cancer in 2011," Mele writes. "Their only child, a son, pursued a career in wildlife conservation," and Connelly couldn't find a buyer for the paper, which grossed $240,000 last year and has no liens or mortgage.

"The Gazette serves in delivering news and information to Hardwick, which is about 60 miles east of Burlington, Vt., and nine other towns in northeastern Vermont that are mostly rural and agricultural, with pockets of poverty," Mele reports. It has no online edition, "two full-time employees, including Connelly, three part-time workers and a corps of correspondents. . . . The contest winner would get the newspaper’s building (a second story that once housed an apartment where Connelly and his wife lived is now office space), its furniture and fixtures and all the materials needed to run the business." The entry fee is $175. Connelly said he is looking for at least 700 submissions, which would meant a potential net of $122,500, about half the annual gross revenue. Many small, rural weeklies sell for the annual gross or slightly more.

"If the essay contest is successful, it could become a model that other aging newspaper owners might emulate, Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, said in an email," Mele reports, quoting him: “The back roads of America are full of newspaper publishers well into their late 60s and early 70s. Often, they stay on the job with little hope of finding a suitable replacement.” Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, says "Many metropolitan journalists who have dreamed of owning a rural weekly have lost their journalism jobs or seen them change in ways that could make them at least write an essay about a new career."

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