The future of newspapers is very much in doubt. A Jan. 17 Associated Press story in this newspaper was deeply concerning. Here’s part of that story.

“Newspaper circulation is down sharply, and so is employment in the newspaper industry…

“The statistics are numbing: U.S. weekday newspaper circulation is down from 122 million to 73 million in 15 years. The number of working newspaper journalists has been cut in half since 2004. Nearly 1,800 daily and weekly newspapers have been lost in the same period, down to a little more than 7,000.”

That report was very pertinent to what’s happening in Maine. The number of Maine reporters has diminished significantly and the number of subscribers has plummeted.

Last year I attended a senior forum at University of Maine at Augusta which included a panel talking about the future of newspapers. Mal Leary of Maine Public Radio told us that when he started working at the State House there were 34 full-time reporters there. Today there’s just a handful.

Most everybody in the audience was 50 or older, and when they asked us how many receive a daily newspaper most hands went up. But when they asked us how many of our kids get newspapers, almost no hands went up. Our three kids don’t get a newspaper; they read all their news online.

I’ve been reading the Kennebec Journal every day since I was a kid. My morning is ruined if the KJ isn’t in our box out by the road.

I do think we are fortunate that Reade Brower has purchased so many Maine daily and weekly newspapers. This actually gives us access to more reporters and stories. For example, in the KJ we now get stories written by reporters at the Lewiston Sun Journal.

It does trouble me that our newspapers today are full of Donald Trump and other national news, rather than the Maine stories that I want to read. I always enjoy the local columns and stories by reporters such as Amy Calder and Doug Harlow. Thank goodness we still have them and those.

I’ve written before about my disappointment that no one these days writes about hunting and fishing for our newspapers. My hero and inspiration was Gene Letourneau, who wrote about hunting and fishing every day for 50 years in central and southern Maine newspapers. Hundreds of thousands of us hunt and fish, but there seems to be no recognition of this in our daily newspapers.

I also remember when every community had a local person who wrote a column about the good things happening in their town. Those columns are long gone. Well, not entirely, because The Quoddy Tides down in Washington County still has those columns.

The last two paragraphs of the Associated Press story said it all. The challenge for the news business is convincing the public — many of whom aren’t particularly enamored with journalists anyway — that this loss hurts them, too, in terms of how connected they are to their communities when there is less opportunity to know what’s going on. We are really at a tipping point now. Can we revitalize the news industry?

My solution would be to refocus the papers on what’s happening in our communities and our state. One great new initiative is this newspaper’s invitation to us to write stories about a monthly topic for the Meetinghouse project. All the stories are posted online and some of them printed in the newspaper. Those stories are wonderful and many are inspiring. I really look forward to them every month.

The question is, can we revitalize the news industry? I’m afraid the answer is no. In the future all our news will be delivered online. I’ll have to be careful not to spill my morning  coffee on my computer.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at georgesmithmaine.com.

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