Aaron Gell, the fifth editor in chief of the New York Observer under owner Jared Kushner, has left the paper.
“Working for the Observer has been the best experience of my career,” he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon to Observer reporters and friends. “I credit that to all of you, especially, but also to [former Observer eic] Peter [Kaplan] and all the writers and editors who passed through and helped create a newspaper that despite, ahem, everything has remained such a special place to work. It has been an absolute blast.” Kaplan is now the editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group.
Gell’s departure was assumed after he was passed over two weeks ago for the editor in chief position for Ken Kurson, a personal friend of Kushner’s who has more recently been involved in political consulting.
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Kushner invited Gell to stay on, though with the title he held previously, executive editor. At Kurson’s first staff meeting, Gell said he was “thrilled” to have been asked to stay on, but staffers weren’t sure of his plans.
A week later, he had a vague title in masthead: editorial development.
Gell succeeded Elizabeth Spiers when she left in August, just the latest eic Kushner has gone through in his seven years as owner. A former senior editor at W and Radar magazines, Gell came to the salmon-colored weekly in 2010 and was known for nurturing young reporters who, in true Observer fashion, later left for better-paying publications.
Upon taking over, he told staff the post wasn’t temporary, and despite a shoe-string budget and frequent defections, Gell managed to draw back some old Observer hands, like George Gurley. Under his watch, the paper covered major stories with characteristic charm — the lead feature the week Hurricane Sandy struck, written by Gell, carried the headline, “New York to Sandy: ‘Blow Me.'”
He wrote he’ll now be consulting for a start-up, though he didn’t offer details. Kurson is not the only personal associate Kushner has brought to the Observer. This week, he installed Joseph Meyer as cep of the Observer Media Group. In addition to his background in hedge funds, Meyer is also Kushner’s brother in law, married to his sister Nicole.
There have been no radical changes in Kurson’s short run so far. He lost a real estate reporter, Matt Chaban to Crain’s, according to Capital New York, and cut an online column on public relations by Drew Kerr, a colleague of Gell’s from their days at Radar. The lead feature this week is on escorts.
At a recent party at the house of violinist Joshua Bell, WWD asked Kushner about the recent changes and his hopes for Kurson’s version of the Observer. Kushner said he preferred to let the paper speak for itself and declined to speak to a reporter. He just wanted to enjoy the music. “The press,” he said, “just blows things out of proportion.”