Reviewing The Redesigned 'Observer'

Okay, so it's been three weeks, they've had plenty of time to work out the kinks. Let's take a look at the redesigned New York Observer! We dropped the dollar for the print edition, so we're going to go page by page and see what all the fuss is about. Take a seat. We're going to be here for some time.

FRONT WRAP: This newsstand-friendly cover-wrap thing is fucking ugly. It has been ugly since the very first issue, when it had that scary picture of Hillary Clinton on it, and it is ugly this week. There's something about the layout: Crowded at the top, big vast expanse of space in the middle, big black ad at the bottom. (We're aware of the philosophical objections that some folks have to ads on the front covers of newspapers; get over it. Our objection is more of the aesthetic variety: The ad is flat. It does nothing for us. We are looking right at it and we cannot remember what product or service it recommends. Okay that's not the paper's fault, but we have to look at it.)

Reviewing The Redesigned 'Observer'

FRONT PAGE: We actually sort of like the new front page. Three stories highlighted and summarized at right, two big ones in the main section: It's a nice layout. It works. The summarized story thing was hard to get used to—we though we were starting a story and then the story started over on its own page? But yeah.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: This may be the best part of the new paper. Every single article is listed and described. The most useful improvement to the Observer. This should be the model for all weekly papers.

THE NEW YORK WORLD: This has always been a stupid section. We grow weary of the fake Hillary Clinton dialogue bit. Why do they keep letting a crackpot from upstate named Sparrow write? On the other hand, it's much shorter now, so we suppose it's a net positive. We can't seem them having space for any more that insane "Mauro of Manhattan" bullshit.

OFF THE RECORD: For us, at least, OtR is the best bit of the Observer, and the main reason to pick up (or click on) the title. Nothing's changed, it's still great. We're not thrilled with the smaller space, but we assume that, when necessary, OtR will be able to expand its space to cover longer pieces. Right?

NYTV: We miss the old logo.

THE TRANSOM: Can we just say how incredibly elegant The Transom has become under new editor Spencer Morgan? Today's article on the dump taken by Brandon Davis' brother is a case in point: Morgan handles a situation that easily lends itself to ribaldry with tact, wit, and grace. This is one WASP who's maintaining standards of decorum while all around him the rest are dropping theirs.

THE ARTICLES: Hmmm. We want to like these, we really do. We love the paper's political coverage (the daily stuff on the web is great), and there are always certain kinds of stories you expect to see in the Observer. Or, to put it more accurately, the stories you expect to see in the Observer are the same stories you see in the other papers, but from the perspective of a wealthier, cattier, more status-obsessed organization. And while they're still here, this is where we feel like the reduction in space has hurt the paper the most. Things just seem... well, sort of like the Sun. Which is not good.

THE OB ED PAGES: "The Ob Ed Pages" is a dumbass name. Matson's cartoon is too small, but not small enough to not exist, unfortunately. (How many movie title puns can there be in one career?) The guy who does the caricatures has never once traced a political figure look remotely like the real life version. Joe Conason will probably have to be wheeled away from his column. Actually, this section's fine, it's not much different from what it was in the broadsheet format. But, seriously, "The Ob Ed Pages"? Give us a fucking break.

PUBLIC & LEGAL NOTICES: Some day this will be the entirety of the paper.

THE CULTURE: There's a spring preview this week. (We're sure the ad department sold really well against it.) Seems okay. We're not in the habit of getting our cultural news from the Observer anyway, but we're going to guess this is not much different from what it was before the redesign.

THE OBSERVATORY: This has become a giant cartoon? Why? It's like the last vestige of the classic Observer of yore, which only serves to remind us how shabby and down-at-the-heels the paper feels now. Matson's 50% smaller but they can give up space for this? Inexplicable and disappointing in contrast—but sort of groovy in the "it's 1940!" way.

THE CRITICS: The Observer's team of critics is sort of like the talent at "60 Minutes." They're all going to die soon, except for the broad, who's a sprightly fifty-something. We're guessing they keep Rex Reed around so that someone can call Andrew Sarris "the kid." Adam Begley is the only book critic who could make us feel sympathetic toward Kurt Andersen. The section itself remains mostly unchanged, for better or worse.

THE NEW YORKERATOR: This name was probably chosen by the same genius who came up with "The Ob Ed Pages." This is pretty much the NYO's version of Very Short List or UrbanEye. Except for the title, it's good enough. Nice to know that Tom McGeveran digs Britpop. And can get any word into the paper.

THE EIGHT-DAY WEEK: We have never read this section, and we plan to keep that streak intact. [Ed. Note: But isn't that just because you despise going outside? Hello?]

PUBLIC AND LEGAL NOTICES: Seriously, they're like kudzu. Very expensive kudzu.

SHITLOAD OF AD PAGES: Well, good for them.

PUBLIC AND LEGAL NOTICES: If you read them in "annoying poetry reader" voice, some of them are actually quite transcendent.

LOCATION: This is supposed to be the big difference in the new design. This section is an assload of real estate coverage, which we suppose is in line with its young owner's interests and desires. Seems newsy and flatly entertaining. We're not much up on the inside baseball of real estate, but if we were, we'd probably like this.

BACK WRAP: Also flat, but much less so than the front. Did all the designers decamp after redesign or what? Put some fucking sparkle into this, please.

And there you have it. Overall, one gets the impression of a paper that is taking itself slightly downmarket (with ironic intention, maybe, but that doesn't communicate) while hoping to ride on the reputation it developed years back. We don't know what Kushner's eventual plans for the paper are, but if he has an interest in it once again being world class, we'd suggest he staff up a bit, or quite a bit, and give the news stories a little more room to breathe. If the Observer is no longer essential and not even as fun as it used to be, what's the point of it?* We're of the opinion that everyone benefits from a better Observer: Jared, make it happen. Also, change the name of "The Ob Ed Pages."

New York Observer

*Yes, we're aware.