Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vermont weekly publisher extends essay contest for sale, adds crowdfunding campaign to fill gap

Ross Connelly
(AP photo: Toby Talbot)
A Vermont weekly newspaper publisher's effort to sell his paper through an essay contest has fallen short, so he has extended the contest again and started a crowdfunding campaign for $100,000 to fill the gap. Both will end Oct. 10. "If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, all entries received by Oct. 10 will be assessed by a panel of judges and a new owner chosen," Hardwick Gazette Editor-Publisher Ross Connelly announced. "If the combined contest and Kickstarter campaign do not succeed, all entry fees and donated money will be returned."

"In one sense, this contest is too big to fail," writes Connelly, who is 71 and wants to retire. "Transiting the Gazette to a new owner is asking people to consider the value of independent journalism and to consider that citizenship and democracy start in people’s homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, with elected officials – on the local level. Local, independent newspapers are the foundation blocks of the country's democracy and are necessary to keep it solidly in place."

Connelly has believers, and friends. "A number of readers already submitted 'I don’t want to win' essays, including the fee and a note expressing the importance of the Gazette’s survival," he reports. "A pledge was also made by an anonymous benefactor to make a substantial donation as part of a crowdfunding effort. The readers who already contributed want to see the Gazette endure. They recognize the value of the independent voice — socially, culturally and politically. It’s a sentiment being felt broadly, even internationally."

The essay contest, which began in June, seeks 400-word essays explaining why the writers want to own a rural weekly newspaper, outlining their "skills and vision." The entry fee is $175. Connelly had hoped for 700 entries, producing $122,500, a little more than half the paper's annual gross revenue. Many small, rural weeklies sell for the annual gross or slightly more. For the Gazette's news story and editorial, click here.

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