“We have helped or are in the process of helping local owners take back ownership of local media outlets in 14 communities so far this year. Most were purchased from Gannett but we’re involved with local conversions from other large groups as well,” said Bill Ostendorf, president and founder of Creative Circle. “We’re in a unique position to help with these transitions because we can provide a wide range of services these new local owners need.”
The company is also helping re-launch local papers that have folded, assisting entrepreneurs launching new media outlets and helping local publishers stay in business during the pandemic.
“I’m really excited about the work we’re doing because I feel strongly that local media needs to be owned locally whenever possible,” said Ostendorf. “I think local ownership is critical for local media if these papers have any hope of survival in any meaningful way.”
Creative Circle's Ostendorf provides consulting advice, training, temporary staffing and outsourcing services as well as print and web software and hosting solutions.
New owners have to set up systems for the production of classifieds, paywalls and print circulation, e-editions, a new website and editorial production software, which are typically centralized in larger groups.
“It’s a lot to deal with in a short time, but Creative Circle can provide much of what they need. We can turn the whole process around in 30 days and provide outsourcing and recruiting help as well,” said Ostendorf.
"When you leave Gannett, another issue is that you’ve got to create a new design for the paper, including InDesign templates, libraries and style sheets. Gannett doesn’t give you those and their fonts are proprietary, so you have to have at least a modified design to move to,” said Ostendorf, who has led the redesign of more than 700 print publications. “And you might want to signal the change with a complete redesign.”
This month, Creative Circle is helping the Pittsburg (Kansas) Morning Star make the transition from Gannett to a local ownership group, led by Larry Hiatt, who also publishes the Columbus (Kansas) News-Report.
While Hiatt assembles his new team in Pittsburg, Creative Circle is producing the five-day daily out of its offices in Providence. Creative Circle provided new InDesign templates and design elements. Working with the team in Pittsburg where most content is written, Creative Circle is overseeing wire content, design, photo editing and production — sending finished pages directly to the printer.
“Larry wanted to carry over the design of the existing paper in an effort not to disrupt readers, so we largely chose fonts that mimicked what the paper looked like before,” said Ostendorf. The new ownership added some features and comics and Creative Circle made some of the typography larger and easier to read. “Otherwise, the paper looks and feels very familiar."
Creative Circle has already produced several issues. Later this month, the Creative Circle team will hand production back to the team in Pittsburg and provide them with training, feedback and ongoing support. A new website and editorial production system from Creative Circle will follow, giving local editors lots of control and flexibility for both print and digital publishing.
“These takeovers are somewhat the same as starting a newspaper from scratch — very stressful,” said Hiatt. "Bill and his crew take each disaster in stride and calm the waters while taking the load off everyone else.”
Meanwhile, in Missouri, Creative Circle will soon launch a new website for the Moberly Monitor-Index, which was purchased from Gannett by Westplex Media Group, owned by Tim Schmidt. Westplex owns three other Missouri weeklies that recently switched to Creative Circle’s web platforms.
“Archives are a critical piece of history for any local paper and moving the archives from Gannett’s systems — and sometimes pieces from old GateHouse platforms as well — can be complicated,” said Ostendorf. “But we’ve handled many of these transitions and have experts who specialize in database conversions. We’ve worked with a couple publishers who had previously been told by their vendors that it wasn’t possible to move Gannett’s archives to their new sites. No one should accept that kind of response. Those archives are essential.”
Creative Circle also moved four Gannett papers in the Florida panhandle to its publishing systems for Neves Media Publishing. In that case, Creative Circle created a new print design for the papers. Creative Circle produced the first issues before transitioning them back to the local team. All four papers' websites are hosted by Creative Circle and the print papers are produced with Creative Circle’s newsroomQ print CMS.
Earlier this year, Creative Circle moved The Inquirer and Mirror (https://www.ack.net) from Gannett’s web platforms to the Creative Circle web CMS when local leaders on Nantucket Island purchased the paper.
And when Hicks Media wanted to resurrect a newspaper that folded several years ago, they turned to Creative Circle for a new brand that still harkened back to the paper’s history. Creative Circle will build a new website for the paper along with creating new websites for all of Hicks’ properties, which are moving to the Creative Circle CMS.
“Our focus on converting chain papers to local ownership began when we helped the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, move from Media News to local ownership several years ago,” said Ostendorf. “We redesigned the paper, led some staff training and helped them with training, consulting and software.
“While we have led projects for some of the largest media companies in the country, including the Chicago Tribune, NBC, McClatchy and Dow Jones, we’re now entirely focused on community and family owned newspapers,” said Ostendorf. “We need to save local and community newspapers and everyone at Creative Circle is committed to that.”
Connect with Bill Ostendorf at email@example.com.