“Here’s a lesson from the media…” –Bill Leff, WGN Radio (Update)


(Graphic: The many faces of Bill Leff…)

Update, 12/5/11: Every time Bill Leff gets a new gig, this post gets new page views. This is why they tell you to think before you speak, folks. The Internet has a very long memory…


“Here’s a lesson to you from the media. Focus right now if you want us to promote you. Because you are replaceable.”

Those were the words spoken to me by Bill Leff, host of WGN-AM’s ChicagoNow Radio. It was a minute before air time this morning, and Leff was exasperated that I didn’t have a set list of topics I wanted to talk about. Or something like that. I’m really not sure, and I didn’t stick around to ask. I said, “Okay,” got up, and walked out of the studio.

I’ve blogged about journalistic hubris several times here on Carless, not to mention on Chicagosphere, the ChicagoNow blog I had been booked on ChicagoNow Radio to promote. It’s one thing to write about it. It’s quite another when it’s sniping at you from the other side of a control panel.

Before Leff made it clear I wasn’t welcome there, I was really excited to be on the show. Leff’s producers had spent the past couple of days in email and on the phone–and the previous 15 minutes in person–prepping me. They offered me lots of helpful tidbits.

Among the prep from Leff’s producers: “Don’t worry about our usual 10-question interview;” “Own the room and make the interview your own;” “Have fun with it;” “Have a sense of humor;” “Let the subjects just flow;” and “talk freely” about a variety of topics that could have but didn’t need to include the Oak Park penis logo controversy, the Mac migration debate here on Chicago Carless, and what it’s like to be a New Yorker in Chicago.

My big mistake was thinking Leff had any idea what his staff had told me. Or any respect for me as a blogger, for that matter. It didn’t take long for him to make his feelings known, however. As soon as I sat down in the studio, directly next to an executive managerial staffer from ChicagoNow, Leff began hounding me for a list of topics I intended to cover. Of course, I didn’t have one–his staff told me not to worry about it. So I played it off. Making matters worse–for Leff–my ADHD brain became happily distracted by listeners on the sidewalk beyond the studio glass who were trying to get a plug on the air.

The ChicagoNow staffer next to me was trying to “communicate” with them through the glass along with me. Leff, however, would have none of it. He glared at me, stormed away to the other side of the table, and said to me, in front of ChicagoNow and WGN staff, the quote that opened this blog post.

Maybe Robert Feder was right? The erstwhile Sun-Times TV columnist made one of his first posts as a blogger for New Media radio station Vocalo a criticism of the potential for the ChicagoNow Radio show to be worthwhile. Lord knows, it wasn’t for me.

Too bad. I had been really excited to be on the show. So excited that when Leff’s producer asked me at the last minute to show up half an hour early because Garrard McClendon, the original 11:30 a.m. guest, was stuck in traffic, I canceled breakfast, left my boyfriend behind in my apartment almost in mid-sentence, and ran to Tribune Tower from my home office in Marina City.

For any traditional media person to believe it’s their duty to give a longtime blogger a “lesson from the media,” much less warn them that they’re “replaceable”–and thus better be duly grateful for the opportunity for the coverage–is laughable. I could tell Leff that I’ve been writing words for the blogosphere and doing media relations for more than a decade. Or I could remind him–and you–of his own recent, very public replacement from WLS-AM earlier this year. I could have done that last bit on air, too.

Instead, I took a page from NYPD Blue’s James McDaniel, who famously walked out of the Regis & Kathie Lee green room in the mid-90s after Gifford attacked his show shortly before he was scheduled to go on. I guess Leff didn’t expect me to stand up for myself as literally as I did. Shortly thereafter, his producer was texting me an apology and I was finishing my Thanksgiving shopping.

The funniest thing about all of this, is Leff–a stand-up comedian and film major with no traditional journalism training whatsoever telling anyone it was time for a lesson from the media.

Here’s a lesson for Bill Leff: I am as much a part of the highly interactive media scene in 2009 as you are. My blog readership on Chicago Carless (my flagship byline), my Twitter following, and my Facebook friends will not dip because I did not do your show. My readers will not abandon me en masse because I chose to walk out of the WGN studio.

In fact, my audience numbers probably wouldn’t have grown appreciably from doing Leff’s show, if at all. Unless Leff’s listeners decided to stop what they were doing (most likely, driving), get a pen and paper or pull out their smart phones, and write down/navigate to one of my blog URLs, I doubt my audience stats would have much noticed that I had even done the radio show.

Unless you’re an A-List media name brand, bloggers get their traffic from other bloggers. Links and love from elsewhere on the Internet and from various social media platforms build blog traffic a lot quicker than going outside the Internet ecosystem to talk about the fun we’re having here in the virtual realm on a broadcast show–or on a printed page–where it takes several additional steps to make it back to http land.

My audience members, potential and future, are already on this side of things. They’re here on the Interwebs. I don’t need to reach for them over the airwaves. And as a rule, I seldom do. Leff’s crew asked me to bring my party to WGN this morning, against my better judgment. So why on earth would he think he was doing me a favor?

Everyone has a bad day. I’ve spent most of my day trying to figure out why Leff would say something like that to me.

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