A Brief History of the 'New York Observer' as Reported by the 'Times'


“When The Observer hits newsstands on Wednesday, it will have a new look inside and out. There will be fewer of the cartoon illustrations that have dominated the cover in recent years; the paper will make more use of photo illustrations on the front. The cover article will begin on the front and continue on the inside. It will look and feel more like a magazine, with distinct content sections that stay in the same place each week.”

[Editor Kyle] Pope also hopes to bring more focus to coverage. He said he still thinks writers feel tugged toward covering the generation of New York social power brokers The Observer has obsessed over-Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Anna Wintour of Vogue, Donald Trump-and he hopes to change that.

Jared Kushner, the paper’s 29-year-old owner, who could easily have been one of Mr. Pope’s subjects of fascination if only he did not sign Observer paychecks, insisted that the paper’s financial performance was improving. It is still unprofitable, but Mr. Kushner said he expected that to change soon.

‘’The organization as a whole is doing better than it has ever done,’’ Mr. Kushner said. ‘’I believe next year we have a very good shot at being a profitable organization.’’

-This weekend

Mr. Kushner said the new editor would not change the direction of the paper. ‘’The business and the paper are on the right track, largely due to the efforts of [interim editor] Tom [McGeveran],’’ he said.

Peter W. Kaplan, The Observer’s editor for 15 years, announced in April that he was leaving the paper. People briefed on the matter, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said there had been repeated disagreements between Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Kushner, who bought the paper in 2006, over its finances, organization and content.

-October 29, 2009

With advertising slumping badly, The Observer recently laid off a large portion of its staff and shifted to relying more heavily on freelancers. But Mr. Kushner said that the paper had become more cost-efficient and that some other parts of the company, the Observer Media Group, including its PolitickerNY and PolitickerNJ Web sites, were thriving financially. [N.B. “The Politicker Network, which shuttered 12 sites last month is closing three more: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. These latest closings effectively end the network, which is down to just two sites.” January, 2009.]

At the company, he said, ‘’we’re going to lose less money this year than last year, and next year we’re going to be close to break-even.’’

-August 24, 2009

It has undergone significant changes since it was sold by the avuncular Manhattan businessman Arthur Carter in 2006, and purchased by Mr. Kushner, the Manhattan real-estate scion. At the tender age of 25 he plunked down almost $10 million for the weekly. The penchant for money losing remained a part of The Observer’s identity, but in 2007 it left behind its broadsheet format and became a tabloid and turned significant attention to its Web site, observer.com. Mr. Kaplan said at the time that part of the gesture was to come up with a paper that its new owner could relate to.

-April 23, 2009

In the middle of a media-saturated political season, Jared Kushner, publisher of The New York Observer, has been quietly nurturing an ambitious political journalism venture.

The plan is to pull together 50 Web sites, one for each state, into a political hub called Politicker.com. Each site will serve as an intensely local source for political articles, speculation and scandal, Mr. Kushner said.

-February 18, 2008

In the short time he owned The Observer, Mr. Kushner had found little time even to meet with Mr. Kaplan….. ‘’It was tense,’’ Mr. Kaplan, 53, recalled of their early relationship…. ‘’I told him,’’ Mr. Kaplan recalled, ‘’the only way this is going to work is if you love your product, and you understand people are working here because they see something most civilians can’t see about the importance of journalism, and once you’ve got it, you’ll be a great publisher.’’

Under Arthur Carter, the former investment banker who founded The Observer, which reports circulation of around 45,000, the paper reportedly lost about $2 million a year. But Mr. Carter could afford it and loved the clout and visibility bestowed by the paper, a favorite of New York’s social, political and news media elite.

-March 11, 2007

The trademark cover still exists inside a tabloid wrapper, but it is hidden and diminished now. The new wrap is short on words and seems to exist primarily to create a front-page ad space….

-February 15, 2007

‘’This is a phenomenal brand, with an elite readership and one of the best editors there is. In this day and age, much of journalism is about right or left, conservative or liberal, and The Observer is just that, an observer,’’ he said during an interview on the Upper East Side, in the offices of Kushner Companies, a real estate investment firm. ‘’It is about truth. The dividing line at this paper is between good and bad.’’

Mr. Kushner knows a thing or two about the consequences of crossing that line. On the phone from Maine, Mr. Kaplan sounded more relieved that the paper had finally found a patron than worried about any conflict of interest with the new owner.

‘’Chemically, I responded well to him,’’ he said. ‘’I was tired of talking to media big shots who had lots of conventional wisdom about how the paper should be published. And when he said he would not interfere in the editorial process, I believed him. Every editor listens to a new owner at some peril, but all you can do is take somebody at their word.’’

-July 31, 2006

But by now Mr. Carter has put more than $40 million into the paper, and for it to survive a tough stretch for all media, it will take guile and money to take what is a franchise, a sensibility and a mandate rolled into one and push it toward at least revenue-neutrality, and maybe even a real, actual, going business concern.

Whether someone acquires the newspaper or is part of a buyout led by its editor, the asset they will be investing most principally in is Peter Kaplan.

-January 16, 2006

One can be forgiven for speculating about Arthur L. Carter and his plans for The New York Observer….. Now that he has been cutting the staff, the heft of the paper and even its physical size, the rumors are back: that he is consumed with sculpturing and does not care about the newspaper….

He added that 15 years ago, when he started The Observer near the end of the next-to-last big economic boom, in the 1980’s, he had some hopes of making money. “I don’t think I went into it necessarily thinking I would make a lot of money. I hoped I would, and hope springs eternal.”

After 15 years?

“Well, after 15 years, you begin to feel you are destined to be a publication that never makes money. You’re like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.”

But they have endowments, don’t they?

“The Observer has an endowment. Me. I’m the endowment.”

-March 4, 2002

Like some other newspapers, The Observer is on tense terms with both the Giuliani and Pataki administrations. The spokeswoman for Governor George M. Pataki, Zenia Mucha, said she reached a point where she would no longer speak with Andrea Bernstein, an Observer reporter who writes about state politics…..

“My objective was never profitability,” said Mr. Carter, who amassed his fortune on Wall Street in the 1960’s and 1970’s….

“We have surmounted irony,” Mr. Kaplan said.

-September 12, 1997

The New York Observer announced yesterday that Peter W. Kaplan, the executive producer of Charlie Rose’s talk show on PBS, will become editor of the Manhattan-based weekly…. The peach-colored newspaper, which is six years old, says its circulation is nearly 50,000. Arthur L. Carter, the owner and publisher, has said it is edging toward profitability but continues to lose money.

-May 10, 1994