Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of Gawker hired to give The New York Observer and its website a kick in the pants in 2011, is out as editor-in-chief, the weekly newspaper announced Thursday. In the un-bylined post, the Observer Media Group said she'll be moving on to a start an unspecified "new company" but will stay on as a part-time consultant on the business side. Her replacement* is executive editor Aaron Gell.
In February, Reuters' Felix Salmon lost a bet he'd made with Spiers after predicting she wouldn't last a year under owner Jared Kushner and would not "prove herself good at running a newspaper." In admitting his loss, he described her affect on the paper as follows:
The Observer’s inimitable voice is gone, replaced by a barrage of bloggish posts by a group of writers so young that many of them can’t even remember a time before Gawker. (Which was birthed, by Spiers, in 2003.) The old Observer was edited, on a story-by-story basis, in a way that the new online Observer isn’t — Spiers doesn’t have either the time or the money to have a layer of experienced journalists reworking her bloggers’ prose before it’s published.
And so, in the proud tradition of good blogs everywhere, readers are left with a highly variable product. The great is rare; the dull quite common. But — and this is the genius of the online format — that doesn’t matter, not any more, and certainly not half as much as it used to.
Regardless of how the paper's changed, Kushner clapped her on the back on her way out. “Not only did she bring on a wonderful team, she redesigned the paper and websites, launched a slew of new verticals and web properties, and invigorated the newsroom, all while more than doubling web traffic," Kushner said. "I’m grateful for her efforts, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.” For what it's worth, he also hyped the Web success of previous editor-in-chief Peter W. Kaplan when he resigned in 2009. “He’s revitalized The New York Observer in an amazing way,” Kushner said in a post by John Koblin. “He helped us build a Web site to the point where we got nominated one of the five best web sites with a Webby nomination. He’s built the perfect platform for the next editor.” From one great platform to the next. On to new things!
Update 1: Politico's Dylan Byers reports that Spiers isn't the only one headed for the exits: "Sources at the paper confirm that Christopher Barnes, the paper's president, will also step down." Byers describes Barnes as a "controversial figures" who invested in ad sales personnel and was "at times blamed by both business and editorial staff for compromising the paper's strong editorial reputation."
*Update 2: Nick Rizzo, on his blog, posts Kushner's internal memo to staff, which indicates that Gell will only be an interim editor-in-chief.