The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has tapped Heather Conway, an executive from outside the media world, to steer its English-language services through a tumultuous broadcasting environment. She replaces Kirstine Stewart, who left CBC in the spring to become the first head of Twitter Canada. The Globe’s media reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, spoke with Ms. Conway about her appointment – and the future of the CBC.
On her first 100 days on the job
I’m not one of those 100 day people. When you go in anywhere you need to adopt a posture of listening and I do that. You always have to, but especially when you’re going in and you don’t know the culture and don’t know the organization.
On getting up to speed
There is a giant group of people who have been thinking about these issues. It’s not like I’m going in cold and telling people the news that there are challenges facing the media sector. Everyone in the building knows and has been dealing with it. It’s not important for me to be going in there with a blueprint, but I think it’s important to come in with some fresh perspectives.
On the job
This job at its heart is about meeting the public service mandate first and foremost. We have to be the place where Canadians turn for a Canadian perspective on the world – that’s our news function. But we also have to be the place where Canadians come to tell their stories to each other. That’s the TV place, and the radio place.
On her background
I wouldn’t say I’m a fancy pants – my mom was a teacher and my dad a civil servant. I was fourth of five children born in six years.
On broad appeal
I don’t like people who underestimate audiences or think anyone outside Toronto is different or less sophisticated.
On TV shows
I’m not sure that shows that set out to do a particular thing are ever successful. What happens is shows that touch people and move people are shows that are successful. I think there is absolutely a place for shows that are fun and entertaining. I think there’s a place for comedy in life – I mean always. It is television. Again I think people can get quite self-important in any job and we need to remind ourselves this is television and it’s supposed to be fun… We have to find a balance – we need great fiction and there are great Canadian stories that should be told on CBC. But we also have to have some fun and give stuff that people really connect to like Dragons’ Den.
On competing with paywalled newspapers
I don’t think it’s fair to say to any Canadian that you can’t interact with our news content digitally because there is another news brand that is not as competitive or that hasn't engaged with you in a way that makes you want to comment that says it is not fair. That’s a disservice to the viewer and the taxpayer who is also the viewer. Anyone involved in paying for that content should be allowed to view it however they like … I’ve rarely heard any debate about media in this country that doesn’t have a healthy portion of self-servingness to it.
On Radio 2 ads
It’s a sigh. It’s unfortunate that financial reality is putting us in a position to have to make those kind of choices. As a listener I’d rather not.
I relied on natural leadership early in my career, I didn’t really have any real management skills besides “be more like me.” I learned at TD Bank the philosophy that if you have people working for you who aren’t performing, it’s your fault… I did management training and learned a tremendous amount. What got you here won’t keep you here, and you need to abandon all the skills for which you were promoted and focus on what makes you uncomfortable in your new job because you were promoted on potential.