Bill Ostendorf has lived and breathed local newspapers since starting his career as a journalist. In 1984 he began a freelance business training other newsrooms on the side. A couple decades later Bill turned his attention to Creative Circle full-time, leaving his managing editor job at The Providence Journal to improve the look and quality of hundreds of local newspapers through print redesigns.
Today Creative Circle Media Solutions offers a full range of software, from a web CMS and paywall to content tools and an ad server. They host more than 400 web sites, mostly locally or family owned community newspapers.
With the shared mission of building sustainable models of local journalism, Stacker started working with Creative Circle this past August. Their network of newspapers now has access to Stacker’s data-driven, localized newswire. We asked president and founder Bill Ostendorf to reflect on what’s working for local publishers and what’s in store for 2023.
Read on to see how Stacker helped Creative Circle generate an 88% increase in page views in just a few months.
How does Stacker complement your efforts?
During the pandemic, we commissioned a national poll to find out how readers’ lives were changing and what they wanted from their local newspapers. Readers were home and wanted features about home improvement, cooking, education, health, gardening, work and more. Since we knew local publishers wouldn’t be adding staff to create that content, we launched a series of online features in 2021 that we call “Premium Pages” to provide these kinds of relevant features to local newspaper clients. We sought out sources of quality local news features and connected with Stacker and added Stacker’s high quality coverage to our package.
We have about a dozen content providers and plan to add more in the coming months.
How has Stacker helped local publishers in your network?
Publishers like our Premium Page content because it is organized into attractive, topic-themed web pages delivered right to their sites. It’s a finished product and requires no editing.
Our software allows them to add relevant local content or advertising to any page. Content can stand on its own or supplement their food or home improvement pages, adding depth and bulk to their coverage. Publishers can also monetize the pages by selling local sponsorships or general advertising to the pages.
That is really why we got into this project in the first place. We want to generate revenue for local newspapers to help them survive because they are an essential part of our economy and freedoms.
Premium Pages’ audience has been growing since its launch, but the addition of Stacker significantly jumped the readership of those pages. Premium Pages generated about 137,000 page views in October, our first full month with Stacker content, compared to 72,441 in August, our last full month without Stacker’s feed.
Stacker helped generate an 88% increase in page views for Premium Pages in the first 60 days since we added Stacker content.
In November, nine of the top ten stories on Premium Pages were Stacker stories, topped by “The top 100 TV shows of all time” with 2,695 views.
What’s ahead for Creative Circle?
Creative Circle has been growing annually at a 25% clip through the pandemic. Because traffic surged during COVID, local newspapers realized they needed a more flexible web site and flocked to Creative Circle to upgrade their sites. Created by a team of designers, our user interfaces are user-friendly and content-driven.
We increased the number of topic pages in our Premium Page from 8 topics to 22 in the past year. We now deliver 1,200 stories at any given time, so we’ve become a pretty strong feature wire service for news sites. The pages are generating new traffic and revenue for newspapers – virtually all of which are locally owned.
Do you have any predictions for the future of local news?
We helped save two local papers in South Dakota during the pandemic using a concept similar to a volunteer fire department. A tax-funded entity provided the infrastructure for the papers while trained volunteers led by a single paid professional journalist provided staffing. That’s a model that any small community could replicate. Creative Circle set up the infrastructure (site and new print design and strategy), provided outsourcing and trained the staff. We continue to provide support.
We’ve also helped local communities transition more than 30 newspapers from chain to local ownership in the past few years. That’s a difficult process that requires the local community to resurrect a reasonable resource level to make a paper viable.
The industry made horrible decisions, especially during and after the 2008 recession. Newspapers were too slow to build their digital platforms, too quick to abandon print products and didn’t innovate their content, paywalls, distribution or pricing.
Starting around 2010, Creative Circle refocused all its efforts on the remaining family and locally owned newspapers. These papers didn’t gut their staff during the recession and tried to find long-term answers. We need to return more newspapers to people who care about the depth and quality of local news coverage. Creative Circle is committed to doing everything it can to make that happen.
What are you most looking forward to with our continued partnership?
We’re thrilled with our partnership with Stacker. The quality content Stacker creates is helping our hundreds of local newspapers grow their readership and revenue. With the help of Stacker’s content, we hope to significantly increase the number of newspapers using our Premium Pages.
We look forward to providing Stacker with more readership and reach in local markets we serve which have engaged and curious readers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Find out more about Creative Circle here.