New CEO choice withdraws before getting started at WBEZ

WBEZ

In an embarrassing setback for the nonprofit parent company of news/talk WBEZ 91.5-FM, it’s back to square one in the search for a new president and chief executive officer of Chicago Public Media.

Andi McDaniel, who accepted the job in May and was expected to start at the end of September, withdrew her acceptance Friday in the wake of a scandal that occurred on her watch at her previous employer.

Andi McDaniel

McDaniel came under fire for how she handled complaints of sexual misconduct against a male reporter while she was chief content officer at WAMU, the NPR station at American University in Washington, D.C. McDaniel, 39, who grew up in Schaumburg, held the job from 2015 until earlier this year.

“Andi is a thoughtful person of deep integrity, and believes that all good leaders take responsibility when things go awry,” the board of Chicago Public Media said in a statement. “In order to respond appropriately to the dramatic shifts in our nation’s climate since her hire, Chicago Public Media will reconvene to take a fresh look at the search process overall and then embark on a renewed effort to hire a new CEO.”

Following a nationwide search led by a Connecticut-based recruiting firm, McDaniel had been tapped to replace Goli Sheikholeslami, who resigned in August 2019 to become CEO of New York Public Radio, parent company of WNYC. Since then Steve Edwards, vice president and chief content officer for WBEZ, has been serving as interim CEO.

In a Facebook post Friday, McDaniel wrote: “While I know I would be a dedicated and empathetic leader for Chicago Public Media, our country and our industry are in an extraordinary moment—and I respect the CPM staff’s desire to be more involved in the search for the person whose job will require making CPM, and all of public media more equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist. I will continue to believe that true progress requires confronting these painful, messy, difficult issues head-on—with all of us facing our blind spots and failures.”

Staffers at WBEZ have questioned the selection process that led to McDaniel’s hiring and whether the recruiting firm bears responsibility. Some suggested that an investigative reporter from the station be included in the next search team.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey WBEZ ranked 11th with a 3.4 percent share and a cumulative weekly audience of 521,200.

Here is the text of the statement from the Chicago Public Media board:

Today Andi McDaniel announced her decision to withdraw her acceptance of the offer to be president and CEO of Chicago Public Media. Chicago Public Media’s Board of Directors and Andi have been in close conversation to determine the best way forward in response to this time of reckoning in our country and industry. Chicago Public Media and Andi made the decision together, with deep commitment to serving the best interests of the staff and WBEZ’s current and future audiences.

Among other considerations, the decision follows deeper research into the recent turmoil at Andi’s prior employer, WAMU, and a review led by the Search Committee of the Chicago Public Media Board of Directors. Andi is a thoughtful person of deep integrity, and believes that all good leaders take responsibility when things go awry. In order to respond appropriately to the dramatic shifts in our nation’s climate since her hire, Chicago Public Media will reconvene to take a fresh look at the search process overall and then embark on a renewed effort to hire a new CEO.

While the moment is not right for Andi to step into the CEO role at Chicago Public Media, what is clear is that both we and Andi want what is best for the future of Chicago Public Media, and for public media at large. Andi is a talented, accomplished media professional who is deeply committed to making public media more relevant and equitable for all, and we are confident both she and CPM have bright futures ahead.

Here is the text of McDaniel’s Facebook post:

Some professional, personal, and frankly, really sad news: I’ve withdrawn my acceptance of the offer to become Chicago Public Media’s next CEO.

For the last few months, my prior employer, WAMU, has been in turmoil over a series of complaints about its culture. That turmoil has caused the staff at Chicago Public Media to question the process by which the board chose its CEO—how could they have picked someone associated with such issues? Those of you who’ve worked with me know my integrity, my character, and my passion for making public media more joyful, diverse and bold. While I know I would be a dedicated and empathetic leader for Chicago Public Media, our country and our industry are in an extraordinary moment—and I respect the CPM staff’s desire to be more involved in the search for the person whose job will require making CPM, and all of public media more equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist. I will continue to believe that true progress requires confronting these painful, messy, difficult issues head-on—with all of us facing our blind spots and failures. There is no flawless leader who will solve this for us.

In case you’re wondering what’s true—did I have a hand in creating the issues that have emerged at WAMU?—let me say this. First, and unequivocally—I did not, and never would, keep someone around who had endangered my staff because that person was “good” at his or her job. I have always done literally everything I can to make the workplaces I have led “jerk-free.” WAMU was no exception—but in some cases, that was impossibly hard. Second, regarding culture, I believe that good leaders take responsibility for all of it—and I do. But boy did I try to make it better, and I believe I did. I’m looking forward to laying the burden of leadership down for a little while—it has always weighed heavily on my heart.

If you’re curious about what I’m like as a leader, I hope you’ll talk to someone who’s worked with me: a staff member, a mentee, a colleague. I’ve always taken care to bring fairness and empathy to every interaction—and I trust nearly everyone who has seen me up close to tell you what’s true. Thank you to all of you who’ve followed this situation and reached out to tell me you believe in me and are standing by to help. It has meant more than you can ever know.

Meanwhile, I vow to learn all I can from the difficult last few months, and accept the blessing of time with my newborn son, Theo, who is the one true winner in this difficult situation—and his grandparents, who are much closer now that we’re in Chicago.

I don’t know what’s next for me—and there’s something pretty great about that. If you have ideas, I hope you’ll send them my way.