Stop Complaining And Start Innovating

December 31, 2011

I don’t know Playboy magazine managing editor Leopold “Lee” Froehlich, and I’m pretty certain he doesn’t know me. But I know one thing: He’s a whiny quitter.

At issue is this statement he made to the Chicago Reader, and has since been rocketed around the country by Jim Romenesko as emblematic of our city:

I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. It’s one of my favorite places, but I think it’s sad now to see the state of the journalism business in this town. This was such a great newspaper town, it was such an interesting magazine town. I could see a point where there won’t be any newspapers or magazines in this town. The trend, it seems to me, is not friendly to Chicago. They’re consolidating a lot of the stuff in New York. It’s really hard to be a magazine journalist in this town considering 96 percent of the jobs are in New York. If you get a good job, you really have to hold on to it because there are fewer good magazine jobs or journalism jobs in the city than ever before.

What the hell, Lee? You’re at the top of one the world’s most famous magazines, bestowed with tremendous influence and power within the industry, and yet you talk about “they” consolidating in New York. You speak as if you are some kind of powerless loser, just another cog in the machine that can only take what’s given them.

I suppose that once you get used to a nice salary, plenty of benefits and the cozy warmth of being at the top, you just don’t want to take responsibility for the world you live in any more.

Here’s the thing: Talent and capital goes where there’s opportunity and innovation. What happened in Chicago in the past three years?

  • The Sun Times Media Group lost buckets of money before going private. Upon its purchase, new owner James Tyree announced that he was keeping the money-losing company’s ownership in place. No innovation for two years. Just layoffs.
  • The Chicago Tribune was bought and placed into a torture chamber by Sam Zell and Randy Michaels. No innovation here. Just layoffs and sad people.
  • The Chicago Reader was bought by Creative Loafing and then stripped bare in an effort to pay massive debt payments. No innovation here. Just layoffs.
  • Same with Daily Herald, Ebony/Jet, and so on.
  • Playboy magazine lost subscribers like that was its job while its format and content remained cryogenically frozen.

But you know who saw growth? The little guys with nothing to lose. 22th Century Media. Chicagoist. Brown Line Media. And a getting big guy: Time Out Chicago. We’re hiring. Perhaps we’re not the big colossus of industry you’re used to, but we’re innovating, which is more than you can say, since your magazine has barely changed since 1990.

Here’s what I have to say to Lee and all of his big media colleagues: Stop whining. Forget about your golden handcuffs. Start innovating.

Because we’re coming for you.