Froehlich, 58, is managing editor of Playboy.
I didn’t intend to be this. It’s one of these flukes of one’s career. You know, if you get out of a cab on the right side rather than the left side your whole life changes. It’s just something I stumbled into and it turns out I had something of an aptitude for it.
I’m from Cleveland. I went to grad school for a while in Cincinnati and just decided I wasn’t cut out for academia so I moved to New York to pursue, I don’t know, some sort of career in writing or editorial. I worked at Forbes for about ten years. I took the job just simply because it was something that allowed me to write and read and travel. At the time, I didn’t think I was making any big decision. It was one of those trivial decisions that became something quite significant.
I worked “closes”—the closing of the issue, which was a biweekly. That time at Forbes was a great time to be there. It was on the verge of a lot of its success and growth. Working with Jim Michaels and Malcolm Forbes was a very interesting time.
I moved to Chicago at the end of 1988 and have been at Playboy 20 years. I was a copy chief replacing Arlene Bouras, who was a real legend, had been copy editor since the beginning of Playboy 35 years prior. She’s quite an impressive woman—always had to be on my toes around her. It was a different era, a different time. I had 17, 20 people on the copy and research staff; we had a library, a librarian. It was a much bigger operation and a much more static operation. It was fun. It took a while to get my sea legs back because I hadn’t been copyediting for a couple of years. But after that happened it was a great place to work.
Copyediting, here in particular, was a really pivotal position. It was a lot of fact-checking in the magazine, working with legal—a lot of people relied on me. I like working with former copy editors: it’s the way they look at the world and their attention to detail, which is to me the essence of quality. That standard doesn’t really exist anymore. I don’t look that closely at it but I would say the New Yorker is probably the last vestige. I’m sure there are people that would say the New Yorker is not what it used to be, but they certainly still maintain that pretty rigorous copyediting and fact-checking process.
I think after that I was assistant managing editor for a while; then I became executive editor—most of the time I was executive editor. Then last year I became managing editor.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some really amazing writers and it’s great to watch a real pro in action. Robert Coover, he’s one of my favorites—he’s probably the most successful Playboy editor. He has a lot of good stories about working for Playboy. I don’t want to single him out either. One of the great things about my job is getting to work with really fantastic writers and interesting subjects. Every month is different.
My favorite memory is probably breaking a Timothy McVeigh story. While he was in jail, someone leaked an interview that he did with his defense attorneys. We spent a long time, maybe six months, working on that story. It was one of the first stories that we put online; it was such a hot story we couldn’t wait. I love being able to immerse myself in a story like that. It was also probably the kind of thing we wouldn’t have time to do now.
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.
I think there was a prevailing theory that print was dead and I kept trying to tell people that print isn’t going to die; it’s going to change. Railroads aren’t dead and radio’s not dead—they just changed.
Digital is something different. Online stuff is much more short hits, shorter copy. I have a difficult time reading anything longer than 1,000 words online—sitting forward, the posture, what it does to your eyes. I do a fair amount of reading on an iPad or a Kindle, though. I’ve been using the Kindle search functions. I’m reading Tolstoy, and I can refer back to a character’s name and search that way. But mostly I tear out articles from magazines, put them in my back pocket and read them on the bus or the subway. —As told to Tal Rosenberg