'New York Observer' editor Elizabeth Spiers and president Christopher Barnes are leaving the paper
The New York Observer is changing editors.
Elizabeth Spiers, a founding editor of Gawker and of Dead Horse Media, original home of Above The Law and other popular blogs, will leave the top post at the local media organization owned by Jared Kushner, according to a post on the Observer website this afternoon.
Taking her place will be Aaron Gell, who has been at the Observer for some time as executive editor, and the primary runner of the Observer Media Group's web properties, including Observer.com, BetaBeat and others.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built to date and will miss the fun of putting out the Observer every week and doing the kind of smart, witty stories we do,” Spiers is quoted as saying in the post, which is bylined "Observer staff." “But I’m also leaving it in excellent hands and look forward to enjoying it as a reader with no red pen in my hand.”
Spiers started early in 2011 (I wrote about her hiring here), and in the year and a half since has overseen a significant reinvestment in the business, including the launches of GalleristNY and BetaBeat, blogs covering the art scene and the local tech scene, respectively.
She also presided over the paper's return to a broadsheet format, reintroducing a front page with wedding-cake headlines and large illustrations, some by old Observer standbys like Drew Friedman.
She is the third editor of the paper since longtime editor Peter Kaplan left the paper in the spring of 2009. (Disclosure: I was the first.)
In a memo to staff, Kushner praised Spiers as a "great entrepreneur" who "instilled her entrepreneurial nature into our newsroom."
He characterized the move as an effort to allow Spiers to follow through on a start-up project. He said she will stay on until the end of November as a business consultant.
He also announced Christopher Barnes' exit from the company. Barnes had led the business side of the operation for several years. Kushner said Barnes, too, was leaving for a start-up project of his own.
Here is the full memo:
Dear NYO team,
Over the past 6 years, I have had the great pleasure of overseeing the transformation and reinvigoration of the New York Observer. In addition, we have built several successful businesses under the Observer Media Group, which has enabled us to become a sustainable and growing media company. This has happened because of the hard work, creativity and devotion of a lot of great people.
Elizabeth Spiers is a great entrepreneur and she successfully instilled her entrepreneurial nature into our newsroom. Elizabeth and I have been discussing for some time her desire to follow through on a start up idea that she has been contemplating. In order to facilitate this, at the end of August, Elizabeth will be stepping down from her editing duties and Aaron Gell will take over as interim editor of the New York Observer. I have worked closely with Aaron over the past few years and have a lot of confidence in his ability to continue and expand what Elizabeth has started.
Aside from helping launch several new verticals, the most important accomplishment under Elizabeth's stewardship has been the way she has transformed the newsroom to think web first while improving our print product - making dramatic advances from the situation she inherited. Our traffic and online revenues continue to grow and the potential for the future is very exciting. We still have several expansion planned for our news team and I remain committed to continuing to invest in our business.
After transitioning editing duties, Elizabeth will stay on until the end of November as a business consultant. Her undertakings will include expanding the support structure for the editorial products she helped create primarily by expanding and building a creative services department for the NYO. She will remain involved in the business and will work out of the NYO offices with frequency as she works on a new venture that she will announce soon.
While we are announcing change, this is as good a time as any to announce that Christopher Barnes will also be leaving to start a company he has been working on for some time. Christopher approached me earlier this year with this decision and we have been discussing next steps. There is no timeline for Christopher's departure, but he will continue to run the business and work closely with me to find the right person to help us take this organization to the next level. One of the primary drivers for Christopher is that he feels that he has helped to build a stable and healthy business and he is ready for his next challenge.
I am incredibly grateful to Christopher for the 3 years he has given to the Observer Media Group. He came aboard in the turbulent times of 2008 and was a major player in stabilizing our organization. In addition, Christopher started several ventures including The Commercial Observer, Vegas Seven, Scene, Yue and Livingthere.com which have helped diversify our revenue and profit streams to make this business more enduring.
While the changing of two important leaders at our company might create uncertainty, it is important for you to know that our business is in better shape than it has ever been in its 25 year history. Since purchasing the paper in 2006, our revenue has more than doubled as we have defied the trends that our industry is experiencing. I remain committed to investing capital in, innovating and growing this organization. It is important to me that we continue to produce quality journalism, create innovative businesses and make a difference in NYC and beyond. Every time I have made changes at the paper, it has been met with concern, but by bringing in the right people, we have always come out stronger on the other end. I am grateful to Christopher and Elizabeth and am confident that they will remain important advisors to the organization and part of the Observer family.
What we have done the past 6 years has been nothing short of remarkable. I am very proud of our team and believe that our most exciting days lie ahead. I remain available for any questions you may have and look forward to continued growth and success together as a team.