IT’S NO NEWS THAT THE FIRST FEW years of the 1990s haven’t been good for the newspaper industry: papers are shrinking, massive layoffs are common, and real innovation is rare. That’s why the appointment last summer of Neil Reynolds as editor of New Brunswick’s sister papers the Saint John Telegraph Journal and the Evening Times Globe attracted such attention. Reynolds, of course, is the former editor of The Kingston Whig-Standard, whose 12 years at the paper are widely regarded as the Whig’s golden era.

What made the choice of Reynolds remarkable is the ownership of the two papers. Both, along with the other two English dailies in the province, are part of the Irving publishing empire, whose papers have long had a reputation for profound mediocrity.

The ambition to change that perception came from then general manager Valerie Millen, the woman who brought Reynolds to Saint John. Millen oversaw a complete revamping of the look and content of the papers. The Canadian Press wire service, upon which they once depended, was eliminated in order to hire more editorial staff and strengthen the papers’ bureaus in Fredericton and Moncton; as a result, the Times Globe has become a predominantly community-based paper, while the stronger bureaus have allowed the Journal to become the provincial paper it has always claimed to be.

Harvey Enchin, in an article in The on Globe and Mail last November, credited Millen with fashioning an “unlikely beacon of hope for the troubled Canadian newspaper industry,” and described the papers’ transformation as “nothing short of a miracle.” But some praise should be reserved for Reynolds also. He is generating an enthusiasm previously unknown among the staff of Irving papers, adopting an independent editorial stance in relation to the Irving family of companies, and generally putting out much better papers. Less well known is that he is also attempting to duplicate the success of one of his innovations at the Whig: a weekly magazine insert that carries original articles and artwork. The Whig-Standard Magazine, which won four National Magazine A wards during its 13 years, was known for its literate style and articles on everything from opera to Afghanistan. For the moment, Reynolds’ vision for his new magazine, The New Brunswick Reader, is slightly more modest. It’s designed to be, he says, “a celebration of New Brunswick.” But in a province long poorly served by newspapers and magazines, even that goal seems ambitious.