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Get it off your chest; put it in the paper

Here is a sure bet:

The New York Times will print the obituary of crusty old TV journalist Morley Safer.

In fact, the story is already written.

Even though Safer is still very much alive.

Big newspapers with big staffs anticipate news when they can and write advance copy to prepare for the inevitable.

Death and taxes being what they are, we know Safer will not live forever.

The Times – and hundreds of other U.S. newspapers – will be around when the time comes to chronicle his life and death.

Bet on it.

WHY IS THAT OF any importance?

Call it irony.

Safer, 81, is the longest surviving member of the cast for “60 Minutes,” a usually excellent broadcast news “magazine” of CBS.

This month, he reported a segment on newspapers, with a focus on how the New Orleans Times-Picayune (along with other former dailies owned by Advance Publications) is printing a paper only 3 days a week.

“It’s hardly news that the newspaper business is on the ropes,” Safer said during the program. “Some papers have folded completely, others have reduced the number of pages, virtually an entire industry in free fall.”

He added later: “Newspapers are dying all over the country. It’s a dying business.”

Thanks for the warning, Morley.

On which page should the Times print your obituary?

TELEVISION NEWS, no matter how good, has to be entertaining, even provocative, to get noticed in a medium that offers viewers hundreds of channels and thousands of programs to choose from.

So like prime time dramas, TV news dwells on three things: sex, celebrities and death.

You can imagine the TV ratings for reports on the deaths of sexy celebrities!

Because newspapers are not very sexy and involve few celebrities, that leaves only one angle for reporting.

Newspapers must be dying.

WHATEVER YOU DO, Morley, don’t tell our readers!

They think we’re important. They like us. They use us.

Want proof?

In 2012, this newspaper set a record for the number of letters to the editor from its readers.

With all of the options people have to express themselves – through countless online forums, social media, and other digital choices – they turn to their local newspaper’s print edition in increasing numbers to express themselves about matters important to their lives.

We think that’s pretty impressive.

DON’T THINK WE are picking on the octogenarian Safer.

We suggested the same thing last week to a 37-year-old former reporter who had been a student of ours during the editor’s days of teaching college journalism.

That ex-student might not make the obituary page of The New York Times.

But his hometown newspaper will report on his death, in print and online.

In fact, his hometown paper probably has a better chance of being in print 40 years from now than does The Times.

That’s just the economics of big vs. small newspapers that many people – including Morley Safer – don’t understand.

In any case, we wish our former student and Mr. Safer many more years of health and happiness.

WE OFFER THANKS – and congratulations – to our readers for establishing a local record for letters to the editor.

Presidential elections tend to bring out the best in reader-writers.

And last fall’s tax referendum in Lee County didn’t hurt, either.

Our letters total in 2012 was 1,282, beating the old record of 1,229 set in 2004, another presidential election year.

In case you’re wondering, third place goes to 2008, with 1,134 letters.

The record-setting pace of last year confirmed what we already knew:

Not only is this newspaper – in print and online – far and away the primary local news source for the Sauk Valley.

But it is also the clear No. 1 facilitator of debate and discussion on topics of concern to local residents.

We are pleased to serve you.

LET’S TRY TO SET another record in 2013 – quite a challenge with only local elections in April and no big national campaign gearing up for November.

But you can write about anything of interest.

We ask only that you limit the letter to 300 words; include your name, town and daytime phone number (for verification only); and not say anything that would get you and us into legal trouble.

All submissions are subject to editing for length and content. We are pretty flexible on subject matter, but are less accepting of provable falsehoods.

If you want to complain about a local business, it must involve a practice that is illegal or dangerous. If you want to complain about a rude clerk by condemning the business, take it up with the store manager.

We do make one exception for business complaints.

If you don’t like this newspaper’s news judgment – what we report and how we present it – feel free to express yourself.

We are always looking for ways to improve.

And to prove Morley Safer wrong.

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