Last week, the board chair of WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Steve Baird, noted in Robert Feder’s widely read media blog that, essentially, Chicagoans have no talent in digital or media. When asked by Feder why the station hired its new CEO, Goli Sheikholeslami, from the east coast, Baird replied:
“The problem with Chicago is that if you’re looking for media skills, digital skills and so forth in Chicago, that’s a very limited subset. Actually, of all the criteria, [being from] Chicago was the least important to the board. We have people here who know Chicago. That’s a learnable skill. Being digital savvy or having media experience is not necessarily a learnable skill.”
Myopic homegrown attitudes like this about equally homegrown talent are exactly what I meant in December when I blogged about how Chicago eats its young and forces native talent to leave town. Well, more than myopic. Stupid and self-destructive, really. Because obviously the global city that is America’s third largest metropolis, one of it’s largest media markets, and the Midwest’s main digital incubator has media and digital skills if you bother to look for them.
So why didn’t WBEZ? Of all organizations to reject out of hand native talent, for a troubled public broadcaster whose entire reason for being is the local citzenry and which aims to return to a position of relevancy and authority among locals is the height of irony. WBEZ’s message, if you go by Baird’s comments in Feder’s column, is essentially, “We know what’s good for you better than you do, and you’re not smart enough to know better, either.”
Irrespective of Sheikholeslami’s talent, the bottom line is Chicago’s own public radio station not only didn’t bother to hire its leadership locally, but didn’t think locals were skilled enough to consider for the job. And if you’re a Chicago local, especially one who listens to WBEZ, that should really give you pause.
I don’t have anything more to say about this repetitive local proclivity for cutting off Chicago’s talented nose to spite the future economic competitiveness of its face except this: one day Sheikholeslami will leave Chicago, following whatever homegrown talent is now in the process of leaving because of WBEZ’s actions and so many other boneheaded workforce decisions that happened before and will happen after. And that will only leave Chicago more and more bereft of the talent that WBEZ so obviously thinks Chicago doesn’t have anymore already.
Baird is right about one thing. Chicago is a learned skill. One thing I’ve learned after my 11 years here is that in this town, we never want nobody that nobody brought. It’s something I’m sure Sheikholeslami will learn, too.
Probably after her first set of meetings with WBEZ’s major donors.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.