Chicago Public Media examines WAMU turmoil to ‘inform how we move forward’ with CEO hire

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Chicago Public Media’s board of directors is gathering facts about the recent turmoil at WAMU in Washington, D.C., in light of its recent hiring of Andi McDaniel as CEO.

McDaniel

In a memo to staff Monday, CPM Board Chair Bryan Traubert wrote: “We are aware of the ongoing situation at WAMU 88.5, where Andi McDaniel most currently served as chief content officer. Like many of you, we have been following the situation closely.” The memo was first reported on by Chicago media blogger Robert Feder.

WAMU staff have called for the resignation of GM JJ Yore over his response to complaints of inappropriate behavior against Martin Di Caro, a former transportation reporter for the station. Employees have also criticized station leadership for its handling of complaints against a senior managing editor. Women of color who previously worked at the station said they left the station because of his behavior.

The CPM board committee that led the station’s CEO search is “engaging in its own process to ascertain the facts and to inform how we move forward with the CEO role,” Traubert wrote.

“To ensure we have the full context about the new information that has become public in recent weeks, we will be speaking to Andi and others,” Traubert wrote. “Fairness and pursuit of the truth are central to the values we hold dear at Chicago Public Media, and as such we must undertake due diligence at this moment to ask questions and to gain further understanding about any implications to our organization.”

Traubert added that the CPM board understands that “it is our responsibility to bring in a leader who has trust and credibility, and who will continue to build a culture that is welcoming, diverse and inclusive where all staff can thrive. Fostering such a culture is paramount to the future health of Chicago Public Media, and we remain committed to having leadership that will effectively guide the organization on that path.”

In an email to Current, McDaniel said, “I’m in close conversation with the WBEZ board about the best way forward in this extraordinary and difficult moment. We want what’s best for WBEZ and for public media’s future, and I know we’ll find the path that offers the greatest promise and healing for both.”

CPM announced McDaniel’s hire as CEO in May. She is slated to begin in the role Sept. 28.

Forty-nine CPM staffers signed a letter Wednesday in which they said they appreciated the board’s response. “We, too, have concerns about how these situations were allowed to continue,” the letter said.

The employees asked for more information about the board’s review and whether the board will speak to current and former WAMU employees. They requested a meeting with the board to discuss McDaniel’s hiring and details of the search committee’s consideration of her time at WAMU during the hiring process.

“WBEZ is not immune to the loss of people of color and it is why the union pushed to create our diversity, equity and inclusion council three years ago,” the letter said. “… Now, more than ever, Chicago Public Media must have a leader who not only speaks out against racism and sexual harassment, but has the experience and courage to confront these issues.”

Staffers also asked to hear directly from McDaniel about the recent revelations at WAMU and her plans to “cultivate an environment of respect, equality and anti-racism in our own newsroom and workplace.”

They said they want to know how the board plans to hold McDaniel accountable for creating that workplace environment if it moves forward with her hiring.

“The picture painted by recent reports of neglected women of color and a sexual predator who was retained, promoted, and enabled leaves us uneasy, at best,” the letter said.

McDaniel wrote an apology to WAMU staff Monday addressing criticism of her role in responding to workplace concerns at the station.

“The departures of multiple talented people of color from our newsroom were tragic and unnecessary, and you are right to be angry,” McDaniel wrote. “I wish I had intervened sooner; I did not understand, until a pattern had fully emerged, the depth of the problem — and by then it was too late.”

“It’s clear there is much more work to do at WAMU to not only introduce greater diversity to our staff and our audience, but to celebrate, include, promote, and learn from a diversity of people and voices,” McDaniel wrote. “And those words can’t be hollow; we must put money and action behind our plans to make public media a truly anti-racist force for good.”

In reference to Di Caro, McDaniel said, “I could not have fathomed the scale of his behavior and impact as it emerged in DCist’s reporting.”

She said that when she started at the station in 2015, she was “not aware of and was not briefed on any prior complaints about Martin” and that a promotion he received was granted prior to her arrival.

“It’s been suggested that I knowingly accepted inappropriate behavior because Martin was a good reporter—I did not,” McDaniel said. “To do so would go against my most fundamental beliefs. But that does not mean I was satisfied with the outcome—and we must do better. I should have found a way to do better.”

In the email to Current, McDaniel said, “I’ve focused my public media career on shepherding talent and trying to make our industry more innovative, diverse and joyful. So I’m heartbroken to see the pain and turmoil that’s unfolded at WAMU and across our industry. As a leader, I bear responsibility and am determined to do better.”

7 thoughts on “Chicago Public Media examines WAMU turmoil to ‘inform how we move forward’ with CEO hire

  1. I think all will be prudent to also gather more info in DC. So far we’ve only heard from the complainants. Let’s get the reporting on how many were involved, how many calling for a resignation, what leadership has been like. You know, get all info out before taking down careers. Please.

  2. The WAMU rank and file is clearly spoiled and under-medicated. None of these babies would dare walk the walk and quit in protest. They’re all too young and/or sheltered to know what a bad work situation really looks like.

    Also, quit abusing the Current to try and settle scores publicly. Handle your business within your organization like civilized adults.

  3. Andi McDaniel as CEO? After she wrecked WAMU? She killed off programming that was a wonderful tradition, like Hot Jazz Saturday Night and Car Talk (albeit old reruns) and replaced them with shows anyone can download as a podcast. She destroyed the familiar rhythm of WAMU’s daily broadcast to try to lure in a younger audience that doesn’t even own radios anyway. Poor Chicago!

    • You are certainly entitled to your opinion but not to your own facts. The audience for WAMU grew dramatically and became much more diverse while Andi was Chief Content Officer. And listener support also skyrocketed, making an expansion of locally-focused news and programming possible. That was her main job, as well as launching a new national program to replace Diane Rehm when she retired. That new program 1A was wildly successful, with lots of stations broadcasting it, which gave WAMU a national reputation as an innovative and ambitious station. All public media stations are trying to serve younger audiences: It’s simply a matter of sustainability and relevance to the changing demographics of the community and the country. Hot Jazz Saturday Night was a long-loved program to be sure. But there’s no reason why programs need to be on the air forever in perpetuity, especially now when most of us can access the content we love online or through podcasts. It’s important in a field that hopes to attract younger talent, that stations create opportunities for new voices and ideas on their airwaves. CarTalk was a terrific program. I was working in public media when it became a national phenomenon. Yet, there is something very strange and unsettling about broadcasting reruns of a show where one of the hosts has died. His laughter was infectious, but hearing a dead man’s voice on the air might be painful to family and some passionately loyal fans. And, let’s face it, the auto industry has evolved since they stopped recording new shows. New cars have new features, advanced technology, longer warranties; while entertaining, the program would become less and less relevant to the current automotive scene. It’s always a personal loss when your favorite shows are canceled; most people think they can do a better job programming a station than the people hired to do that; hardly anyone would agree on what shows should air when. Stations experiment with scheduling and try to make decisions about what audiences want based on a range of metrics, but they do so with the best intentions of being a public service. You always have the freedom to lodge a complaint (even anonymously as you have done here), stop financially supporting the station if you are doing so, or stop listening.

      • WAMU listener here. I am currently based in DC on a work assignment, have lived in San Diego, Denver, and Seattle.

        I’m honestly trying to understand how WAMU’s programming is special, particularly considering the metro where it’s based and which it serves. “1A” was developed for and with Joshua Johnson; since his departure it’s foundered. Almost all the rest of WAMU’s programming can be heard on any mid-market NPR station, and without the every-five-minute “support for WAMU comes from ….” commercials. The genuinely interesting shows are slotted late at night or at dawn on the weekend.

        I do like “The Big Broadcast”.

  4. JJ Yore repaired a truly toxic staff environment on arrival at WAMU, then doubled the staff with solid journalists. He greatly increased fundraising. With Andie McDaniel he made programming changes that built audience— a lot. Not all the changes worked (Tell Me Another— eww, cringe, tune on later), but in an environment welcoming change mistakes can be fixed. Do not cancel Andie over this, and hopefully JJ will go on to make another major station better— indeed wiser and warier, but undaunted. John Dinges

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