Stacy Ross did not grow up giving pretend interviews and dreaming of being a television anchor. In fact, the Metchosin-raised Ross had her heart set on a life in theatre.
“My first love was always theatre and musical theatre . . . I always thought my dream job would be a soap-opera actress. It was a little more stable, there was a regular pay cheque. I could be somebody nasty. I always thought it would be fun to be the villain on a soap opera.”
Ross attended Camosun’s Applied Communication Program and worked in television before the call of the theatre drew her back to Vancouver Island and UVic. Ross earned a theatre degree at UVic, then her career took an interesting turn in 2000. Her minivan was burglarized on the same night she auditioned for a coveted job as weekend sports anchor/reporter at CHEK News. She muses that may have won her some sympathy votes. In any case, she got the job, and Ross has been a well-known figure in local media ever since.
Island viewers might spot Ross or her CHEK colleagues at a HarbourCats baseball game or at the grocery store.
“People come up to me constantly when they see me doing regular things outside the newscast to say how important we are to them and how we’re part of their routine,” says Ross. “In a way, we’re part of their family—they turn us on at dinner time and catch up on what’s happening in the day. They need to have that in their lives.”
Community at the core
The value that the community—and the CHEK crew—places on reliable, local news became clear when the station was in danger of closing. CHEK first went on the air in 1956, but in 2009 its corporate owners, Canwest, put it on the chopping block. Community reaction was swift and decisive. A full-fledged “Save CHEK News” campaign ensued, with T-shirts printed and the power of social media and local celebrities put into high gear.
Ross remembers being “terrified.” She knew she would never leave Greater Victoria due to her family connections, so if the station closed, that was going to mean a career change.
“I can’t even explain the tension as we came up with a way to save the station,” says Ross. “Oh, my God, it was just awful going through those weeks, but you know, it paid off in the end.”
Each employee-owner was required to invest $15,000 of their own money—in a hurry.
“Of course, there’s no guarantee we’d succeed. Once we managed to come together in that incredible time of people literally running to the bank at the last moment to make their contributions so we could do this… it was incredibly stressful,” recalls Ross. The employees raised half a million dollars in 24 hours. CHEK became North America’s first employee-owned TV station.
Stacy Ross gets a visit at the CHEK TV studios from a group of Theatre students
Where’s the “on” switch?
Then the team had to figure out all the intricacies of producing the news. “Who knows how to run a TV station? There was so much to learn… We had no programming, we had no technical support. We were just kind of flying blind. It was far from a sure thing when we bought that station, and we went through a lot of tough times.”
At one point, staff took pay cuts to keep the station afloat. But they made it through, eventually buying the Kings Road property that houses the station, with CBC Radio as an anchor tenant. “We ended up buying the building and succeeding and we’re making money. It’s an incredible story, really.”
She says being independent means the team can be fluid and react quickly. She can have a conversation with her station manager, and they can get the board together in a half hour—that would never happen in a corporate-news environment. CHEK also has a mandate to serve the community. “Any time we have a chance to do good, we do it.”
Now, one of their biggest challenges is fighting fake news. “There’s this battle on for those of us who are responsible journalists to remind people there are far more irresponsible journalists out there.”
Covering the COVID pandemic has been “interesting.” She has never felt as threatened as a journalist as she did by the Freedom Convoy protesters. “The vehemence, the aggression. The naked anger directed at us was unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve never felt fear for being in my profession and felt fear for my family—and I did in this case. It was awful.”
She’s in a prime position as the 5 p.m. news anchor, but future dreams include hosting a show about the local arts community. Ross says her own theatre training at UVic was instrumental to her career. “I think it was integral to me getting the job and being successful. Being in theatre taught me so much self-awareness, taught me all the mechanics about voice control, how to manage non-verbal communication, the physicality.”
She says while she’s not acting, her work is still a show. “What I do every day is a performance, for sure. It’s not fiction, I’m not pretending to be somebody else… I’m still presenting. It’s a performance, and my time at UVic taught me how to do that. “
But the performance is not always easy. In fact, some days, the news is devastating—and that comes with a cost. For example, Ross covered the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “It took a toll on me. As a mom, that was really, really difficult to manage.”
The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the recent horrific fatal bank robbery in Saanich were also extremely tough to cover. “I definitely have become a harder person, a less emotional person than I used to be, because you just have to be… You have to protect yourself.”
Some days, though, her job is pure fun, like the time she toured Bear Mountain with golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his son. Ross enjoys golfing, though she’s usually too busy to hit the course. When she does have free time, she spends it with her husband and their daughter, 14, and son, 22.
Ross also devoted some of her free hours to volunteering as a UVic Alumni Association (UVAA) board member from 2016 to 2021. Brian Cant, BA ’03, Cert ’08, MBA ’18, is past president of the UVAA. He says Ross is proactive, easy to work with and truly committed to the community.
“She champions CHEK in a way that makes you confident in the work they’re doing. She’s built a lot of trust with people,” says Cant, who serves as Vice President, Business Impact & Engagement at 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island). Cant says having robust community media is critically important. “You just don’t get a perspective that is needed if you don’t have local news.”
Ross advises her own children to be aware of what information they’re consuming online.
“When you’re online watching, make sure it’s responsible journalists—research the source,” she tells them. “A lot of it is just smoke and mirrors.”
- Watch “Reality CHEK: 10th Year Anniversary Special” to learn about the station’s history and how it was saved.
This story originally ran in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine