Susan Hay: There Is Nothing Better Than A Good News Story

Television veteran Susan Hay has been exuding positivity, truth and credibility while making a difference for 35 years at Global Television

In today’s fragmented media environment full of misinformation, rumours, conspiracy theories and unregulated social media platforms populated by loud people wearing aluminum-foil hats, knowing who to trust and who is telling the truth can sometimes be a challenge. In Ontario, people have been tuning to Global Television’s Susan Hay for 35 years for truth, trust and credible information.

For Hay, it’s that truth and credibility that makes all the difference in broadcast journalism and a big reason why in this ever-changing media landscape, conventional television still reigns supreme for her.

“I still think that when there is a disaster in the world, where do you go? You go to conventional television,” says Hay in a recent interview with City Life to mark her 35th anniversary at Global Television. “You go to the people that you trust, that have been there and have been in your home before. Sure, you’re still getting news on your phone — you can get it anywhere because everything is so fast. But when you need to know what is really going on, you go back to us and that’s why we’re still there. Sure, it’s changing, but we’re still in it. In news you’re always evolving, as nothing stays the same. It’s constantly changing and you’ve just got to go with it.”

Hay is best known as the anchor and producer of the long-running “Making a Difference” segment on Global, now in its 23rd year, telling the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and making a difference throughout southern Ontario. Originally called “Susan Hay’s Heart of the City,” the segment started in 2001, the same year as 9/11, when viewers were looking for feel-good stories.

Journalists are by nature curious cats with an interest in people and storytelling, and Hay created the segment to leave the bubble of the studio, hit the streets and do live reporting. As the old TV-show tagline goes, “There are eight million stories in the naked city,” and during its 23-year run, Hay has covered many of those stories.

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“I just love it, but it was slow to start because when you think back 23 years, maybe people didn’t relate to these types of stories, but they sure do now,” says Hay, referring to the origins of the popular segment. “When I started it, I wondered if I was doing the right thing because I was leaving my regular routine in the studio and the weather desk. When 9/11 happened, the world changed and when the pandemic happened, the world changed again. Now it seems the world is upside down again, so these stories resonate more than they ever have.”

Hay’s easy and affable nature allows her to relate to her interview subjects so they tell their stories with ease | Photo By Emad Mohammadi

The defining feature of “Making a Difference” is Hay’s natural affinity with people. Her affable nature helps make her guests relax, open up and tell their stories. “It’s just who I am,” says Hay, explaining how her on-camera persona reflects her real character. “I just wanted something different and I love people, so I sit with them, relax with them and get to know them before we start. It’s the biggest compliment to me when I hear ‘You’re so relaxing, you make it so easy!’ because I’m really interested in who you are. I think I bring that to the table and the more you relax someone, the better the interview you are going to get.”

Hay’s genuine nature is a reflection of her small-town roots. She was born and raised in North Bay, growing up as one of three close-knit sisters, and still considers herself a small-town girl despite the bright lights of big-city television.

“My childhood was absolutely perfect,” says Hay, flashing her famous smile. “I have the fondest memories and I have the most incredibly loving family, with parents who gave us such a solid foundation — just to grow, just to flourish without any rules about what you can or cannot do. Do whatever makes you happy, just be healthy and happy. And we were and we still are, so I love them for that. I’m so fortunate because I talk to so many people who didn’t have what I have.”

“There is a beautiful team at Global Television, we’re like a family and I am so lucky”

There is a common misconception, perhaps shaped by folklore, that all journalists always wanted to be journalists and nothing but journalists. After all, Carl Bernstein, who along with his colleague Bob Woodward broke the Watergate story in 1972, joined The Washington Post when he was just 16. That wasn’t the case for Susan Hay, though. She wanted to work with children and fell into journalism almost by accident.

“I was always very creative growing up, but I didn’t know what that meant,” she recalls. “At that time everybody was going to be a teacher or a nurse, but that was not going to be me. I took business courses in college for a few years, not knowing what else to do, but then I got a summer job at a television station in Sudbury and I never left. I didn’t want to go on-air and it was management that approached me. I was working as the executive assistant to the vice president of News and Operations and the president of the station told the VP, ‘I think we should test her.’ So I started small with ‘Community Notes’ and then I filled in for a girl who had a half-hour talk show. It took a while, but I prepared. It was hard work but I became very good at it.”

One of the many things that strike you when speaking with Hay is her fierce drive and determination. That came in handy when she faced challenges in the early part of her career. Television and, indeed, society were much different worlds than they are today.

“I’m the type of person who has always forged ahead and didn’t look back, but it wasn’t easy” to overcome some obstacles, says Hay. “When I first started, especially with weather, there was some stereotype that went with that, and I was blond and I was young — so there was the whole ‘How can she be intelligent?’ and ‘Who gave her that job?’ I fought that for a lot of years, because I worked so hard and nobody just gave me my job, and I just want to be the best for me.”

“I got into this business because I was creative and I love storytelling,” she continues. “So there were challenges, and there was a period when it was pretty tough. But you just have to know who you are, do your thing, and here I am today. I still love this business, and I’m as passionate as I ever was or I wouldn’t be here. I just don’t think about those times anymore.”

As one of Canada’s most popular television personalities, Hay has done almost everything in the business, from being the face of the Santa Claus Parade for 15 years to interviewing celebrities including Sir Elton John, Goldie Hawn and Martin Short. She is also the proud record-holder as the longest-running cannon doll in the National Ballet’s Nutcracker, further testament to her dedicated community involvement.

Hay welcomed City Life into her lovely home where, she notes, there is never any boredom | Photo By Emad Mohammadi

In 2022 Hay was appointed to the Order of Ontario, the province’s most prestigious honour for individuals who have shown outstanding qualities of excellence both at home and abroad. Her hometown of North Bay has not forgotten her, either: she was given a star on its Walk of Fame in 2012; in 2022 Nipissing University awarded her an honorary doctorate and Canadore College established a scholarship for broadcast journalists in her name.

Hay is exceptionally generous with her time. Over the years, she has served on numerous boards, including that of Toronto’s Ronald McDonald House, and has assisted with several charities such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada. Not only was she the organization’s spokesperson, but she also ran in four of its marathons to raise funds and awareness. She continues to co-host the annual Toronto Fire Fighters Toy Drive, but her primary focus now is on World Vision Canada and The Darling Home for Kids.

Working with World Vision, which took her to Africa several years ago to help tell the stories of and give voice to those the organization helps, had a profound impact on her. Her trip to Africa came at a time when she needed some life changes — early in her career, when she felt particularly vulnerable and when her credibility was being questioned, an experience that many female journalists shared during that very different era.

“I’ve never felt more comfortable in my life than when I was there and Africa now has my heart”

On that trip she also received a life-affirming message that she remembers vividly to this day. “When I went to Africa for the first time, it was a time of challenge in my job, and deep thought of ‘Do I want to stay here?’” recalls Hay. “So I needed a life change. I’ve never felt more comfortable in my life than when I was there, and Africa now has my heart. One of our drivers in Mozambique asked me why I came. He said to me, ‘Some people follow the sun’ — meaning you’ve got to have the white picket fence, the perfect life or at least portray that — ‘and then there are some people who go through the darkness and they find the sun.’ And I think I found the sun when I was in Africa.”

Now 62, Hay is not slowing down and is always planning what’s next in her career. “There is a beautiful team at Global Television. We’re like a family and I am so lucky,” she says. “I want to continue with ‘Making a Difference,’ as that’s my baby. I’ll never give that up since those stories are helping people with their lives, and I think it brings hope to our viewers to know that there are change-makers out there. I would also like to start to do more specials — perhaps something on aging, as so many people are dealing with older parents. I’d like to do something with youth, with teens and anxiety and what our phones have created. I’d like to do these certain specials to bring awareness to viewers, maybe four times a year.”

Even though she works under the bright lights of big-city television, Hay remains true to her small-town North Bay roots | Photo By Emad Mohammadi

Over the decades, Hay has lived her life and done her job adhering to a set of never-changing guiding principles. They have served her well over time. “Be truthful, be honest, know the facts and be kind,” she states. “I don’t think any of that has changed over the years. You’ve got to be who you are. If you’re not that way, well, you know, people come and go all the time.”

You could easily understand if after working in a newsroom for decades and being exposed to the difficult stories that a newsroom handles on a daily basis, a person could become a bit jaded in how they see the world. But not Susan Hay, who continues to be inspired every day.

Susan Hay

Secure in her position as one of Canada’s most trusted journalists, Hay remains optimistic about the future | Photo By Emad Mohammadi

“My work inspires me as these stories are very inspiring to me,” says Hay. “I think I’m inspiring our viewers. Look at what I get to do every day — every single day. Several days a week I’m out in the field interviewing the most inspirational and motivating people, and I’ve been doing that for 23 years. The greatest compliment I’ve received is that I helped to shape someone’s life, whether it be through mentorship, storytelling or reaching out to someone when they needed it most. So that inspires me. And my husband inspires me. There’s never going to be any boredom, not in our home — never!”

These are turbulent times. It sometimes feels that simply watching a newscast takes nerves of steel, but not when watching Susan Hay — Susan Hay is a good-news story, an accomplished, positive, credible and truthful journalist doing her best to share stories of triumph and inspiration about people from all walks of life. That is the type of journalism and the type of broadcaster we can all celebrate and enjoy.


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Rick Muller

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