I’m still mourning the broadsheet New York Observer, the city’s salmon-colored weekly that did such a good job reflecting the Upper East Side in the 1990s. Even the ads, like the one for Mortimer’s which somehow is stuck in my head, reeked of the Social Register.
When they were still in that Upper East Side townhouse, I once walked in to visit someone. No one was there. I ventured past the reception area. No one. But nothing was locked. I wandered into a few more rooms, went upstairs. It looked like a messy frat pad, cluttered but kind of smart. Never saw a soul. I left, a little spooked, but impressed how such a casually run operation reached such perfection on deadline.
I walked north for many blocks. Then I got out my swipe card, passed through several levels of security, and re-entered my little office at 50 W. 42nd Street. We weren’t as smart and edgy as the Observer, and our address wasn’t too stylish, but by gum, we were good at locking down our stuff. (Ha! I just Googled for their address and found that today they’re on West 44th. Welcome to Midtown, guys!)
Some time along the way, they went tabloid and the writing started losing its edge. (A sign of a good writer is at least five parentheses per story.) One of their columnists eventually became my boss, one of the smartest and hardest working bosses I’ve ever had. The Observer was a springboard for many good writers and also artists like Barry Blitt.
Today the paper changes once again, ditching those distinctive page-one drawings for some Photoshop work, yet another knife in stomach for the city’s freelance illustrators. I guess Blitt will be the last man standing as long as Times keeps pairing him with Frank Rich. (I once tried to hire Blitt and was flatly declined, the first time that had ever happened. I’m still smarting, but slowly recovering.) I wonder what illustration budgets look like at most major-metro dailies these days? At Folio Magazine, I used to spend $7,000-$9,000 a month on illustrators and photographers, but that was a long, long time ago. Their art budget today looks to be around zero.
I haven’t seen a copy of the new Observer yet. The jpeg looks OK, though. Now excuse me, I have a strange urge to buy a Rolex.