Editor, President Out at the ‘Observer’

Paper names fifth editor in six years

Talk about a high turnover rate: With Elizabeth Spiers resigning as editor in chief of The New York Observer, the pink broadsheet is on track to appoint its fifth editor since Jared Kushner bought the paper in 2006.

According to a post on the Observer’s website earlier today, Spiers will step down from her editor in chief post at the end of August—about a year and a half after assuming the role in January 2011—to launch her own company. Executive editor Aaron Gell will become the paper’s interim (and fifth Kushner-era) editor in chief, and Spiers will stay on as a consultant through November, tasked with “expanding and building a creative services department for the NYO,” according to an internal memo from Kushner.

In his memo, Kushner wrote that he and Spiers had been “discussing for some time her desire to follow through on a startup idea,” and praised Spiers’ for bringing “Web first” thinking into the newsroom and making “dramatic advances from the situation she inherited”—not exactly a shining appraisal of the newspaper’s recent state.

The Observer has had a tough time hanging onto its leadership since longtime editor in chief Peter Kaplan left in 2009 over financial disagreements with Kushner. His replacement, interim editor Tom McGeveran, resigned after five months. The subsequent editor in chief, Kyle Pope, lasted for 15 months, also reportedly resigning due to clashes with Kushner.

Spiers, 35, has been similarly disinclined to stay in one place for too long. From 2002 to 2003, she was Gawker’s founding editor, before leaving for New York magazine, where she remained for less than a year. Spiers then spent a year as editor in chief at MediaBistro.com and another year at blogger platform Dead Horse Media, which she co-founded. 

Reviews of Spiers' editorial prowess have been mixed. Although she was responsible for reinvigorating the newspaper’s website and launching several new verticals, she wasn’t especially popular with some of her former co-workers, who described her as “toxic” and “arrogant.” “Everything that becomes hers she trashes,” one source told Adweek not long after Spiers joined the Observer. Spiers couldn't be reached for comment.

Spiers isn’t the only high-level exec leaving the company. In his memo, Kushner confirmed that Observer Media Group president Christopher Barnes is also leaving to start his own company. Barnes, the co-founder and former publisher of AM New York, joined the Observer in March 2009. Although beloved by Kushner, Barnes was reportedly "reviled" by much of the Observer’s editorial side for his efforts to shift the company’s focus from journalism to advertising sales.

“You’ve got a paper, or a brand, that is selling itself on being a premium brand, and they hired a guy whose entire background is in local, classified sales,” a source told Adweek in February 2011. “There could not, in my mind, be more of a disconnect.”

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