Conway Fraser looked like he was going to have a fantastic and long career in journalism. He had reported from Russia, the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. He won a Gemini Award for investigative reporting while at CBC-TV in Winnipeg.
He brought stories from Northern Ontario to the rest of the province and country as the producer of news and current affairs at CBC Radio in Sudbury. He and his team did that so well, their program ("Morning North") won the industry's prize for best information radio program in Canada, defeating the competition in both public and private radio, and in much bigger cities as well.
Three years ago, he won recognition as part of Sudbury’s top “40 Under 40.”
I first met Conway a few years ago, when he was a guest on The Agenda. He knew his stuff, and so we invited him to come back.
Today, still not yet 40 years old, he’s out of journalism.
Let’s find out why.
SP: Conway, that preamble suggested you should have had a long and enjoyable career ahead of you in journalism. And yet, you recently left the CBC. How come?
CF: Six months ago, I didn't even have leaving on my mind -- not even remotely.Many people -- myself included --thought I'd be here for life because I loved the product so much. I ate, slept, and drank public broadcasting and journalism. I'm compulsive that way. When I do something, I do it full-speed. But, the recent dismantling of our award-winning service in northeastern Ontario through disproportionate job cuts shook my faith in the direction of the CBC and really broke my heart. I saw no reason for it.
As a Sudburian, I took it personally -- the CBC was literally saying that stations like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Halifax were "more of a priority" than stations like Sudbury. At the end of the day, I found it impossible to move forward and implement the programming after hearing that message loud and clear -- and losing 40% of our people while other, larger stations took very few, if any job cuts in regional radio.
Furthermore, I was unwilling to relocate again within the CBC (I've moved my family five times in fifteen years). Sudbury is home. It's where I want to settle with my family. And, I firmly believe you don't have to work in Toronto to be provide top-notch product, regardless of what your industry might be -- and you don't have to work in the big city to be successful (something we recently proved with our RTNDA award for best information radio program in Canada). This isn't taking anything away from people in big cities like Toronto -- I just believe working there should not be the absolutemeasurement for "making it" in journalism or any career for that matter. I know a lot of very smart, very accomplished people in many fields up here in the north. If anything, I think, up here, we go to work more rested and happy. We don't commute as far, spending hours on the 401 or the DVP. We don't stress over huge mortgages and crime rates. Our businesses don't have huge overhead costs. I like to think with our quality of life up here in the north, we have more productive, creative energy.
We're smart. We're educated. We have a great university here in Laurentian University with a new, dynamic president in Dominic Giroux (I'm an L.U. alumnus in Political Science). We just have to get over this inferiority complex that you have to be in the big city to be anything. Not true. I don't accept that. Never have. Never will.
So, with that as contexual insight into how I think, instead of sticking around CBC Sudbury and becoming that "miserable guy" (every office has one), I felt the best thing for me, my family, and my former colleagues at the CBC was to leave now, on top of my game with my integrity and respect. So, I decided to take a voluntary severance package, save the job of one of the talented young journalists, and, at 39 years old, start a new career for myself while I still have the energy. It was not an easy decision. I love journalism and will miss working with my friends there. But, for me, it was the right choice. And, at the end of the day, perhaps I can make a different contribution to journalism in northern Ontario outside the walls of the CBC. I have some ideas.
SP: Couldn’t agree with you more regarding the need to be in the province’s capital city to have an impact. As a resident of Toronto for 30 years now, I’ve always loved this city. As a born and bred Hamiltonian, I’ve never believed the province stopped at Steeles Avenue, or the Humber or Don Rivers.
So tell me this. Now that you’ve left the Mother Corp., what are you doing with your days?
CF: And, you know, Steve -- just regarding the Toronto-centric thing for one more moment -- I have many friends and family in Toronto who don't think in this "center of the universe" manner. Most of my colleagues at the CBC in Toronto didn't think this way either. Hell, I have a cousin who owns a custom wood door company in Toronto called Amberwood Doors and he does a lot of business in northern Ontario. For the most part, this centricity we speak of is something perpetuated by Corporate Canada -- the decision-makerswith big companies or big organizations. This is not reflective of average folks down there.
As for me post-CBC, I've started my own strategic communications company called "Fraser Strategies". I do media/public relations, corporate communications, government/political strategies, media/interview training, internal strategies for communicating to your workforce, crisis communications, stuff like that. That's what I'll be doing to pay the bills and putting my four children through university.
On the side, I should mention that I've started a new group called "The Friends of Northern Ontario Media". I just slow-launched it this summer with a Facebook site and a few media interviews. There's no money involved - no membership fees or anything like that. It's just something I need to do.
The concept behind it is that I believe one of the problems and reasons why northern Ontario is getting hammered so hard by media cuts is that our voice is diluted and stretched across the huge geographic region. For example, when the CBC proposed the cuts to CBC Northeastern Ontario Radio, there was a massive outcry. There was a huge rally in Sudbury, there was a petition and a City Council resolution in North Bay, there were city and town council resolutions in places like Timmins and a number of other locations, and there were hundreds - if not thousands - of letters written by the faithful listeners.
However, never at any point, did ALL of these people speak as one, powerful, loud voice. That is, hopefully, where I will come in with this group. I have spoken with political, corporate, and public leaders from all walks of life who all agree this is needed and they are on board 100%. I haven't met anyone who opposes this idea -- it's an issue that literally brings together and bonds everyone in the region. We all want to keep our voice up here, whether you're a police force, arts group, sports team, politician, university, hospital, or aboriginal leader. Who would argue with that? The group has no affiliation with any media outlets or unions - I did that to protect the independence- although anyone is free to join as an individual.
This Fall, I will be touring the entire central/northeastern Ontario region, meeting with groups of people, getting them signed up, and putting together the largest, most vocal lobby group the north has ever seen. You know, when I was thinking about leaving the CBC, many of my colleagues tried to talk me out of it. But, I told them that -- given what's happening in the media -- perhaps I can do more for the CBC and northern media, on the outside where I am free to lobby. I'm not suggesting for a moment this group will save the world -- but it will give us a voice. That's a start.
So, as you can see, I'm going to be keeping pretty busy. Between all this, I have four great children and a lovely wife to spend time with - and I'm also working hard toward earning my 2nd Degree (Nihan level) Black Belt in Karate. I'll sleep sometime in 2014.
SP: At the rate you’re going that sounds about right. So here’s the last question: how much do you miss journalism?
FC: Oh, I miss it. It's a part of my DNA. I started in this business in North Bay when I was 19 years old as a part-timer at a private radio station. So, this has been all I've done for more than half my life. I definitely miss the daily interaction with the journalists, my friends -- my second family.
As you know, journalists are a unique breed of people with a twisted sense of humour, biting wit, and intense knowledge of current events. There's never a dull moment in the newsroom. I miss those folks, that energy -- my friends.
What I won't miss is being restricted to being an "observer" or "analyst" of the process and feeling that sense of frustration by wanting to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and help solve the problem that we're reporting on. I always felt like I had something to offer when it came to problem solving. With this move I have made and with my new company, Fraser Strategies, I get to become a "participant" in a more active way.
If the City of Greater Sudbury is having a problem and I think I have a solution, I can go down to City Hall where I know people and say, "I have a possible solution". As a journalist, you can't really do that and remain impartial -- and that's the way it should be. For me, personally, it's something I needed to do....I needed to make this shift from observer to participant and so far it's been the right move for me. But, yes, I definitely miss the people in journalism, the actual journalists. I consider them family and close friends.