Alumna rises to the top as President of CTV News
By Kathryn Kinahan, BA'86, MLIS'93
Even after a quarter century, Wendy Freeman, BA’86, is still drawn to the energy of the newsroom.
“When breaking news happens, I get to go out into the newsroom and just be part of the team, be part of history, and see it unfold first-hand,” she says. “That’s my favourite part of the job.”
Having started at the bottom of the industry, Freeman is no stranger to the hard work of news. Today, as President of CTV News, she carries the lessons learned during those long hours and late nights to lead one of the nation’s largest news-gathering organizations into an uncertain future.
“The 24-hour news cycle means you are never offline as big stories break without warning,” she explained. “But if you are curious about the world, this is the job for you. It’s not glamorous and you’ve got to live and breathe the news. But if you love to tell stories, if you want to see the world and witness history, it’s an amazing, amazing career.”
Originally from Montreal, Freeman was drawn to Western after visiting her brother, David Freeman, BA’83, who was working at CHRW at the time. “That was the visit. I fell in love with the campus,” she explained. “I thought, ‘I have to go here one day.’”
Deciding on a school was no problem; deciding on a program was another story.
“I was one of those students who switched their major every two weeks,” explained Freeman, who was followed to campus by her sister, Carole, BA’87. “Ultimately, I landed on Philosophy. I loved the classes – they involved deep, critical thinking and in-depth, thoughtful discussion.”
After graduation, Freeman started working at the now-defunct CKO all-news radio in Toronto. “I started in journalism right at the bottom. My first job in radio news was basically ‘ripping wire.’ News would come in through the wire service, I’d rip it, re-write it and get it to air,” she said.
She moved around, assuming new roles and gaining experience at various stations including City TV in Toronto, WXYZ-TV in Detroit and a stint at WPIX-TV in New York City before joining CTV in the early 1990s. It has been home ever since.
She started as a story producer on Canada AM, became a field producer for the CTV National News, and was hired first as an assignment editor and then executive producer of the National News with Lloyd Robertson and Sandy Rinaldo. Eventually, she became vice-president and then president.
“I really started at the bottom, took on any opportunityand worked my way to the top,” she said. “I was someone who did it all.”
Named President of CTV News in 2010, Freeman presides over all Bell Media news editorial content and newsgathering efforts for television and digital, and oversees the newsrooms’ day-to-day operations. Since then, she has been responsible for news, information and current events programming, including the CTV National News, CTV News Channel, BNN Bloomberg and CP24, as well as Question Period, Power Play and W5.
Under her leadership, the CTV News division has been recognized with the Radio-Television News Directors Association Bert Canning Award for Best Newscast for CTV National News for four consecutive years, as well as nine Canadian Screen Awards since 2014.z
Despite the success, however, it is the energy of news that keeps her going.
“There is no ‘typical work day.’ You never know what’s going to happen in the news; no day is ever the same,” she says. “I wake up and wonder, ‘What’s going to happen today?’ It’s like starting every day with a clean slate.”
Today, she finds herself leading an industry in transition as audiences shift from traditional television viewing to online and mobile devices. While daunting, Freeman finds this newest challenge invigorating.
“We are in an age of disruption. I like a challenge,” she explained. “People are cord-cutting and not watching television anymore. But people will always be interested in big news stories and live events. We need to be there for everyone at all times, on every platform, and in real time.
“People will always watch the news. What’s changing is how they watch it. We have to deliver the news in a way that’s compatible with the viewer’s device of choice – phone, television, iPad, computer, etc. Because the news is never going away.”