This week, New York magazine takes an in-depth look at New York Observer owner Jared Kushner and his relationship with his ex-con father, Charlie Kushner. Although the profile sticks mainly to the father and son’s stories, it comes at an interesting time for the salmon-colored broadsheet, which recently lost long-time editor Peter Kaplan and laid off a bulk of its edit staff.
“I think we’re definitely at a bottom for newspapers,” Kushner told New York‘s Gabriel Sherman a couple of weeks after the layoffs on June 5. “Once this Russian winter is over, once the papers fail that should fail, you’ll see a resurgence. I think the Observer two years from now will be a very viable entity.”
What the article does reveal about the Observer is Kushner’s relationship with Kaplan and the editor’s possible reasons for his seemingly sudden departure.
“In truth, Jared and Kaplan’s relationship swerved between grudging respect and conflict,” the article says. “Though they grew up in the same part of New Jersey and both went to Harvard, in other ways they were the oddest of couples. Jared found a lot of the paper incomprehensible and fuddy-duddyish, while Kaplan couldn’t quite get over the fact that Jared was the same age as many of his reporters. Kaplan at first tried to mentor Jared like one of his writers. But that only worked for a while.”
Then Kushner hired Bob Sommer, a former publicist, to work as president of the Observer and pushed a redesign, which included the addition of a real estate section, reflecting the young tycoon’s interest in the industry.
“He also insisted on shorter stories and drove Kaplan to shovel stuff onto the Web, which Kaplan thought was the wrong strategy,” the New York article reports. “‘We had benchmarks,’ Sommer says. ‘And Peter hated it.'”
Then last fall, Kushner told Kaplan that more cuts were needed. He wanted layoffs after a plan to launch a network of political Web sites had failed. That request led up to what was ultimately the last straw for the editor.
“Kaplan resisted, asking writers and editors to take a 5 percent pay cut and leaving positions unfilled. Jared insisted on even more cuts. Finally, in late March, Kaplan told Jared he was going to resign when his contract was up on June 1,” the article says.
Kushner remains frustrated that the Observer is still losing money — a feeling that must be familiar to his good friend Rupert Murdoch. However, he boasts about the successes of New Jersey Web site Politicker NJ and his most recent media acquisition Very Short List, which he purchased from Barry Diller’s IAC in June.
“I didn’t expect the public side of this,” Kushner concluded. “And I didn’t expect to be walking into this at the worst time to be buying newspapers.”
The Legacy [New York Magazine]
(Photo by Jono Rotman)