Observer editor in chief Ken Kurson tendered his resignation on Wednesday.
Staff gathered in the Observer’s Battery Park, N.Y.-based offices around 4 p.m. to hear chairman and publisher Joseph Meyer give the news of Kurson’s departure. Sources told WWD that the editor’s resignation was unexpected and that no reason was given. There is apparently a search for an editor but no candidates were mentioned.
The move may not be that surprising. Late last year, WWD reported that Observer Media owner Jared Kushner has been trying to unload the beleaguered company before he took up his new gig advising his father-in-law President Trump.
Shortly before the meeting, Kurson sent a characteristically long-winded e-mail to staff, in which he recalled an episode of “The Larry Sanders Show” where Sanders watches Clint Black sing and realizes that “all he really cares about is the show itself.”
The somewhat esoteric reference is meant to communicate Kurson’s love of the Observer, which he refers to as a “beloved and vexing and f-up institution.”
“You understand that the reason people talk about us — like, a lot — care about what we say, break our balls, is that, even when we’re allegedly failing to live up to some ideal that was established in Arthur Carter’s town house 30 years ago, our readers and our peers want us to be great,” the editor wrote. “That’s a proud burden to carry. And I’m proud to have carried it alongside every one of you.”
Kurson said he is leaving to pursue an opportunity, which according to reports, is a senior managing director role at TENEO.
Before thanking Kushner, who bought The New York Observer — as it was then known— in 2006, Kurson went off on a tangent about some of the more colorful moments as editor.
“Yesterday I got a thousand-word letter from a city councilman complaining that his efforts to charm Will Bredderman had failed — could I get him to back off. I stood up for Will like I stand up for all of you. I remember a hundred instances like the phone call in which Anthony Wiener’s press lady screamingly threatened all of our careers if we published a scoop Colin Campbell and Jill Colvin had unearthed. Where’s that Wiener guy now? I remember Dana Schwartz telling me she had something to get off her chest about what she saw as the Republican nominee’s alarming coddling of bigots. I told her to go forward and she did and the Observer hosted one of the most profound and riveting exchanges on one of the most charged subjects of a campaign that upended all expectations. Morgan was threatened by a British footballer and Sage got into it over something called KittenFeed and on and on. We broke tons of news, alerted the world to worthy artists. We spotted design trends and got behind creators we admire. We’ve done good work.”
Such circuitous stories are peppered throughout Kurson’s letter. He finally goes on to thank Kushner, writing: “I want to thank Jared Kushner for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s never received the credit he deserves for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the cultural fabric of our city. People can snark it up all they like — they certainly will — but at the end of the day, this guy spent a ton of money and mostly let us do what we thought was best. The Observer wouldn’t exist were it not for the willingness, amid a torrent of unfair criticism and nasty bulls–t, of the Kushner Family to cut those checks. They didn’t have to do that. There were plenty of times when lesser people would have thrown in the towel. Charlie and Seryl Kushner are among the finest people I have ever known, and the fact that they funded this enterprise, even when the real estate business faced its darkest hour, and did so without ever seeking praise or recognition of any kind, taught me as much about journalism — about life — as anything I’ve witnessed. Finally, I want to thank our ceo Joseph Meyer for his professionalism and vision and his constant focus on the path forward, sometimes in the face of my Kinksian obsession with the past. He’s a strong leader and has big plans for Observer’s future.”
(For those well-versed in Observer history, Meyer, Jared’s brother-in-law, is actually supposed to hold the title of chairman and publisher, not ceo. That change happened when Kushner said he would transfer the Observer interest to a family trust shortly after he became a member of the Trump administration.)
Kurson, who took the helm as editor in chief in 2013, signed off his letter, maintaining that The Observer is “on strong footing.”