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Editor's note: The RJI article "Need for speed 1: Newspaper load times give 'slow news day' new meaning" cited in this CJR article was written by 2015-2016 RJI Fellow Barrett Golding

For more than 20 years, local news organizations around the globe have been trying to make a go of it in the new digital economy. And most, as we read day after day, are still struggling. Layoffs are constant, bankruptcies common, and storied local brands face uncertain futures. This has fueled low morale and heightened cynicism in many local newsrooms. In fact, when the subject turns to local news, we’re more likely to hear what isn’t possible than what is. Local can’t scale, critics say. Local sites can’t build large enough audiences to generate meaningful revenue. Local advertisers don’t get digital. Many think the local news opportunity is too small to be worth much effort.

But this is no time for surrender. As someone who has spent most of the past 20 years working in local digital news—the last two running Billy Penn, a mobile news site in Philadelphia—I say now is the time to refocus on what local can do instead of what it can’t, and to build a new ecosystem on that foundation. Now is the time to take advantage of what makes local unique instead of trying to follow the footsteps of a national business model that will never work for local. Now is the time for a local digital news revolution.

For revolution to happen, it’s going to take a major shift in how local journalists think and operate. Too many local news organizations—both legacies and startups—likely are already doomed by a business model that is simultaneously keeping them alive and dragging them under. As Walt Kelly said: We have met the enemy, and it is us.

It’s not as if media’s economic problem hasn’t been staring us in the face for the past decade. In 2005, according to the Newspaper Association of America, US newspapers generated $47.4 billion in print revenue. That number has dropped every year since, and, in many, precipitously. By 2014, US print revenue had declined to $16.4 billion, marking a 66 percent drop over nine years. In that same time period, digital revenue for US newspapers increased only from $2 billion to $3.5 billion.

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