WATCHING CLOSELY: As 25-year-old Jared Kushner‘s ownership of The New York Observer nears the six-month mark, staffers and readers alike are still waiting to see what lies ahead for his new prize. But what has plainly not changed so far is the perennial turnover — most recently, TV reporter Rebecca Dana was poached by The New York Times, and senior editor Choire Sicha will return to Gawker Media.
“At one point, I did a head count of the number of Observer people at The New York Times, and it was 24,” said longtime editor Peter Kaplan. “That kind of egress is not exactly news, but I hope it will change.”
And while these positions and more remain open, another area of the weekly is being beefed up considerably, namely its real estate coverage. Since Kushner bought the paper with $10 million he said he earned from real estate investments while at Harvard, The Observer has significantly grown its real estate staff, from a single reporter edited by the managing editor to four new reporters and a full-time editor. As for how the paper will cover the holdings of the real estate firm Kushner Cos., which recently broke national records with a $1.8 billion office building purchase, Kushner and Kaplan said there is no stated policy. “Church and state still exist here very strongly,” Kaplan said. “The news coverage of this paper is run by journalists with a lot of integrity, and that isn’t changing.” He added, “Any newspaper is an agreement between an editor and the publisher, and I happen to love this particular area of the agreement,” meaning amplifying real estate coverage.
Real estate also drives more advertising than another traditional Observer strength, media and culture. Of course, more advertising might not be a bad thing — The Observer is said to lose $2 million a year. Kushner, said Kaplan, “wants to turn The New York Observer into a business.”
A full redesign will be completed sometime this spring. While it is widely believed the paper will shrink to a tabloid, Kushner and Kaplan said it was too soon to confirm. The typically lingering articles, though, almost certainly will be trimmed.
And, despite Kushner having made clear he no longer wants The Observer to be a farm team for editorial talent, several current and former staffers pointed out that many of the always-modest salaries, even in a field hardly known for rich compensation, have remained unchanged for years. Departing staffers often double their salary elsewhere.
“The Observer salaries have never been competitive, but there haven’t been any cost-of-living adjustments,” said Tom Scocca, a senior editor who maintains a staff position but is writing a book in Beijing. “When I started here, a Gawker writer made less money than an Observer reporter. Now someone writing for Gawker is making more than senior staffers.” (He emphasized that he wasn’t referring to Sicha’s return to Gawker.)
And The Observer soon will lose another staffer, senior editor Suzy Hansen, who has accepted a fellowship in Turkey.
Kaplan said he was actively interviewing to fill the culture and media positions and already had made some offers. “I’m happy about what I can’t talk about right now,” he said. “[Kushner] is in the business of assessing this paper, and I think that he will make it into a place that people want to invest their careers.” — Irin Carmon
FUNNY GUYS: It seems Helen Gurley Brown‘s legacy affected more than young women in the Seventies, according to actor-comedian Denis Leary. The star of F/X’s “Rescue Me” described at Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Male Awards how the legendary editor in chief helped him, and arguably scores of men around the globe, understand the “machinery” of what makes women tick in terms of love, sex and relationships. “Thank you, Helen, for explaining the machinery. I’ve been married for 25 years. And you’re the f—ing reason!” he cheered. Leary was honored at a lunch Monday with a dozen other men, including Jeremy Piven, Forest Whitaker and Omar Epps. But this group was overshadowed by Cosmo’s Male of the Year — Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson‘s ex who’s clearly been having lots of fearless fun lately. — Stephanie D. Smith
TIME’S UP: Bids came in at 5 p.m. Monday for the 18 Time 4 Media and Parenting Group titles after what some sources close to the deal called a “frustrating” process. “The information was not as complete as anyone would have liked to see it,” said one source, meaning that gathering all the necessary numbers and data from Time Inc. in order to analyze the deal took much more time than expected and was one reason why the process was delayed for several weeks. Now, bidders will sit tight for Time Inc. to decide who will go on to the next round, which most likely will happen by the end of the week. While Time Inc. officials declined comment, sources close to the deal expect the publisher received four to six bids, with two or three of those being for the entire portfolio of 18 titles, and that bids most likely fell in the ballpark of $200 million to $240 million. — S.D.S.
NOT JUST A MONTHLY: Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R.) didn’t mince words during an interview with GQ on President Bush and his administration’s handling of Iraq, so the magazine has decided to act more like a newspaper by posting his Q&A on its Web site today — a full month before it will appear in the March issue. This type of breaking-news reporting is just the first of many stories GQ hopes to provide readers. But will posting a story so far in advance of publication eat into those coveted newsstand sales? Executive editor Andy Ward admitted that’s an issue, but he believes a two- or three-page interview with a senator won’t stop the average reader from buying the magazine. He added GQ is focused on an increased commitment to break more political stories via the Web site throughout the end of this year and continuing into 2008.
As to the interview, Hagel told GQ correspondent Wil S. Hylton that the Bush administration expected Congress to let it start a war anywhere it wanted in the Middle East — “They could go into Greece or anywhere. I mean, is central Asia in the region?…There were no boundaries. No restrictions.” Hagel said that, even if it meant deceiving Congress, it was pretty clear the administration was “hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.” In what may come as no surprise, Hagel is considering whether he should run during the next presidential election. — Amy Wicks
GOOD DEED: Let it not be said that public service journalism is for awards and glory alone. “A Hard Earned Life,” an article by Jennifer Gonnerman in New York magazine’s Money issue, has helped score an apartment and a job for its subject, Robert Gonzalez, a 30-year-old security guard and father of two struggling on his salary of $338 a week. “I got letters, checks, gift cards, which was a big help,” said Gonzalez. “People read my story and they want me to keep my head up.” One reader helped find him a second job in the mailroom at Grand Central, and today, with the help of another reader, he will finally move out of his parents’ house and into a studio in subsidized housing. Though Gonzalez said he was originally intimidated at the prospect of being profiled, in the end, he said, “It was something I just needed to do.” — I.C.