Issue 223,  published August 27, 2019

Power Shuffle

Late to this, obvi, but still: New York Public Radio officially has a new CEO.

On August 14, the organization’s board of trustees announced that it was installing Goli Sheikholeslami, the CEO at Chicago Public Media, at the helm. Sheikholeslami has led Chicago Public Media, home of WBEZ, since April 2014, a period during which she nearly doubled its audience share, according to the Chicago Tribune (citing Nielsen numbers), and moderately grew its operating revenues. She joined the station after a stint as a senior executive at The Washington Post, where she led the integration of its digital and print operations, and her previous work includes roles at Conde Nast and Time Warner. She is a current member of NPR’s Board of Directors, and on a curious note, she also joined the board of Patreon last year.

Sheikholeslami, of course, replaces Laura Walker, who led NYPR for over two decades, a period during which she took the station out of the city’s control and turned it into one of the country’s most formidable media institutions.

Walker stepped down from the position in March, following an extended period of tumult sparked by an expose in The Cut, written by the journalist Suki Kim, that brought to attention a questionable organizational culture that may have especially hurt women and people of color. (An outside investigation, conducted later, did not find “evidence of pervasive discrimination,” though it did find that “anti-bullying policies were inadequate and there were specific instances of bullying and offensive behavior by several employees toward colleagues and guests.”) Depelsha McGruder, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer, had been serving as interim CEO since Walker’s departure.

There’s a very minor echo here. Sheikholeslami joined Chicago Public Media as CEO in 2014, replacing that organization’s longtime leader Torey Malatia, who was ousted after two decades of service. (By the way, if the name sounds familiar, that’s because he was was instrumental to the creation of what is now known as This American Life, and his name pops up as a bit at the end of each episode’s credits.) The reasons for departure were very, very different, of course: Malatia was ousted largely over lacklustre station performance, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Still, it’s an intriguing repetition, as Sheikholeslami now takes over another prominent public radio institution following the departure of a long-serving, somewhat iconic leader. (In an unexpected note, her appointment comes as an apparent surprise, at least to the Chicago media establishment.)

Under Sheikholeslami’s newly installed charge is a storied organization with a deep bench of assets, including WNYC, WQXR, Gothamist, the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, and New Jersey Public Radio. Most pertinent to us, of course, is WNYC Studios, which, while still pretty big, hasn’t really turned out to be the revolutionary podcast division we assumed it would become when it first rolled out in 2015.

Anyway, interested to see where this goes, but I’m additionally curious: who will take over the head honcho seat in Chicago? Also, we’re not done with public radio exec movements. A quick reminder that NPR CEO Jarl Mohn was supposed to have stepped down in June, though he’s sticking around to help facilitate the transition phase until the next CEO is appointed, whoever that may be.