Common Ground with… Chali Pittman

Common Ground with… Chali Pittman

Chali (pronounced SHA-lee) Pittman became the news director for the local radio station WORT in September 2019, but she’s been involved with the station in one way or another for over a decade. Starting as a volunteer contributor to the newsroom when she was a freshman at UW–Madison, she’s DJ’ed a late-night punk music program, produced a talk show and now has a say in the news thousands of people in and around Madison hear every day.

While WORT is community-supported, it’s also largely community-run: hundreds of volunteer producers, editors, reporters and DJs comprise a vast majority of the station’s staff. Though the pandemic put a pause on many of Pittman’s plans as news director — from getting a new mural painted on the WORT building to starting a paid internship program — she’s eager to start tackling them now.

What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?

There are a lot of challenges our community faces. The more you report, the more you want to become a sociologist. But I would say economic inequality. That’s obviously worsened by other inequities. People struggle to access food, education and health care. And obviously that’s a nationwide problem, a worldwide problem. But we live in a county and city where that can be really apparent. We’re actually doing pretty well as a city, if you’re well off. But if you’re not, you can still struggle so much to get basic access to services. So, I would say economic inequality — and the bubble that those who are well off might be in.

What do you wish people in our community understood better?

It’s not something that’s immediately apparent to you if you’re in a bubble that inequality has been worsening for decades. It’s kind of staggering. If you live in a neighborhood, you drive to work, you maybe don’t interact with people who aren’t like you. And that’s a problem.

What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?

I would give people basic access to services. There is so much talent people possess. But if you’re worried about just scraping by in order to get the bills paid, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to exercise that. And I see that with news. Who has time to read the news? People who work in news and politics. And people who have more access to free time. I completely understand why people who are working two jobs and have a family don’t have time to read the news. Volunteerism, over the decades, has declined. It used to be that if you were working one job, you could afford to volunteer some of your time. Now who has time to volunteer just because it’s a good thing to do? Obviously, people still do it for a variety of reasons — training, portfolio, passion, creative outlet — but it does still privilege those who already have their voices in the room. 

What in our community gives you hope?

There is so much talent and striving happening from people from all sorts of backgrounds, even given structural, systemic barriers that have been put in place. We have so many smart people in our community who are doing so many creative things. And we’re lucky to tap into that.

Photo of Chali Pittman. Provided by Chali Pittman.



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