Elizabeth Spiers to Replace Kyle Pope as Editor-in-Chief of New York Observer

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Founding Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers will replace Kyle Pope as editor-in-chief of the New York Observer, the paper announced today on their website. Pope, formerly of Portfolio, took over in November 2009 after interim editor Tom McGeveran quit. McGeveran replaced longtime Observer editor Peter Kaplan three years after the young businessman Jared Kushner bought the paper. Throughout Kushner's ownership, the paper has been plagued by departures, even at the highest levels. Spiers will be the Observer's fourth editor in less than two years. More on the switch-up inside our daily media column, Press Clips!

First, the official release (in part):

"I am very excited to be working with Elizabeth to further build on the great progress we have made over the past few years. She will be instrumental in taking our print and online products to the next level," said Observer owner Jared Kushner.

Spiers is the founder of Dead Horse Media, which created highly successful blog properties such as Dealbreaker, Above the Law and Fashionista. She has also served as founding editor of Gawker.com and editor in chief of mediabistro.com. On the print side she has been an editor at New York Magazine and a columnist with Fortune.

Pope, meanwhile, will stay on through March "in an advisory role," according to the announcement. "The paper made great strides under Kyle's leadership," said Kushner. "I know he will go on to do great things." Not among those strides was the high turnover, with the paper losing nearly 20 editorial staffers in the last year, including most recently their media reporter, who worked just three months in the role.

But unmentioned in the announcement is that the Observer has been working on some plans of their own, pre-Spiers, but with eyes still on the web. The product strategy and user experience consulting company Hard Candy Shell is working on a revamping of the Observer's website and has been for months, according to sources familiar with the partnership. Hard Candy Shell has also worked with Gawker and if there was any doubt that the world of digital media in this town is indeed tiny, here's a HCS founder at the launch party for the Spiers-led B5 Media.

In line with this, The Huffington Post is reporting that an Observer source said Spiers has been given the task of making the Observer "a website with a newspaper, rather than a newspaper with a website." Additionally, "[i]n her first meeting with the paper's staff, Spiers said she wanted to 'increase the metabolism' of the website." But she'll also be charged with putting out a newspaper every Wednesday.

At Capital New York, in the most intimately familiar assessment of today's switch, ex-Observer editor Tom McGeveran, who preceded Pope directly, was savvy enough to look back at Nick Denton's original manifesto for Gawker:

Gawker is an online magazine for Manhattan launching in January 2003. It's target audience is the city's media and financial elite. Think of it as the New York Observer, crossed with Jim Romenesko's MediaNews. The publication will be supported by advertising, primarily from real estate brokers and luxury goods retailers.

The intent has always been there, while the respect has not. There was a time in which the Observer, nevermind the New York Times, would never have stooped to even mention Gawker. That's not the case anymore. (The first tagged article on the Observer website for Gawker is from 2007; Spiers started writing Gawker in 2003.) On Twitter, Denton confirms his long-ago aspirations, writing that there's a "narrative neatness" to Spiers' "ascension." That's one way to put it. Another more cynical take is that it's a concession from the Observer: Spiers' way has worked and Kushner's hasn't. But that doesn't mean it's over for the paper.

"It's a beautiful brand that means something," writes McGeveren of the Observer. "For a time, it seemed, Gawker would mean that instead. Denton has since been explicit about the fact that it won't, and that they've got bigger fish to fry. That's fine for Gawker. But New York still needs to have something to itself." Spiers, then, is the logical person to bring Old Gawker New York smarts to a struggling New York paper. "The End of Blogging," eh? Probably not.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]

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