Peter Kaplan, the editor of the New York Observer for fifteen years, whose talent and affability helped the publication offer a smart, insider's view of New York City's elite, died of cancer on Friday at the age of 59.
Kaplan, who was appointed editor in 1994, helped the Observer become a must-read for those interested in both the machinations and pettiness of a city with a vibrant and highly entertaining overclass. The knowing, inquisitive voice and persona he carefully tended in the pages of the Observer became, in many ways, the template for the explosion in personality-driven journalism that attended the rise of online publishing, including this site. Next to Kaplan's paper, most of it is a cheap, insulting knock-off.
Kaplan was a master at attracting gifted reporters and editors, convincing them to work for next to nothing, and training them up and into the ranks of the glossies. He was known for helping along the careers of several now-prominent writers, including author Candace Bushnell, Choire Sicha, Nikki Finke, Ben Smith, Tom Scocca, Tom McGeveran, and Nick Paumgarten. He seeded his destabilizing influence throughout the Manhattan media establishment. There isn't a major publication operating, including this site, that doesn't have a Kaplan man or woman with their hands in the wheel.
In a 2012 profile of Kaplan, the New Republic wrote,
"It's hard to find a major publication right now, in print or online, that's not in some way flavored by the old Observer. Subtract Kaplan from the media landscape of the past 20 years and you lose The Awl, much of Gawker and a good bit of Politico, too."
Kaplan remained with the Observer after its purchase by heir Jared Kushner in 2006 and ensuing change in direction, before taking a position at Condé Nast in 2010.
Kaplan was born in Manhattan in 1954, and attended Harvard where he became a stringer for Time. He lived in Larchmont, N.Y., and is survived by his wife, Lisa Chase, and four children.
His influence is being remembered on Twitter:
RIP Peter Kaplan, hands down the best editor I (or anyone else) worked with in NYC
— Chris Lehmann (@lehmannchris) November 30, 2013
Mr. Kaplan, a mod version of fedora-wearing newsman who created a weekly libretto rendered in glamour and noir. http://t.co/FUkDstHclH
— david carr (@carr2n) November 30, 2013
Crushed. I met Peter Kaplan when I was 17 and revered him ever since. Just 2 wks ago he seemed to be recovering. http://t.co/yLxZnaXJv0
— Jonathan Alter (@jonathanalter) November 30, 2013
R.I.P. Peter Kaplan, contd: In today's journalism, reporting is often stenography. But Peter demanded all NYO stories have a point of view.
— Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) November 30, 2013
RIP Peter Kaplan, father to the tart-tongued, snarky & smart coverage of movers and shakers (now the norm, on blogs) http://t.co/WdmRDESt9T
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) November 30, 2013
Peter Kaplan's greatest legacy: the writers he hired and mentored http://t.co/TKVfWnzyk6
— Doree Shafrir (@doreeshafrir) November 30, 2013
Please feel free to share your memories or appreciation of Peter Kaplan in the comments below.