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THE REASONS WHY: What exactly led to Peter Kaplan’s departure from the New York Observer? Perhaps a multitude of factors. For one, a five-year contract was up June 1. For another, what experienced 55-year-old editor really wants to go work for a 28-year-old real estate scion with no experience in journalism?
Kaplan and Observer owner Jared Kushner had a close relationship — the young charge was, whatever his detractors say, nothing if not hands-on. But he was also at times difficult and immature and inexperienced. He had ideas about the paper (beef up the real estate coverage, shorter articles, etc.) — but they weren’t always the best ones, at least not as Kaplan apparently saw it.
Last year, sources said, Kushner went on a yacht trip with his girlfriend (and now fiancée) Ivanka Trump and the media baron Rupert Murdoch and came back with what a few sources described as a “big head.” It wasn’t the cause of Kaplan’s departure, but it was one more ripple in an already complicated relationship.
Toward the end of the year, with the economy in free fall, sources said Kushner began to pressure Kaplan to make budget cuts. Kaplan was upset by the situation. While such a thing is happening at prestigious papers all over America, the Observer was about the least well-paying place out there. In the end, Kaplan was able to avoid layoffs, but he did so by taking a 5 percent pay cut and forcing employees making over $45,000 to take it with him. The news of the pay cut prompted one source close to the weekly to say, “Wow! It’s like an Onion headline: ‘Observer Writers to Make Less Money.’”
A few weeks ago, Hachette Filipacchi, which employs Kaplan’s girlfriend Lisa Chase (with whom he has a young child), imposed its own 5 percent cut for all employees. Somewhere around that time, the budget was redone at the Observer yet again, and select employees saw their pay cut another 2 percent. And even though the weekly loses a reported $4 million a year, Kaplan was said by many sources to be deeply dismayed at the prospect of further reductions. The first adjusted paychecks went out last week, and Kaplan worked all the way to the wire to try to avoid having to implement them.
Somewhere in the middle of this were Tom Wallace, the editorial director of Condé Nast, and Klara Glowczewska, the editor of Condé Nast Traveler. Wallace was previously the editor in chief of Traveller while Glowczewska was Kaplan’s colleague there in the early Nineties, before he went on to produce the “Charlie Rose” show, and went from there to the Observer. Both Wallace and Glowczewska remained friends with Kaplan. As it turned out, the number-two slot at the magazine had recently been vacated. By last week, an offer was in place and Kaplan began preparing to make his announcement of his departure to the Observer staff. In the end, he kept the part about Traveler out of the announcement because it may not be a completely done deal, sources said.
The meeting where Kaplan announced his decision to leave to his staff was emotional. Several staffers cried, and others departed the weekly’s FlatIron District headquarters shortly thereafter and began piling it away at Old Town, a local bar. Kaplan joined them there soon after. Kushner, for all of Kaplan’s on-the-record protestations about what a terrific relationship theirs was, wasn’t present. Said Kushner, “It wasn’t Peter’s going-away party. We’ll do something for him when he leaves.”
Meanwhile, staffers began to question what the future holds. According to sources, deputy editor Tom McGeveran is being spoken to as a possible replacement for Kaplan, and stands a strong chance of getting the top job, at least on an interim basis.
Kushner, meanwhile, has told the press the decision for Kaplan to leave was a mutual one reached a month ago. That time frame may not be inaccurate, but the idea that it was a “we” decision was disputed by some sources with knowledge of the situation, who say the choice to leave rested with one man: the outgoing editor. Said Kushner, “Peter’s great. It’s sad the paper’s going on without him but it’s a great opportunity for the paper and for Peter.”
Reached late Thursday afternoon, Kaplan would say only, “I think I’ve said enough the last 24 hours.”
— Jacob Bernstein