Media

Media Moves: The New York Observer Bids Farewell to Downtown Digs

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Every Wednesday, a new issue of the New York Observer comes out. Why is this Wednesday different, though? Because today’s the last day they’ll be working out of 915 Broadway (between 20th and 21st streets), as they’re making the move uptown to Times Square. Blech.

The New York Observer — that pink weekly of New Yorkers for whom the Sunday Styles and New York are mere gateway drugs — has been in its 915 Broadway offices since moving out of a converted Upper East Side townhouse in late 2004, right as the Internet and blogs and those kinds of things began to take hold of/strangle New York’s media economy. The old digs were once described in New York Magazine thusly:

“A very anxious place — although part of that was probably just the overcrowding in the old townhouse on East 64th Street. Whenever you hear about chimp overcrowding, primate overcrowding, and then suddenly they start pulling each other’s arms off, I always think about the New York Observer. It was many privileged, overindulged, underpaid chimps around computers and eventually wanting to kill each other.”

Which actually sounds like a blast. Ah, but times change, and the Observer moved to a big building in the heart of the Flatiron District, and for those six years, saw the face of the paper change entirely. During that time:

The New York Times‘ David Carr wrote of the Observer changing newspaper formats: “The Observer redesign, however, is not simply a redesign, but a change in fundamentals, an altering of the product’s DNA.

One can argue that the base ingredient of a publication is, of course, the people. But as they say in a classic Observer beat — real estate — especially in this town, location, location, location. Say what you will about the other companies who occupy Midtown West/Times Square, the Observer‘s new home neighborhood (Conde Nast, Hearst, the major dailies in town except for the NYDN), which puts them in fine company. But the Observer has never been a paper for that company, and it’s always felt like one with a heart pretty far from all of that, figuratively, at least. It’d be pretty easy to lazily extrapolate some airy, metaphoric meaning from a workplace moving twenty blocks. Like this: Does the Observer changing digs — a move to the middle of everything — reflect its publisher’s desperate desire to bring his press outlet to a more mainstream audience (thus inevitably compromising the quality of its writing to the core of its readership)?

No, not inherently. An office is, after all, just an office. If anything, being closer to the major dailies will allow their stellar media coverage to see more of the “argy-bargy” action from up close. Though it may have been put best by the way the Observer‘s Sara Vilkomerson quickly truncated her goodbye to the old building last week:


A lot has changed in six years-in the world, in our city and in our industry. At The Observer, these years have brought new ownership, a new editor in chief-and now a new home. So, goodbye 915 Broadway! We’re soon heading to Times Square! Whatta town!

Whattatown, indeed. Shit happens. Though one can’t deny the simple pleasure and esprit de corps heading to a place like Old Town Bar — the classic New York watering hole and the Observer‘s de facto drinking spot of the last six years — can inspire, as opposed to….wherever one drinks over there that isn’t the Hawaiian Tropic Pleasure Zone. Or one’s desk. Here’s hoping the Observer continues to go to that place, figuratively or otherwise. In the mean time, follow the rule of what any sad, relocated office worker is duty-bound to oblige, and steal whatever shit that isn’t nailed down or being moved.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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