From interviews with movie stars to red carpet encounters with pop culture icons, Redbird 2008 alumnus Jeff Conway’s every day is different. Not only does he live out his dream as an entertainment journalist, but he also meets and interviews his favorite celebrities.
Conway has been an entertainment reporter for 14 years and currently writes for Forbes as a Senior Officer in Hollywood & Entertainment.
When the Schaumburg native arrived in Illinois, he first joined WZND radio as a news and weather reporter and then produced entertainment material for TV-10.
Conway thanks Laura Trendle Polus of TV-10 ’87, MS ’00, and Bob Carroll ’89, ’94, MS ’15, and Deb Lesser of WZND ’83, MS ’84, who influenced his experience as a student at the School communications and helped lay the foundation for his professional career.
“They knew I wanted to do entertainment and they respected that – it meant a lot to me,” Conway said. “It was nice to have teachers who were supportive of what I wanted to do and where I am today.”
After graduating from ISU with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Conway went from trainee to sole producer of a TV entertainment show. 24/7 on NBC5 in Chicago, where he frequently interviewed celebrities on the red carpet.
He continued to work in Chicago as a host and producer for Comcast’s private channels, including Life Creative Network, where Conway was nominated for Outstanding Program Host at the 2017 Chicago Emmy Awards for his achievements on camera. In addition, Conway was also the fashion and entertainment editor of the magazine Frank magazinewhich was a London edition and served as director of multimedia for Chicago Scenewhere he talked about city events and interviewed celebrities.
“COVID-19 happened and everything shut down — all the red carpets didn’t exist,” Conway said. “But I needed to keep doing journalism. I would be devastated if I didn’t pursue my passion and the things I went to school for.”
Conway was persistent, seizing the opportunity with Forbes.
“They checked me out for about two months but finally they let me join their team and it was amazing,” Conway said. “A couple of months ago, I surpassed a million page views in less than 18 months. Tea Forbes the name helps me and I am grateful for it, but it was my perseverance and creativity that allowed me to get these interviews.
Conway went on to talk about his career as an entertainment reporter, now based in Los Angeles.
Tell me about your typical day.
Right now I’m writing my interview with Blake Lively and my exclusive with her and her Betty Buzz soft drinks – it’s been a fun, fun and educational conversation. I recorded this video interview and then wrote an article based on her quotes. I’ve booked Lindsay Lohan for an exclusive interview, but I’ll start posting my questions and researching everything Lindsay is doing with her new podcast called Tea lochdown. Every day is different, but I love it.
How did you get into entertainment journalism?
I loved cinema and entertainment. I watched these celebrity interviews that these journalists were doing and I thought they were so robotic and impersonal. I thought these interviews were very much like business. I felt like there was something in me that knew that I could talk to these people in a friendly tone and with carefully crafted questions that would make them feel comfortable enough to forget it was a business. It’s about two friends or strangers talking on opposite sides of a bar – that’s the mentality I try to keep in all my interviews, and it worked. First of all, I am a person, and only then a journalist.
Who was your favorite interview and why?
Channing Tatum has to be one of my favorites – he’s just a cool guy, very humble and playful. Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She is loving, moving, and genuinely passionate about life, which I, as an interviewer, appreciate. Matt Damon, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Heughan and Chrischel Staus were also some of my favorite interviews.
If there was one celebrity on your list that you always wanted to interview but didn’t dare, who would it be?
Meryl Streep because she’s a chameleon when it comes to her acting work and I just love her for it. I was also intrigued by Julia Roberts, Rachel McAdams and Mariah Carey because Christmas belongs to her.
It’s hard for me to think about it because I’ve interviewed most of the people of my dreams. Letter after email trying to reach the right people got me where I wanted to go because I was respectful and consistent. I made my dreams come true and I’m happy about it.
How has the state of Illinois helped you?
ISU helped me find these opportunities for self-expression and creativity at an early age. TV-10 and WZND were open to me and not too competitive, which was nice because I could do what I wanted. Schools like Illinois allow you to expand and create a more open environment with an accessible curriculum that allows you to find your true calling. I loved ISU and still look back fondly on it.
What interview advice would you like to give?
Do your research and find out everything you can. Double check sources and accuracy because you don’t want to be wrong. Also, think outside the box. My instructors at ISU would agree that with so many people working in the same industry, you won’t be successful unless you excel in some area. Look at your skills and see what makes you stand out, then use that to your advantage.