Kurson’s ‘Observer’ meant to appeal to ‘Staten Island first responders, second-generation NYers in Forest Hills’

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Ken Kurson; some recent Observers. ()
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"I hope I'm wrong, but the Observer as we know it died today."

That's the reaction one New York Observer employee had on Friday afternoon to Ken Kurson's first meeting with staff as the beleaguered weekly's new editor-in-chief.

Kurson surprised members of the newsroom and the art department when he described his vision for the paper: He said he wants to make the Observer a more accessible read that would appeal to "first responders on Staten Island" and "second generation New Yorkers in Forest Hills," as multiple people who were present during the 4 p.m. conference room pow-wow remembered it.

Traditionally, the Observer has targeted power brokers and the people obsessed with them, but Kurson said he wants it to feel less exclusive and elite, according to our sources.

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He also said that he didn't plan to ask the paper's owner, Jared Kushner, for more money in the editorial budget. And that may very well make Kurson's working relationship with Kushner more tenable than it was for the previous five editors who have cycled through the Observer's top masthead slot since the 31-year-old real estate scion bought the paper in 2006. (Disclosure: One of them was Capital co-editor Tom McGeveran, who I worked with at the Observer in 2008 and 2009.)

Earlier today, Elizabeth Spiers, who edited the paper for 18 months in 2011 and 2012, tweeted that she thought Kurson would run the editorial side cheaply. Sources told us in August, when she left, that Kushner's disinterest in expanding the resources devoted to editorial was one reason for her exit and that of the company president at the time, Christopher Barnes. Spiers' successor and Kurson's predecessor, Aaron Gell, who is still deciding whether or not to stay at the paper in the diminished title of executive editor, had also gotten less of a budget than he felt was necessary, according to people familiar with the situation, who pointed out that the newsroom is down seven journalists since June.

Kurson, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday evening, is reportedly a close friend of Kushner and his father, Charles. He's also a long-time Republican operative who co-authored a book with Rudy Giuliani and worked on the former mayor's failed 2008 political campaign. His journalism bona-fides include a contributing editor gig at Esquire and a freelance career that's gotten his byline into the pages of publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Spin, and Rolling Stone, according to a memo from Kushner to staff that was sent out earlier today.

Beyond that, the 44-year-old resident of South Orange, N.J., wears Fred Perry sweaters and Doc Marten oxfords and likes old-school punk like Husker Du, the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks as much as classic rock like The Who and The Kinks. He played in a 1980s Chicago rock band called Green and another called the Lilacs.

Here he is riding a Vespa in this vintage clip from the defunct cable news network CNNfn: