Are things changing at the New Jersey Herald?

The newspaper of record for northwest New Jersey is the Herald. As such, it was the first newspaper I knew, the first read and the first I learned to criticize. But things may be changing.

The New Jersey Herald, now active six days a week, has published continuously since 1829. It is like many small, rural newspapers. With small communities, investigation is sometimes rare. Might Publisher Bruce Tomlinson and Editor Chris Frear avoid criticizing potential advertising streams when their coverage area is less than 150,000 people and their circulation is less than 15,000? Of course, but they’ve made a series of changes in recent years – like dropping their old God awful masthead seen above – and I’ve seen more of late.

The Wednesday Sept. 17, 2008 front cover of the N.J. Herald. Click to enlarge.

I know neither personally, have never been in the newsroom, nor have I written or reported for the daily – though I do know some who have. Still, I have little interest in speculating. What I can say is that in the recent years of my professional development, as I have come to better understand the great gray ladies of the country, I have recognized some of the Herald’s writing to be flat, reporting lacking and their design and graphics uninspired. Of course, these are criticisms common for all newspapers, particularly ones with few dollars.

(I will note that for years I have recognized the Tom Howell Jr. byline as a respectable one on staff, though.)

All the bad of the past, I am happy to report that I have noticed some bold design choices of late. Look at yesterday’s front cover to the right.

They also had a recent redo of their Web site, much improved, though it still is far behind. There is no search field and their archives are largely closed – their presence a small one online, although I did recently find a largely inactive photography blog.

I don’t know what the changes are. I have to think they’ve gotten a new designer – though the paper has no masthead, nor an online list of staffers and I can’t imagine many others are following, have yet noticed or care to do so. So I can’t confirm that, beyond a cold call or an e-mail.

I have also seen some great recent photos, many by Daniel Freel, who joined the Herald in January 2008 from Penn State University. He worked for the Daily Collegian, a solid college newspaper for which I know some other staffers. I’ll have to check in on him.

Just thought it was interesting to see a fresh change at a sub-20,000 circ paper. The paper has been steadily owned by Quincy Newspapers in Illinois for about as long as I have been alive, and the leadership hasn’t changed as far as I know.

Anyone know what’s up or have any thoughts?