Ken Kurson has longstanding ties to the owner of the Observer
The New York Observer has hired Ken Kurson, a former political adviser to Rudolph Giuliani, as its new editor-in-chief – the paper’s sixth in the past seven years.
Kurson is also a close friend of Jared Kushner, the real estate developer who bought the paper in 2006. Kushner announced the news in a staff memo Friday morning, which TheWrap obtained from a source with knowledge of the deal.
"Ken knows the ideas, stories and voices that make up New York better than anyone," Kushner wrote. "He is a journalist and an author and through his years as a consultant observed the figures who create the framework of business, politics, media, tech, culture and real estate in our city."
Since Kushner bought the Observer, the weekly paper has gone through editors at a brisk pace while trying to find a sustainable business model.
Kurson succeeds Aaron Gell, the interim editor since Elizabeth Spiers resigned last August. Kushner wrote that he hopes Gell will resume his post as executive editor, but his future role remains unclear.
Kurson has been a contributing editor at Esquire magazine since 1997, founded and sold a personal finance magazine and written four books.
One of those four books was “Leadership,” a book he co-authored with Giuliani, the former New York mayor and presidential aspirant.
From 2002 to 2006, Kurson worked as the deputy director for communications at Giuliani Partners, the former mayor’s consulting business. He also worked on Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign as its chief operating officer.
Since the campaign, Kurson has worked at Jamestown Associates, a Republican political consulting firm based in New Jersey.
His relationship with Giuliani and his history as a political consultant have already raised eyebrows from some media observers. The move places a former GOP political operative in charge of a historically left-leaning paper that is owned by Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump, daughter of outspoken Republican Donald Trump.
Former Observer staffer Foster Kamer tweeted this is “the worst thing to ever happen to The new York Observer since Jared bought it” while Gawker’s John Cook tweeted that “anyone who has it in him to be a political operative shouldn’t be running a paper."
Kurson does boast an impressive resume, prompting defense in reponse to the critiques. Will Leith, contributing editor at New York magazing and founding editor of Deadspin, demmed Kurson "one of the smartest people I know" while the New York Times' Ron Lieber described him as "a god-like figure" in the personal finance world.
Spiers chimed in as well, noting that while Kurson's longstanding relationship with the Kushners no doubt had a role in the hire, but equally important is "his impression that you can run the Obs at a fraction of budget."
Kurson and Jared Kushner had previously spoken about his having a role at the paper, and Kushner expressed great thrill that he had finally succeeded in luring the family friend. Since longtime editor Peter Kaplan retired in 2009, the editorship has been something of a revolving door.
"Ken is a close and trusted friend who shares our vision for being a paper of ideas," Kushner wrote in the memo. "I have tried to get Ken to work with us for years and am so proud that the Observer and all our properties are now at a place where we could attract someone with his breadth of experience."
Kurson will oversee the print edition of the weekly New York Observer, its assorted websites and the Observer Media Group’s other properties. The Observer remains a fixture of the crowded New York media scene, but faces strong competition from Gotham-focused publications such as New York Magazine and Capital New York, a digital-only site founded by former Observer editors.
The full text of Kushner's memo is below:
Dear Observer Media Group,
I wanted to share some exciting news about the continued growth of our company – Ken Kurson is joining the Observer Media Group as Editorial Director and Editor in Chief of The New York Observer.
Ken knows the ideas, stories and voices that make up New York better than anyone. He is a journalist and an author and through his years as a consultant observed the figures who create the framework of business, politics, media, tech, culture and real estate in our city.
He comes to us from Esquire Magazine, where he was a columnist and contributing editor and Jamestown Associates, one of the nation’s leading public affairs firms. He worked alongside Mayor Giuliani during the events of September 11, 2001 and co-authored the Mayor’s No. 1 bestseller Leadership. Ken also worked on Rudy's presidential campaign as the Chief Operating Officer. In addition, he served as an editor at large at Time, Inc. and has written for diverse publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Spin, The Source, Slate, Salon and Rolling Stone.
Ken is a close and trusted friend who shares our vision for being a paper of ideas. I have tried to get Ken to work with us for years and am so proud that the Observer and all our properties are now at a place where we could attract someone with his breadth of experience.
2013 sets the stage for what will be an incredible time in New York: politics in a post-Bloomberg era, the continued rise of Silicon Alley, media’s transformation, the impact of finance, the evolution of real estate and the arts and culture that surrounds it all, among countless others. It is a perfect time for Ken to join all of you in showing our readers how the city works.
When Elizabeth stepped down over the summer, Aaron Gell was gracious enough to become the interim editor through the end of 2012. I want to thank him for everything that he has done in leading the Observer. We hope that Aaron stays with the paper in his previous role as Executive Editor.
In 2012 we continued to expand and demonstrate how a media company can take advantage of this digital age – revenue grew 25% for another record year and our editorial budget is now 50% higher than it was when I bought the company.
I look forward to the continued success of both our business and our journalism under Ken’s leadership in 2013 and for years to come.
Ken will be at the office later this afternoon to properly introduce himself to everyone and to get started.