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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) For 44 years the weekly Bay State Banner has been known as the leading journalistic voice of Boston's African-American community. But now, as the whole newspaper business struggles, it's on the brink of going out of business, and that voice goes silent next week -- maybe, forever. Banner publisher Melvin Miller said in an NECN interview Tuesday, "We've suspended publication and laid off personnel, and we're not prepared at this point to continue publication.'' Compared to a Chicago Defender, Atlanta Daily World or Baltimore Afro-American, the Banner's http://www.baystatebanner.com/ always struggled for a critical mass of readers in Boston, where blacks make up about 25 percent of the city's 600,000 population. "We're only ranked 21 as far as the size of the black population goes" among U.S. cities, Miller noted. But, Miller says the Banner's problem is all newspapers' problem: plunging ad sales, which are the only source of revenue for the free 34,000-circulation paper. "I would say it's probably primarily what's affecting the whole industry" that's led to publication suspension, Miller said. The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who runs the Ten Point Coalition http://www.bostontenpoint.org/ , Boston's leading faith-based inner-city social advocacy group, said, "The bay state banner is a key voice in the African-American community ... You get positive stories out of the Bay State Banner. You get news articles that you wouldn't normally get out of a major newspaper such as the Globe and the Herald ... The fact that it's suspending its publication is a tragedy for the community. It means one of our major voices has been silenced.'' Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said: "They were the voice of the minority community in boston. I hope that we're able to bring it back shortly ... We need to have the Bay State Banner in Boston, and i've offered my help to several individuals who are close to the situation.'' The mayor did not elaborate, and he joked: "That doesn't mean we're going to help the Globe or the Herald.'' Now, the banner has been here once before, back in April 1966, when it shut down for four weeks until the community rallied enough advertisers to get it back into business. But newspapers were a vibrant business then. And Miller, who's dipped into his own resources to sustain the Banner during other economic slowdowns, is not so up for another fight to survive. "You have to understand that as I approach my 75th birthday, I decided it was time to get some younger people who are interested in carrying on the tradition of the Banner,'' said Miller, who will reach the milestone birthday later this month. "We did have some people who were interested. But all of a sudden, when the economy began to tank, interest seemed to diminish.'' But, Miller added: "If people are really interested, they'd better act fast before my really talented staff starts to disperse.'' Howe: It would be a labor of love and no way to get rich -- but a buyer of the Banner would inherit a unique, and uniquely powerful, voice in Boston.