From interviewing movie stars to meeting pop culture icons on the red carpet, every day on the job is different for Redbird alum Jeff Conway ‘08. Not only is he living his dream as an entertainment journalist, but he also gets to meet and interview his favorite celebrities.
Conway has been an entertainment reporter for 14 years and currently writes for Forbes as a senior contributor in the Hollywood and Entertainment section.
When the Schaumburg native arrived at Illinois State, he first joined WZND radio as a news and weather reporter and later produced entertainment pieces for TV-10.
Conway credits TV-10’s Laura Trendle Polus ’87, M.S. ’00, and Bob Carroll ’89, ’94, M.S. ’15, and WZND’s Deb Lesser ’83, M.S. ’84, who impacted his experience as a School of Communication student and helped build the foundation for his professional career.
“They knew I wanted to go into entertainment, and they respected that—it meant a lot to me,” Conway said. “It was nice to have teachers who supported what I wanted to do and where I am today.”
After graduating from ISU with a Bachelor of Arts in communication, Conway worked his way up from intern to the sole producer of the entertainment television show 24/7 on NBC5 in Chicago, where he often interviewed celebrities on the red carpet.
He continued to work in Chicago as a host and producer for privately-owned Comcast channels, including Life Creative Network, where Conway was nominated for an “Outstanding Program Host” award at the Chicago Emmy’s in 2017 for his on-camera achievements. Beyond that, Conway has also been the fashion and entertainment editor for Candid Magazine, which was a publication based in London, and served as the director of multimedia for Chicago Scene, where he featured city events and celebrity interviews.
“COVID-19 happened, and everything shut down—all the red carpets were nonexistent,” Conway said. “But I needed to keep doing journalism. It would devastate me to not do my passion and what I went to school for.”
Conway persevered by pursuing an opportunity with Forbes.
“They vetted me for about two months, but I finally got approved to join their team and it has been amazing,” Conway said. “A couple months ago, I surpassed a million page views in under 18 months. The Forbes name helps me and I’m grateful for it, but it’s my tenacity and creativity that gets these interviews.”
Conway continued with more about his career as an entertainment reporter now in Los Angeles.
Tell me about an average day for you.
Right now, I’m writing my interview with Blake Lively and my exclusive with her and her Betty Buzz non-alcoholic mixer drinks—it was a hilarious, fun, and informative conversation. I transcribed that video interview and then write an article around her quotes. I booked Lindsay Lohan for an exclusive interview, but I’ll start writing my questions and doing my research about everything Lindsay is doing with her new podcast called The Lohdown. Every day is different, but I like it that way.
How did you get into entertainment journalism?
I loved movies and entertainment. I would watch these celebrity interviews by these journalists, and I thought they were so robotic and impersonal. I thought these interviews were very business-like. I felt like there was something in me that knew I could speak to these people in a friendlier tone and with carefully crafted questions that would make them feel comfortable enough to forget this is business. It’s about two friends or strangers speaking at two ends of the bar—that’s the kind of mentality I try to have with all of my interviews and it has worked out. I’m a human first and a journalist second.
Who was your favorite interview and why?
Channing Tatum has to be one of my favorites—he’s just a cool guy and very humble and playful. Broadway star Kristin Chenowith is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met—she’s loving, exciting, and genuinely enthusiastic about life, which as an interviewer, I appreciate. Matt Damon, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Heughan, and Chrishell Stause have been some of my favorite interviews, as well.
If there’s one celebrity on your list that you’ve always wanted to interview but haven’t, 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’m also intrigued by Julia Roberts, Rachel McAdams, and Mariah Carey because she owns Christmas.
It’s hard for me to think about that because I have interviewed most of my dream people. Email after email of trying to get to the right people has got me where I wanted because I was respectful and consistent. I made my own dreams happen and I’m happy about that.
How did Illinois State help you?
ISU helped me find these outlets to express myself and create at an early age. TV-10 and WZND were outlets open to me and weren’t overly competitive, which was nice because I was able to do what I wanted. Schools like Illinois State 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 on it so fondly.
What are interviewing tips you’d like to give?
Do your research and know anything and 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—if so many people are in the same industry, you’re not going to make it if you don’t stand out in some capacity. Look at your skills and see what makes you stand out—then use it to your advantage.