Peter Kaplan’s Media Shadow

Peter Kaplan's Media Web

Peter Kaplan’s web of influence

Late on the night after Thanksgiving, on what is typically an unplugged weekend for the media, the wires lit up with sad news: Peter Kaplan, the legendary former editor of this newspaper, had died. 

The news was first reported around 11 p.m. by Margalit Fox in an obituary in The New York Times. “Peter Kaplan, Editor of New York Observer, Dies at 59,” read the headline.

“Peter W. Kaplan, who in his 15 years as editor was credited with making The New York Observer both pertinent and impertinent as it gleefully chronicled the every move and shake of the city’s movers and shakers, died on Friday in Manhattan,” Ms. Fox wrote. 

Ms. Fox went on to explain Mr. Kaplan’s significance to the New York City media world and, indeed, the city itself: “During his tenure, the paper featured the work of journalists renowned for a cutting-edge sensibility, among them Joe Conason, now the editor in chief of the political website the National Memo; Nikki Finke, who went on to found the entertainment-industry site now known as Deadline.com; and Choire Sicha, who later helped found The Awl, the current-events site,” she wrote.

Although Ms. Fox left out quite a few now-influential journalists who hail from the Peter Kaplan school, the many remembrances that have poured over the transom since Friday have all noted Mr. Kaplan’s long shadow on the industry. 

After the news broke, Twitter reaction was swift and sad as writers and editors who worked with Mr. Kaplan (and those who wished they had) held a virtual wake on social media.

“RIP a great editor,” wrote BuzzFeed Editor in Chief and Observer alum Ben Smith, with a link to the Times obit. It was retweeted 43 times. 

“Peter Kaplan was my most inspirational editor. ‘Write what you know.’ ‘Don’t leave anything off the page.’ ‘You’re best when you’re angry,’” tweeted Ms. Finke. 

“Mr. Kaplan, a mod version of fedora-wearing newsman who created a weekly libretto rendered in glamour and noir,” The New York TimesDavid Carr dashed off on Twitter. 

On Saturday morning, blog posts and tweets continued to flood in. 

Observer alum Doree Shafrir wrote on BuzzFeed about Mr. Kaplan’s influence on a generation of New York writers.

“Peter was a brilliant editor, a wonderfully idiosyncratic writer … and a New York City institution, but above all, he was a spotter of talent and a mentor to dozens of writers and editors working today,” Ms. Shafrir wrote for BuzzFeed, including the detail that BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti originally approached Mr. Kaplan to be the site’s editor in chief. He recommended his former employee, Mr. Smith. 

Gawker ran an item, as did The Wrap, The Verge, The New Yorker and New York magazine. Over on Medium, Elizabeth Spiers wrote about seeking counsel from her predecessor during her tenure as editor in chief of the paper. Michael Wolff wrote a story that ran on The Guardian on Monday (which managed the not-difficult-for-Mr.-Wolff feat of criticizing everyone in media except Mr. Kaplan), and Philip Weiss of MondoWeiss ran a tribute unambiguously titled “A loving remembrance of Peter Kaplan.”

“Today, Kaplan’s former staffers populate virtually every publication of record, including The New Yorker, most major Web portals and television. (Kaplan dreamed up the idea for “Sex and the City.”) Many of these staffers say they learned most of what they know under his tutelage,” Nathan Heller wrote on The New Yorker’s blog. Mr. Heller, who wrote about the Kaplan Twitter feeds for Slate and profiled Mr. Kaplan for The New Republic, wrote about what he missed in his reporting.

And the mythology surrounding Mr. Kaplan as a fantastical teacher-type didn’t end on NewYorker.com.  

“[Mr.] Kaplan, of course, was Dumbledore, big-hearted even when the pieces were scabrous, which they often were,” John Homans wrote in New York magazine on Sunday evening.

On Monday afternoon, during what some marketing companies are trying to label Cyber Monday Huffpost Live convened a panel of Kaplan protégés to discuss the editor’s impact. 

“You didn’t have to work with Peter or under him or at The Observer to really still feel his influence. It’s out there,” Huffington Post’s media reporter (another Observer alum), Michael Calderone, said on HuffPost Live, citing the tone and style of blogs and even of The New York Times. “The influence is out there regardless of whether you ever met him or whether you even heard the name until Friday. And it’s carried on because all the people who did work there brought a little of that to the news organizations that they ended up with.” 

The flood of eulogies and the general sense of sadness didn’t just demonstrate Mr. Kaplan’s influence on the media world or the city as a whole. There was also a sense of mourning for print’s bygone golden age. Even if Mr. Kaplan’s retro style now pervades the most new media reaches of the Internet.