Local Vermont Paper Still Searching for the Perfect Suitor

Univision, you’ve got cash left over, haven’t you?

“all this could be yours — before we close the factory and outsource to Vietnam”

Cute gimmick. Sadly, so far, the idea of soliciting contest entries, the best of which would win a potential editor-publisher the chance to run their very own relatively successful local weekly in rural Vermont, hasn’t worked. No one’s submitting.

The Hardwick Gazette has been going strong since 1889. But its Willy Wonka is having a hard time finding a worthy successor.

The Gazette’s editor and publisher, Ross Connelly, announced in Junethat he was holding an essay contest to find a successor to take over the paper. He said that he still had the passion for newspapering, but that at 71, lacked the energy.
Unfortunately for him, the contest has not generated the interest that he had hoped would make his plan financially viable. So he has extended the deadline to Sept. 20 from Aug. 11.
When asked if he had a Plan C if he had still not received enough entries in a month, he offered a blunt analogy: He could extend the deadline again, he said, but that would be “like pounding your thumb with a hammer — it’s not going to stop hurting.”

You’d think that every hipster in Brooklyn with a typewriter and a chip on their shoulder about growing sooty-tasting tomatoes on the fire escape would be yearning to follow in the footsteps of NYC ex-pats like Shirley Jackson and E.B. White, who left the city for a more wholesome literary life in New England. No dice.

Connelly’s lack of success might be tied to the fact that he’s a wee bit crotchety: he doesn’t approve of social media, the Internet in general, or kids these days. In his paper, does not appear online, “he prints letters to the editor only if they include the writer’s signature, name, address and phone number.” But even cutting edge media properties are having a hard time of it: in 2015-2016 alone, we’ve lost Grantland, the Toast, and Gawker, and there have been deep cuts at places like Flavorwire, Mashable, VICE, Salon, Newsweek, Mode Media, the International Business Times, and Glenn Beck’s the Blaze.

It’s a fine life, carrying the banner — isn’t it?

Local papers have a very specific role to the play in the media landscape. NPR argues that “accurate local news is vital to democracy.” Polls show that dailies and weeklies are still of use: “77% of consumers relied on local newspapers for community news and information, including printed copies of newspapers, newspaper websites, social media sites and newspaper apps.” And some local papers are, indeed, getting sold instead of shut down:

publisher Paddock Communications purchased five daily and seven weekly newspapers serving seven counties across southern Illinois from their previous owner, GateHouse Media. Paddock, based in Arlington Heights, already publishes a number of newspapers focused on the Chicago suburbs, including the Daily Herald, Spanish-language Reflejos, The Business Ledger, and many niche publications. …
For its part, GateHouse announced the acquisition of Fayetteville Publishing, the publisher of The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina. Intil recently [sic], it was one of the oldest independently operated newspapers in the country, with continuous publication dating back two centuries. It becomes the eleventh newspaper owned by GateHouse in North Carolina.

Of course, strength in numbers isn’t 100% reliable.

This week also saw the closing of Community Papers of Western New York, which published 21 weekly newspapers serving a total of around 250,000 households across the mostly rural region. The closing followed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last fall, and comes as one of the company’s main creditors, The Buffalo News, seeks to collect some $1.7 million in unpaid printing fees.

And, as John Oliver recently pointed out, in a segment covered by Nicole, not all buyers are benign.

Some, in fact, are quite handsy. Shel Adelson, who now owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has been transparent about interfering with editorial decisions. Mother Jones posits that he made the purchase so as “to take control of a local watchdog that has often been an irritant,” and that would be an alarming precedent to set, if it hadn’t been set already. Fewer and fewer properties of any kind have the standing and the resources to deliver objective, hard-hitting news.

In short, when even Brooklyn hipsters are wary of taking over a small, storied, and adorable media outlet in much fetishized Vermont, you know journalism is in trouble.

Hey, I have a riddle for you! What’s black and white and read all over?

Nothing, anymore.