Trina McQueen, honorary degree recipient, urges graduates to ‘say yes’

Trina McQueen

The final ceremony for York University’s Fall Convocation, held Oct. 18, left graduands of the Schulich School of Business with the message to go out in the world and “say yes.”

Trina McQueen, a broadcast media trailblazer and York’s first visiting professor in broadcast management, delivered a speech to convocation after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree.

McQueen helped shape Canada’s media landscape in journalism and programming, starting as the first female host of CTV’s W5 and rising to become the first woman in North America to head a national news service, at the CBC.

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Trina McQueen and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

There, she launched the country’s first all-news channel, now CBC News Network. Later, she moved to the private sector, where she launched Canada’s Discovery Channel, which was the first Canadian network to develop its own website. After that, as president and chief operating officer of CTV, she participated in a major expansion of that network and in its sale to BCE.

She opened her speech by sharing that while she has accomplished a lot in her career, her success can be traced back to one thing.

“I said yes,” she said. Out of college, she was hired by an Ottawa newspaper and covering city hall. She received an unexpected call from a producer at CTV, which was about to launch a weekly investigative journalism program called W5. They asked if she would be interested in talking, and she said yes.

“I knew it was a really bad idea,” she said. “I would have to give up Ottawa city hall. I would have to move away from my friends. It was a brand new program. Most of all, I knew absolutely nothing about television. It was a huge risk.

“I said ‘Yes.’”

Trina McQueen

After some time on W5 and covering courts for CTV local news, McQueen was offered a job with CBC – but it was a temporary job, and a fragile opportunity. Still, she said yes.

“I stayed at CBC for more than 25 years … and no matter what they asked me, I said yes,” she said, recounting being immersed in all kinds of storytelling – drama, documentaries, music and children’s programming. Eventually she went on to launch the CBC news channel.

Then, then the head of CBC English asked her to be his deputy. He told her that the job description was to do all the things that he didn’t want to do, including running the finance department.

“I knew zero about … numbers. I said yes. And then, something significant happened,” she said.

During her time as deputy, she discovered that numbers can tell stories – stories about triumph and stories about  disaster; crime stories and mysteries, international stories that broke the barriers of language.

Ten years ago, she said, the six most valuable companies in the world were oil, insurance, banking, telecommunications and Microsoft – and they didn’t tell stories. Today, however, only one of those is still on the list (Microsoft), and newly added the list are Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Berkshire Hathaway and Facebook.

“Four of those six are in the storytelling business, and they have opened the floodgates to amazing stories and creativity, but none of the four … can figure out how to handle the ocean of contaminated information that flows across their platforms every second.”

After leaving CBC, McQueen said yes to an offer to become a visiting professor in the arts and media management program at the Schulich School of Business. Though she had never taught a course, and had no academic qualifications, she, once again, said yes.

“Schulich is a wonderful school and I am so fortunate to be there,” she said.

Schulich, she added, can also help with big good-story machines to drive out the bad. A believer in the power of storytelling, she noted that right on campus, researchers are working on data visualizations and digital storytelling as well Schulich’s incredible arts and media community.

McQueen closed her speech congratulating graduates of Schulich’s EMBA program, and posed that this generation could be the longest-lived generation in human history.

“What will you do with all that time?,” she asked. “You will have so many opportunities to learn, to create, to play. You’ll be able to say yes even more than I did.”