WBEZ CEO steps down; takes position at New York City Public Media

Goli Sheikholeslami at the City Club of Chicago on October 25, 2017. (City Club of Chicago)

Move stuns WBEZ staffers and listeners

In news that shocked everyone who follows Chicago media, Chicago Public Media CEO Goli Sheikholeslami announced Wednesday she is stepping down from the role and taking a similar position at New York City Public Radio.

As the new head of New York City Public Radio, Sheikholeslami will oversee properties including news/talk WNYC-AM and FM; classical station WQXR-FM; New Jersey Public Radio; Gothamist, and WNYC’s podcast network. She is expected to take over in October.

The move leaves a void at WBEZ-FM, one of the nation’s leading public radio stations. New York City Public Radio’s CEO position has been vacant, since Laura Walker left in March.

How impactful was Sheikholeslami? Robert Feder last spring named her “the most powerful woman in Chicago journalism.”

Sheikholeslami arrived at WBEZ from the Washington Post’s digital operation in 2014, and helped turn the public radio station into a powerhouse as ratings grew under her watch – in February, the station cracked the top ten for the first time. Revenues also grew (in the form of donations as WBEZ is non-commercial) – up more than 42 percent in the 2018 fiscal year.  She also expanded WBEZ’s staff from around 45 people when she arrived to 82 people and nearly doubled the operating budget, according to Crain’s.

Moreover, Sheikholeslami rose the station’s podcasting profile, producing several critically-acclaimed shows including 16 Shots (about the LaQuan McDonald case) and This American Life.

In an interview earlier this week on WBEZ’s website, Sheikholeslami reflected on her time in Chicago, shaping WBEZ at a time when  journalism was under siege elsewhere. “For someone in the media business for 25 years, the past five have been the most fulfilling of my career. We’ve been building this vibrant, healthy, local newsroom at a time when all across the country newsrooms are shrinking and disappearing, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Chicago Public Media chairman of the board member Bryan Traubert said in a statement,“While we hate to see Goli leave, we are pleased that her talent and skills will remain in the public radio system.”

Indeed, Sheikholeslami turned around what had been a moribund and languishing station – something we don’t usually see in radio these days, let alone public radio. It just proves if you pour in enough resources and find the right talent, journalism can thrive – and that’s what Sheikholeslami did. Hopefully, the success WBEZ has achieved during her tenure continues after she departs.

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