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Rowe to the rescue? Not quite – but for Channel 7, it’s a start

During the November storm of 2014, Ashley Rowe flew over Western New York in a helicopter to report for CTV in Toronto about Buffalo’s handling of 7 feet of snow.

Rowe saw Western New Yorkers shoveling off roofs without even needing to get on a ladder.

“I remember one guy was trying to shovel his vehicle out,” Rowe said. “There was no chance he was going to get that out. So he was waving at us. I think he thought we were the National Guard.”

Rowe couldn’t be any help then. But as Channel 7’s new primary female anchor on three newscasts, she may have a much bigger rescue ahead of her.

Rowe’s hiring could be viewed as Channel 7’s way of waving its hands to get attention and climb out of the local TV news basement.

Channel 7 General Manager Michael Nurse doesn’t go that far.

“We don’t see Ashley as our savior but just another positive step in our rebuilding process,” said Nurse.

The early returns illustrate Rowe’s hiring has at least led to more sampling of Channel 7’s improved newscast.

“She is an ideal combination of solid journalist and great presenter,” said Nurse. “Ashley will … do more than just read the news. She wants to be active in reporting, field anchoring and being involved in our community.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the 20-something anchor discussed her family and journalistic background, her reasons for coming to Buffalo and her hopes for the future.

A dual citizen, Rowe was born in Los Angeles when her Canadian parents worked there. Her parents, Peter and Carolyn, moved to Toronto when she was about 3 years old. Her father is a Canadian filmmaker whose student film called “Buffalo Airport Visions” focused on his picking up the band Velvet Underground at the airport. A very young Rowe has appeared in two of her father’s projects, most notably as the screaming child in a Canadian show “E.N.G.”

Rowe spent a year in Africa when her father worked on the TV series “African Skies,” but she grew up in Toronto. She studied media and broadcast journalism at Western University in London, Ont., and an affiliated college, Fanshawe.

“I had always been very interested in news media,” said Rowe, whose grandfather worked at two newspapers in Toronto. “But I didn’t know I was going to get into media when I first went to university.”

She thought about going into business and marketing before making a self-discovery.

“I’m not a numbers girl,” said Rowe.

Her phrase “to university” illustrates that she is a Canadian girl. The accent occasionally slips into her anchoring when she says “against,” “about” and “dollar.”

“I’m trying,” said Rowe with a laugh. “I’m working on it. It is only three weeks into it. Cut me some slack.”

She was working at CHCH-TV in Hamilton before her college graduation in 2011. She started at CTV in 2011 as a reporter and became a fill-in anchor a few years later.

At CTV, she was one of the first reporters on the scene of shootings at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto.

She was on the subway heading home to pick up her ticket for a Dave Matthews concert when the train stopped. She hopped into a cab, saw police crews and fire trucks everywhere, called her producer and was told “go there right now.”

“I captured a lot of footage on my iPhone because my colleagues weren’t able to get there as quickly as I was,” she said modestly.

She said an agent approached her last year about seeking other opportunities.

“I had a really great thing going in Toronto,” said Rowe. “So I was in no rush to leave.”

Rowe said she was attracted to Channel 7 because she would anchor three newscasts a day in a great news market that is close enough to home that her parents can see every newscast and call afterward. She also knows Buffalo is ideal for her twin passions of snowboarding and golf.

“I got a really great opportunity to be a fixture on a newscast in a station,” said Rowe. “A lot is going on here. My parents, my friends grew up watching Buffalo news.”

Her parents were watching on premiere night when Rowe wore a bright red dress a viewer couldn’t miss.

“They were really proud,” said Rowe. “My mother said, ‘I like the red on you.’ They are my biggest fans.”

Naturally, she heard some kidding about coming to Buffalo from the Canadian side.

“Some people would say, ‘Why would you want to go to Buffalo? They just have chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills.’ I would say, ‘When was the last time you were in Buffalo?’ They would say, ‘I don’t know.’ And I would say, ‘exactly.’ ”

She said she doesn’t feel pressure to bring Channel 7 back to its glory days under anchor Irv Weinstein, who she has seen only on YouTube.

“There was never any conversation about we’re expecting you to boost ratings,” she said. “All I know was I was offered a great opportunity and I walked into that newsroom the first time and I felt the same kind of energy that I feel when I walk around downtown Buffalo. … Why wouldn’t I want to be part of that?”

She hasn’t instantly won over everyone. Being young, blonde and attractive can be a TV draw – or lead to stereotyped criticism. After I wrote Rowe made a strong first impression, some readers unfairly wrote the market didn’t need another “blonde bimbo” reading the news.

“People will make assumptions; I can’t control that,” said Rowe. “It would bother me if they didn’t give me a chance. If they just looked at me, made an assumption about me, and turned the channel. That would bother me. … I spent six years on the streets of Toronto, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area, slinging it out with some of the best in the country.”

On the opposite end of the stereotyped criticism are those readers who wrote to say that Rowe is too good to be here beyond the three years on her contract.

“I can see myself making my career here,” said Rowe. “I think it is a fantastic city, a fantastic region. I know that people come back here after having moved away. … I can see this being very long-term.”

Some cynical readers might view that as a snow job. But if Rowe can help rescue Channel 7, anything may be possible.