Kiss the six-column grid goodbye

Sumter paper launches redesign


Jane Nicholes

The Item in Sumter, S.C., has a new look today – along with a new name, new logo and new ad sizes.

The Tuesday-Sunday daily serving three counties will now be known as The Sumter Item. The other big change in the redesign is a switch from the traditional six-column grid to a five-column grid for ads and editorial. The Sumter Item is among the first newspapers in the country to make that switch, said Publisher Jack Osteen.

The goal was to make the newspaper easier to read, he said.

The Item's front page before the redesign.

As newspaper web widths have shrunk to accommodate presses and save money, the industry standard of six columns to a page has made page design increasingly difficult. A six-column grid makes for terribly skinny columns if the configuration forces a page designer to lay out stories that way.

While The Sumter Item isn't changing size, a need to raise the single-copy sales price from 50 cents to 75 cents prompted a re-examination of more than the design, Osteen said. The family-owned paper, with 14,500 Sunday circulation and 13,900 Tuesday-Saturday, needed to offer readers something new.

"We said it's time, really for a complete look at our news print product and how we do things and how we lay it out," he said. "So that's when we got into looking at column widths. We wanted to make a more reader-friendly paper."

Today's smart-phone equipped reader, Osteen said, is probably not sitting down at the end of the day to read a newspaper cover to cover. "At one time, they're doing a lot of different things these days. So you've got to have a paper that, in my opinion, the home subscriber or single-copy buyer can get, and quickly look at, and get the things you want out of it."

Two prototypes of the new design – from Creative Circle Media Solutions.

Bill Ostendorf led a team from Creative Circle Media Solutions in the redesign. Ostendorf is founder and CEO of the consulting, training and software firm. The same company was involved in redesigning SNPA's website.

"This is much more than just a print redesign," Ostendorf said. "Today's redesign is roughly the halfway point of a year-long, comprehensive rethinking of The Item's strategy. It includes a review of personnel, staffing, branding, ad rates, compensation, workflows, vendors and more.

Day 1 of the new design
"Creative Circle led a series of staff-wide training to re-energize the newsroom and to change the culture of coverage and approach to content. We launched completely new advertising concepts, like targeted text ads. We're introducing a new concept for Page One advertising. We redid ad circulation rates to improve revenue. We blew up the rate card. And they are rethinking the circulation department."

In a Sunday column, Editor-At-Large Graham Osteen wrote that research has shown reading wider columns of text is easier and faster. "This also means bigger ads throughout the paper with more room for bigger photos and headlines," he wrote. "The biggest factor in ad effectiveness is size: The bigger the ad, the higher the readership and response. Bigger headlines and photos also drive more readership."

Two new nameplates have been designed to make page layouts more flexible. One is a "patch" or square logo that can be used to create a vertical layout. The other is a more traditional horizontal nameplate that works well with horizontal photos and packages, Ostendorf said.

"The use of two nameplates helps energize Page One layout and will improve marketing and newsstand sales," he said. "The use of both vertical and horizontal approaches on Page One multiplies the way the newsroom can present news stories and photos and the new brand is stronger and bolder and more flexible. It will also work better on a variety of print and digital products."

View four-page rate card

For advertisers, the rate card has been made clearer. It includes five groups of ad sizes: Dominance, Identity, Impression, Premium A-1 and Awareness. Dominance ranges from a full page to a half-page vertical, while Premium A-1 is essentially a refer from Page One to larger ads inside. Jack Osteen said column-inch rates and revenue contracts have been eliminated.

Another key change will put every print ad online. (A redesign of the website,, is in the works.)

"Every print ad will be online in some way, shape or form," the publisher said. It will be part of our online directory. That's kind of an added value."

Other changes include an increase since the beginning of this year of three full-time equivalents in the newsroom, and the reassignment of a 40-year employee from classified and real estate ad duties to single-copy manager. Osteen said the new position will focus on issues such as where papers need to be placed and keeping racks full.

While the single-copy price of the daily paper will go up from 50 to 75 cents on Feb. 1, the Sunday price of $1.50 will stay the same. On March 1, the home delivery rate goes from $13.75 to $15.75.

"We're only about halfway through this process but the changes in how the company thinks and behaves have been dramatic," Ostendorf said. "The staff still has to learn how to make the most of their new design and we have a classified redesign, more new targeted text ad categories and a complete rethinking of their digital strategy to come."

For more information, contact Sumter Item Publisher Jack Osteen or Bill Ostendorf, CEO of Creative Circle Media Solutions. Osteen can be reached at (803) 774-1238, or send email to Ostendorf can be reached at (401) 316-3333, or send email to

Jane Nicholes is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala., and a former editorial writer for the Press-Register in Mobile. Email her at

Sumter, Osteen, Creative Circle Media Solutions, Ostendorf, website, design
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