When you’re 70-something and your day starts before dawn and the world is hushed and the coffee’s hot and you walk out your front door and — rats! — there’s not a newspaper in sight — well, your morning is pretty much shot.

That’s what the nice lady said a few years ago, when her call found its way to my newsroom phone, instead of circulation.

We talked for 10 minutes about late papers, cold coffee, disappointment and dashed hopes. After promising to notify circulation, I hung up, impressed with the significance of the local newspaper.

That was then. And then wasn’t that long ago.

Newspapers these days are threatened by the economy. Even here, has gotten smaller.

These days the number of people who care about hometown newspapers is falling fast, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which found that only 58 percent of Americans say they would miss reading their local paper if it weren’t available in print or online.

Among people who regularly read newspapers, more than half said they would not only miss their local paper, they believe its absence would hurt the civic life of the community. A lot.

They’re right, it would. Sure, there are those who seethe through their morning reads — bashing the local paper is a daily ritual for some — but does anyone truly want it gone for good?

Imagine a day without Dilbert crossword puzzles and the obituaries, one of the most read sections of this or any local newspaper.

How would we celebrate our young athletes, actors, musicians and scholars, if not in the pages of our local paper? You think the Associated Press gives a hoot about our mock trials, our band competitions, our all-area athletes? Of course not — that’s for us to care about and we do — in frames and scrapbooks and dresser drawers.

How about the Sunday paper, truly one of life’s great pleasures, with its columns and travel stories and ads? Sure, you can cherry pick your way around the Internet, but can you curl up on the couch as you Google your way around?

In a recent column on Internet influence, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts noted he was reading less and scanning more — a bad habit he’d picked up bouncing around online, he said.

He’s not the only one. It’s a habit I’ve picked up myself in recent years and, like Pitts, am trying to break by forcing myself to finish every article, magazine and book I start.

Newspapers in general deliver the news in a way that sound bites and Internet snippets don’t, providing greater depth of coverage and compelling the reader to look beyond the single story that fills the screen.

Love it or hate it, the local paper is the personality of a place and its people; a presence that aggravates, uplifts and informs.

A presence many won’t appreciate until it’s gone.

These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Reach her at 395-7474 or mshrider@bakersfieldlcom.