Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Magazine Views: Making Good Plans

One of the two oddest moves that Playboy magazine made a decade ago was moving its main editorial office from Chicago to New York when it hired new Editorial Director James Kaminsky. (The other oddest move was hiring James Kaminsky.) The magazine undid one of those moves after a couple years, replacing Kaminsky with Christopher Napolitano. Now, in the midst of an economic downturn that's savaging pretty much every business in every country in the world, Playboy Enterprises is undoing the other move and is moving its offices back to Chicago.
That's a good move. There are too many national magazines that are published out of Gotham, and they tend to take on a similar world view and become less distinctive in the process.
In the process, they're making another change that gives one pause. Napolitano won't be making the trip, reportedly because of family commitments in NYC, but he will be staying on as editor-at-large. One never knows how long those "editor-at-large" gigs last; they're often a way to give someone a place to hang their hat until they find another job. But whatever it is, Napolitano has done a fine job as editorial director for the past six or so years, so one wishes him well.
But the eyebrow-raising move is the handover of the editorial director's title to Jimmy Jellinek, who has been heading up the magazine's digital content and will now oversee both print and online. That combo is being seen elsewhere, too. The question is whether Jellinek -- like Kaminsky, a veteran of crude-boy title Maxim -- is right for Playboy. Forbes raises questions about that, noting his past statements and actions that are more suited to a college humor magazine than a magazine that has housed John Updike and William F. Buckley.

But I'm heartened by Jellinek's stated intention with the magazine. As Forbes reports:
What he plans, he says, is "a return to our golden age," producing a magazine like "the Playboy of the 1960s, which occupied the political and moral high ground." There will be more columnists and the same classic interviews with leading thinkers like economist Paul Krugman, whose interview will appear in a upcoming issue.
Jellinek says his competition is not adult magazines or online porn but the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. "We want to be a magazine of ideas that leads the national conversation."

He's got the right aim, if that's his target. I'd bet that the vast majority of Americans who know anything about Ayn Rand or Sarte can attribute that familiarity to interviews the two thinkers gave to Playboy in the 1960s. A mix of fun and thought -- that's a great combination, and it gives one reason to expect a lively magazine and web site even in these brutal economic times.
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