Taos News redesigns, switches to five column ad format with Creative Circle

<RRIGHT: ?= $photos[1]['photo_caption'] ?>

The Taos News switch to a five-column format as part of a print redesign with Creative Circle.

"The Taos News is one of the best weekly papers in the United States," said Bill Ostendorf, president and founder of Creative Circle Media Solutions. "But their owner, Robin Martin, knew they could be even better and asked us to help them take their work up a notch."

Key elements of the redesign were to improve their headlines, introduce alternative story forms, make content more relevant to readers, improve the layout and organization of the paper and make better use of their staff photographer (yes, they still have a staff photographer, and a good one). We also worked on better planning and handling of deadlines.

But one of the biggest and most obvious changes was a switch to a five-column grid for both news and advertising.

"Every standard-sized broadsheet newspaper should be on a five-column grid," says Ostendorf. "As papers have gone to a narrower page, their column widths have become too narrow, dramatically slowing reading speed. We have 100 years of research that proves that a 14-18 pica width is ideal for reading speed and most papers today have narrow columns of text that is between 9 and 10 picas wide."

Those narrow columns reduce reading speed dramatically because people read in phrases: "She went / to the store / to buy milk / for the cat / she found on her porch."

"But when columns of text are too narrow, you can't group words together. You have to read one or two words at a time," explains Ostendorf. "This can slow reading time by as much as 60%. And that means if I spend 10 minutes with the paper, I might read two less stories. Over time, that can be the difference between keeping the paper or canceling."

"It's so dumb and another example of newspapers just killing themselves by ignoring the basics. And even most papers who look at the issue are just too lazy or scared to make the switch," said Ostendorf. "They think it is so much work to remake all their ads so they just continue to ruin their readership. It's insane."

While Creative Circle is primarily a digital and software company now, providing a range of web software and hosting hundreds of media web sites, Ostendorf is still a back to basics sort of guy and believes that is the real answer for the future of newspapers, in print and online.

"Papers are out there worrying about podcasts, video and social media, yet they create dull headlines, invest nothing in photography, write stories that don't connect with readers and use narrow columns of text in print that dramatically reduce how fast and how much readers will read," said Ostendorf. "It's just brain dead stupid."

"If you can't get the content right, nothing else matters," he said. "Dull papers lead to dull web sites, dull video and dull social posts. If you aren't interesting, you're dead."

"Switching to five columns is a no brainer," said Ostendorf. "That and modular ad layout alone can significantly increase readership of print. Add a push for better content, headlines and visuals and the impact on print readership can be dramatic – across print, web, social media and multi-media.."