Was former Village Voice and New York Press editor David Blum—whose tour through New York's dying weeklies has, fairly or unfairly, been regarded as a kiss of death—behind the bright idea of firing 10 New York Observer staffers?
David Blum is sort of a sad bumbling doctor for dying New York City weeklies. It's hard to blame him given the circumstances of the sorry industry, but his recent tenures at the Voice and the Press didn't do much to reinvigorate those much-diminished papers. Now he's thrown his hat in the ring to replace Peter Kaplan at the New York Observer, and sources say his pitch to Observer owner Jared Kushner about how he could run it on the cheap helped convince the boy-king to conduct a blood-bath earlier this month.
Blum presented Kushner with an editorial budget for the money-losing paper—we don't know the number—that was far lower than Kaplan's had been. Kushner didn't hire him (or at least hasn't yet) but was apparently impressed enough by Blum's cheaper vision to instruct interim editor Tom McGeveran to find a way to make it happen. On June 5, McGeveran laid off roughly one-third of the paper's editorial staff. We hear McGeveran negotiated to keep more jobs than Blum's plan would have, but still: Nice work, Blum!
Of course, Blum would not have been the only person in Kushner's orbit to come up with the brilliant idea of cutting costs by firing a bunch of people. And Kushner might have even been able to come up with the notion on his own. But Blum's experience overseeing the ongoing gutting of the Voice and—to a lesser extent, since there was less to gut—the Press would certainly have lent his low-budget vision credibility in the mind of a young publisher trying to figure out what the hell he'd gotten into. If David Blum says he can run this thing for that much less, why can't you?
One of Blum's tricks for running newspapers on the cheap, by the way, is working for virtually no money by Manhattan media standards. Our source says he told Kushner he'd do the job for $50,000 a year, which amounts to a nominal salary for a job of that stature. Blum can afford to forgo the salary because his wife, Terri Minsky, was the creator of Disney's Lizzie McGuire character, which presumably provides a financial cushion for the family.
Kushner confirmed via e-mail that he discussed the job with Blum but denied that Blum's budget played any role in the subsequent lay-offs: "Blum gave me one of many proposals I have gotten. His had zero to do with any decisions made. Your story is wrong, but if you don't care, then I won't either." (We do care, Jared. It's why we ask! We just don't have to believe your answer.) McGeveran and Blum declined to comment for the record.
[Full disclosure: Blum hired the wife of your blogger at the Village Voice—smart move!—where she still works.]