As newspaper editors, sometimes we may be so focused on the stories we write and how to present them that we fail to see the larger impact our work has.

Last week, the folks at the Capitol Area Regional Planning Commission reminded me of a greater role newspapers play in our lives.

CARPC has embarked on a sort of digital clipping service, collecting newspaper articles on new development, land-use and transportation plans for a map to provide an overview of the area’s region. The online map can be found at Tinyurl.com/CARPC-News and features icons, each a link to a news story. The viewer can click on the icon and read the article.

The Tribune’s story, “HyVee plan moves forward,” was one for the Waunakee area; another was “Westbridge plan raises flood, wetland concerns.”

These were just two of more than a dozen newspaper articles collected for the regional map which will soon be updated weekly.

As I explored CARPC’s new feature, I felt proud to be part of this region’s community newspapers and our work to inform our communities. I felt proud our work could provide an important resource that informs regional planners.

And thanks to CARPC, one map aggregates articles about these projects with language that’s easier for many readers to understand than government documents often are.

This region is fortunate to have newspapers dedicated to covering the news in their local communities during a time of declining advertising revenues. Other newspapers across the United States have closed, leaving those communities with no trusted news sources.

Often people are surprised to learn how this has come about. The first blow, as I’ve learned, was Craigslist, which offered consumers and businesses free classified ads, eliminating a major source of newspaper revenues.

When I first moved to Wisconsin 24 years ago and was looking for work, the State Journal’s Sunday classified ads were printed in two sizable sections. That’s far from the case now.

Now social media is achieving the same end Craigslist did. For far less, businesses are creating their own Facebook pages, opting against newspaper ads.

All the while, journalists continue to cover those businesses’ successes when they expand and report on new companies when they open. Journalists understand the companies, stores and shops are integral to their communities, yet somehow, the same regard is not held for newspapers.

As traditional revenue streams have evaporated, unfortunately, so have a number of local news outlets in some areas. Local governments in those communities have no dedicated watchdogs covering their meetings or partners to help inform the public. And the prospect of creating regional news feature maps for those areas is gone. Without newspapers in those regions, a map like CARPC’s would be empty.

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