OBSERVER EDITOR LEAVING: Peter Kaplan, the editor in chief of the New York Observer for the past 15 years, said Wednesday he will step down June 1. He departs as speculation swirled Wednesday that Observer owner Jared Kushner is looking to get rid of the money-losing weekly, per a report on Gawker.com that said he approached the Huffington Post and Politico about buying or merging with the paper.
Kaplan, 55, denied that. “He [Kushner] is a guy who has complete commitment to this newspaper, and I honor and respect him for that,” Kaplan told WWD. According to Kushner, the duo decided a month ago that Kaplan would step down, and have started searching for a replacement.
This story first appeared in the April 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The editor explained his reason for leaving as simply that he wanted “a life.” “Editing a weekly newspaper and a daily Web site is consuming enough so that if you want to think about abstract or new models, it becomes impossible. I made up my mind that I wanted to see if I could squeeze out another act in my career,” Kaplan said.
Though Kaplan said he was quitting to spend more time with his family and think of a new model for journalism, two sources close to the editor said he was instead likely to be landing in the number-two slot at Condé Nast Traveler, a position which was recently vacated by Ted Moncreiff.
Further, sources close to Kaplan said his departure was not as diplomatic as it seems. Kushner, then a fresh-faced 25-year-old with no journalism experience, bought the paper just over two years ago from Arthur Carter. The paper made major changes under Kushner’s ownership, including altering the paper’s format from a broadsheet to a tabloid and beefing up the real estate coverage. Longer features seemed to suffer some as reporters were under pressure to break news online. Early on, observers believed Kaplan’s exit would follow quickly given his private frustrations with his young new boss. “The relationship with Carter was better. With Jared, Peter was sort of like his seeing eye dog,” said one source close to Kaplan. “I saw them at a book party and Peter was taking him around introducing him, and I don’t think he knew half the people Peter was introducing him to.” Kaplan denied there was any friction between him and Kushner.
During Kaplan’s 15 years at the helm, a slew of talented journalists have come through the doors of the Observer, including Candace Bushnell, whose “Sex and the City” franchise began as a column at the paper; former New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski; current Times film editor Lorne Manly; New Yorker contributor Nick Paumgarten, and prominent Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke.
The change at the top comes as the weekly has become even more cash strapped. Recently, staffers making a certain amount on the editorial side had their pay slashed five percent, and the paper laid off employees in the accounting and payroll departments in recent weeks, according to sources.
Such financial pressures on the paper have led many to speculate Kushner is either shopping the paper or seeking partnerships. Kushner denied the paper was for sale. As for talks with Huffington Post and Politico, Kushner said he had talks with both, as well as “about 40” different Web properties, but stressed those conversations were to discuss Web partnerships to share content. “None of them ever involved cash,” he said. Sources said talks with the Huffington Post went nowhere and have ended.
— Stephanie D. Smith and Jacob Bernstein
BUT ARE THEY LOOKING AT THE ADS?: Time spent on social networking and video sites has grown dramatically during the past few years, according to a new report from the Nielsen Company. The report found that during the last year alone, time spent on sites such as Facebook surged 73 percent. And in February, social network usage exceeded e-mail for the first time. There have been 87 percent more online social media users than in 2003, with 883 percent more time devoted to those sites. Time spent on video sites has also shot up almost 2,000 percent since 2003 and the number of Americans frequenting online video destinations has increased 339 percent during the past six years. Unique viewers of online video rose 10 percent during the last year, the number of streams grew 41 percent and the total minutes spent with online video increased 71 percent.
— Amy Wicks
BLEAK HOUSE: To anyone worried about a future in the media business, Atlantic columnist and reality TV savant Michael Hirschorn summed up the predicament rather brutally: “If you’re Seymour Hersh, you’re fine. If you’re writing captions for Glamour, you’re not.”
Hirschorn’s argument, made at an Atlantic dinner Tuesday evening, was that quality investigative reporting would find a way to be paid for, even as the institutions that have traditionally supported it unravel. But Hirschorn’s interlocutor, the magazine’s blogger and writer Andrew Sullivan, was reluctant to say media companies should start charging for content. “It would mean a dramatic shrinkage in your readership,” he said. “Today, there’s no barrier of entry to being a media entity, and the ‘authorita’ of existing institutions is hanging in the air. Everybody is suddenly their equal, and there’s too much competition to suddenly draw lines around content. The revolution is too big.”
As for original reporting, he said, it would be more “direct”: “testimony from people already there, raw data already available.” He noted that key findings in the torture memos released by the Obama administration were spotted by a blogger before The New York Times. Foreign reporting, he said, could come from directly accessing foreign news sources online.
Sullivan does, however, still read The New York Times “on dead tree.”
— Irin Carmon