Small Town Newspapers

I spent an afternoon this week at the Lisbon Historical Society, reading through newspaper accounts about the town. I’m trying to nail down some events from the 1970s and 1980s. Reading back through the clips, I noticed a place that was considerably different than most of what I remembered at the time, when I was coming up.

Back in 2007, the year before writing Moxietown, my initial plan was to write an extensive nonfiction treatment on my hometown of Lisbon Falls. I just found the original outline of the proposed chapters. Some of that book ended up being folded into my first book of history about Moxie, which then led to a second one. There are no plans for a third.

My extended treatment about Lisbon Falls got pushed to the back burner. There are many aspects of life lived in Lisbon Falls that I’ve never been able to publish. Most of them are essays and they’ll make up parts of Seven: Essays and Stories, Vol. I; the plan is to put out two additional volumes. The first one will detail my experiences growing up in a small Maine town, one that was surprisingly vibrant, especially during the mid-to-late 1980s, according to accounts from the Times-Record, Lewiston Morning Sun, and the Lisbon Post Enterprise.

One of my essays will be about John Gould, the venerable writer who lived in Lisbon Falls for many years before moving to Friendship. John was also a newspaperman, predating Norm Fournier, the longtime local editor of the Lisbon Post and later, The Lisbon Post Enterprise. A little history tidbit; Stephen King worked for Gould at The Lisbon Enterprise, when King was still walking the halls of Lisbon High School.

I interviewed Fournier in 2007. It was an intriguing interview, recorded in his newspaper office on Union Street. The longtime editor was in fine form that Saturday in February. We talked about a variety of topics; his newspapers, John Gould, local politics, and the “mistakes” we make in our lives. I’m glad I still have the tape.

My ongoing love of local newspapers is likely rooted in growing up with a publication like the Lisbon Post. Every week, I’d make sure to grab the paper as soon as it was delivered, mainly to read about my exploits as a Little Leaguer playing for my team sponsored by The Trading Post.

I asked Fournier about his coming to Lisbon Falls (his run with the local paper began in 1970), after reporting for the Portland Press Herald in the 1960s, including the political wrangling at Lewiston City Hall. He actually began covering news in Lisbon during one of his first newspaper beats for The Weekly News, after college and a stint in the Air Force. This was yet another local newspaper featuring all the news fit to print about Lisbon proper.

When Fournier returned to Lisbon Falls in 1970, where he’d spend the rest of his life, it was to start his own printing and publishing business. He began publishing The Post and then later, The Post Enterprise, which he kept until he retired.

When I asked him about his life and whether he had any regrets, he said, “You make mistakes in retrospect, when you look back on it; at the time, it seemed right.”

He also added, “I’ve had a good stay here; I’ve enjoyed myself.”

Norm passed away in 2012.

When I read some of the speculative twaddle being bandied about concerning Lisbon, mainly coming from one source, I realize that the town could use another principled newspaperman, like a John Gould, or a Norm Fournier.

Office of The Lisbon Enterprise. Stephen King worked for the newspaper while in high school; his editor was John Gould. (Maine Memory Network)

Office of The Lisbon Enterprise. Stephen King worked for the newspaper while in high school; his editor was John Gould. (Maine Memory Network)

2 thoughts on “Small Town Newspapers

  1. Ha! You’re hired. It would be a tough go to revive a print paper in this changing world, though there are some local success storyies like the Coastal Journal.

    I was fortunate as a boy to know John, spent a winter’s day at his sugar camp with him and his grandson. Later interviewed him for for a HS history project, shiver to think what inane questions I might have asked him. Enjoyed the consecutive reading of three books, each giving the history of his farm and his grandfather Jacob from the perspective of different writers.:The Fields of Home, by Ralph Moody, Making of a Maine Man, by Franklin Gould, The House that Jacob Built, by John Gould.

  2. Lee,

    I’ve often fantasized about what it would be like running a small town newspaper, ala Norm Fournier or John Gould. I like the idea of framing the debate and offering readers a path forward each week, much like both of these men were able to do.

    Of course, your point about the viability of print in our current age, which has shifted over to digital makes owning, let alone, starting a paper, a losing proposition. Then again, there are local weeklies, like The Forecaster and The Coastal Journal. My friend, Bruce Hardina, has done a great job with that latter publication.

    I stumbled upon Gould’s very first book about the New England town meeting. It was a fascinating look back at four local town meetings in the area. He was an interesting writer, a name that we were familiar with growing up, and yet, he seems to have been forgotten as an important Maine writer.

    There seems to be an interest in small towns again, if not a revival, at the moment. Who knows what would happen if our focus shifted back to our local communities and we began turning away from our non-sustainable, big-box way of doing things? That kind of place might welcome a community newspaper similar to the Lisbon Post, again.

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