HARDWICK — Kim and Ray Small, the owners of the Hardwick Gazette, have been working on a transition plan to put the paper on a sustainable financial footing. Though the challenge is considerable, they also hope that the Gazette can re-start its printed version, albeit under a different ownership structure.
The Gazette does business under a private, for-profit corporation, Hardwick Journalism, Inc.. Small, weekly, commercial newspapers have been struggling throughout the United States for several decades. A December 2021 article in Poynter.org notes that, since 2004, 1,800 newspapers have closed in the US. Of those, 1,700 were weeklies (poynter.org/locally/2021/the-coronavirus-has-closed-more-than-100-local-newsrooms-across-america-and-counting/).
The Gazette is not immune to the market forces driving these changes: decreasing advertising revenues and increasing costs. Still, the Gazette has a loyal readership in Hardwick and surrounding towns and the business was slowly clawing its way back to breaking even. Then COVID hit. Ad revenues dropped by 90 percent and printing costs rose, fueled in part by a federal tariff on newsprint imported from Canada.
As a result, the Gazette had to stop [Editor’s Note: hopefully, only pause] its printed version and publish only in digital format.
The writing was on the wall: the Gazette could not survive as a commercial, for-profit company. So, Kim and Ray have been working to transition the company to non-profit status. A committee has been working to apply to the IRS for 501(c)3 designation, one of several types of nonprofits allowed under the federal tax code.
The committee consists of Kim and Ray Small, Elizabeth ‘Wiz’ Dow (Hardwick), Dave Kelley (Greensboro), Jim Flint (Rutland, formerly of Craftsbury) and Scott Gelband (Seattle, Wash.). Scott ran a successful nonprofit for 12 years and was instrumental in encouraging Ray to take the helm of the Gazette more than five years ago. Several of these committee members will serve on the nonprofit’s initial board of directors.
The new company will be called the Friends of the Hardwick Gazette. As part of the transition, the Smalls will turn all of Hardwick Journalism’s assets over to the Friends of the Hardwick Gazette, after which the company will be run by the board. Ray will continue to serve as the paper’s editor and perhaps serve as executive director of the non-profit organization, according to the wishes of the board.
The committee held its first meeting, by Zoom, on April 8. Flint, who has helped create several nonprofits in Vermont, has guided the committee through the initial steps. Thinking in the language used by public broadcasting, the committee discussed how today’s “subscribers” could become known as “donors” to the nonprofit; “advertisers” would become “sponsors.” The committee also expects it will apply for grants it may qualify for.
At its second meeting, on June 3, Kelly and Gelband, both of whom have had careers as lawyers, led the committee’s discussion of the creation of the Articles of Association and By-laws which will guide The Friends of the Hardwick Gazette.
The committee is now moving forward with the nonprofit application and finalizing an operating plan for when the transition is complete.
The Gazette will publish updates as the committee reaches new milestones. If you have questions, comments, suggestions or want to help out in this effort, please send an email to email@example.com.