Publicist Steven Rubenstein had a good idea. People had been saying for weeks that New York mag's Vanessa Grigoriadis was assigned to write a profile of New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, one of his favorite clients. Everyone figured that she'd tear that place apart and rip Jared up bad like he was just another Paris Hilton. So Rubenstein wasn't going to let her anywhere near young Jared. But still, the redesign of the Observer into a tabloid was a great occasion for some good press! And so, a month ago, he co-opted the usual closing-night staff drinks and made it into a party, and invited a reporter and a photographer from the New York Times. A night out with!
The casual Tuesday night staff drinks, on the night of the first tabloid close, was turned into a formal evening of toasts and speeches. Staff—including Jared's right-hand man—who'd never once come out after close all dutifully turned up. The Times photographer was annoyed because the reporter, Allen Salkin, kept getting in his shots. Still, he was dutifully reporting away, grabbing everyone he could.
At one point that night, Salkin sat down in the corner with Kushner. He asked Kushner about staff retention, and the Observer's infamous status as a training camp for writers who'd then depart for better-paying outlets. At one point, Salkin suggested that cash might be an answer to this issue, and rubbed his fingers together in the international symbol for moolah. This seemed to fluster Kushner.
After he left, most of the Observer staff agreed that they didn't like this Salkin dude. But the few who'd seen him bring up cash with Kushner were impressed. Maybe he'd mention this in his piece! The lack of raises over the years, with no relief in sight, really was a sore point for them. Besides, it had to be a pretty funny piece. Half the staff was exhausted from the first tabloid close; the other half was exhausted and drunk! What had they accidentally said to the little crazy-haired guy with the notepad?
Time passed. Whenever would this story run? Salkin started making calls. The "Night Out With" had become a feature. And the reporter had a feature-worthy thesis. The grizzly newspaper editor, Peter Kaplan, had, after an uncomfortable bit of early friction, seduced the fresh-faced publisher to the world of newspapering. A young upstart had been mentored! Great story, from somewhere!
Most of the staff was too reporter-shy to talk to Salkin for his piece, apart from during their night out, which didn't help him any. One former employee hung up on him immediately. One staffer gave him all of five minutes, confirmed a detail, and ditched him. (Other recent departees weren't called at all.) But who could blame them? They were trying to be good employees. Your pals here at Gawker talked to him a little, since one of us used to work for Kushner. A chunk of that conversation was about the difficulties that naturally accompany Kushner's relationship with Steven Rubenstein. Doesn't the Observer report on Rubenstein clients each and every week? Well. Awkward, given that Rubenstein was the one who'd determined that the Times should have healthy access to his client.
Finally, yesterday, the story ran, in Sunday Styles. "It was tense," Kaplan was quoted, regarding the relationship with Kushner; past tense, as it were. And Kushner acquitted himself fairly well; that weirdness about his siblings being part owners of the newspaper never cropped up, and he claimed to be devotedly single, which at least is true as of recent weeks. Everyone seemed to agree that the paper would never make money, which was nonsensical.
When they read the story, some staff didn't necessarily buy the resolution of strife between Kaplan and Kushner, but few were pissed off until they read this:
Within the paper's tiny newsroom, where reporters' concerns are sometimes narrower than a publisher's, one of Mr. Kushner's most popular improvements is having pizza delivered on Tuesday nights during closings.While nearly every reporter adores free food, this passive-aggressive slam rankled. For starters, pizza on Tuesday night closings already stank of the college all-nighter, an infantilizing situation, even for the reporters who were actually just out of college. But "narrower"? "Popular improvement"? A popular improvement would be a cost of living increase. In any event, this got the middle finger pretty heavily.
Not one of them was quoted. The staff of the paper were hardly mentioned at all.
"Is the technical term hosed or snowed?" one Observer reporter asked this morning. Ah. Well. Perhaps the whole experience would teach reporters that they have to talk to other reporters. Or! Maybe it would remind them to keep one hand over their lunches when working with publicists? Or, wait—would it remind them to get a degree in refrigerator repair as a fall-back career? Hmm. There's a lesson in here somewhere. Was it maybe not to read Sunday Styles?
[Image via NYSD]