Ask Christy Tanner how she got into tech and the media, and she quickly answers: “I always wanted to be in the news business. Growing up all my summer jobs were reporting jobs and my first job was as an editor for Associated Press.”
That passion for news and journalism also goes a long way toward explaining why Tanner is receiving B&C’s 2018 Technology Leadership Award. Under her leadership, CBSN, the company’s 24-hour digital streaming news network, has enjoyed tremendous growth, delivering more than 280 million live streams in 2017 — up 17% from an unprecedented 2016 presidential campaign that produced record audiences for news organizations. Even better, in a period when traditional TV news audiences skew older, CBSN is bringing a whole new generation of viewers to CBS News. The average age of a CBSN viewer is 38.
As a successful print journalist in the mid-1990s, Tanner accidentally stumbled onto the power of digital media while on assignment. Sitting in a restaurant in Mississippi, she happened to strike up a conversation with some people at the next table who ran an internet startup in France. They asked her to file weekly audio reports on the presidential race.
“That really sparked my interest in the power of digital because I could see people reacting to my reports and was getting all these people emailing me in French,” she recalled.
After getting an MBA from Columbia Business School in 1999, she took a series of digital jobs for companies like The Washington Post Co. and ultimately TV Guide Digital, which was bought by CBS Interactive in 2013. By 2015, she was running CBS’ digital news operations and last fall was promoted to her current title.
In those years, CBS News Digital has not only grown rapidly, it has also managed to bring some traditional journalistic values into new media. The streaming service CBSN has produced well-received original documentaries, showed a willingness to tackle complex issues and developed a breaking news team that is focused on hard news at a time when cable news networks have embraced talk and opinion formats.
“We’ve found an audience that is hungry for information and we’ve found an audience that wants to come along with us for deep dives into complex issues,” Tanner said.
Those journalistic values have also driven much of her career. “I was a newspaper reporter who earned an MBA and ended up with a front row seat in a technology revolution,” she said. “I think that journalism background has served me every day of my career.
“As a reporter you are opening yourself up to learning something new every day and asking a lot of questions,” she continued. “And, at the same time, you learn to be a good listener and to be able to synthesize complex information. That combination of openness and questioning has been a great foundation for meeting the challenges we face every day.”