'The beating heart of the newsroom' - Meet the Irish woman behind CNN's social team
Samantha Barry’s obsession with news – and the way that information was translated to the masses – was evident at an early age as she listened to RTE radio from her home in Ballincollig, Co Cork.
After a degree in English and a Masters in Journalism, Barry joined that team of reporters with a late-night internship at 2FM followed by roles as a reporter and a producer on Morning Ireland.
“I was always fascinated by radio. When I became a lunchtime reporter with Newstalk, I got to report on breaking news so I needed to learn how to turn news around really fast,” she told independent.ie.
“Even at that stage, we were getting text messages from listeners wanting to offer information or respond.”
But it was only while working abroad, particularly in her 18 months spent in Papua New Guinea with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), that Barry began to make the shift towards the technology and social media scene.
“As technology has developed, in line with different platforms, we now have real-time interaction with stories. Social networks like Facebook have become not just about what’s happening in the lives of our friends and colleagues – but it’s about what’s happening in the world, a hyper global setting at the forefront.”
After joining BBC World News, Barry then travelled and worked in many different countries as a social media producer and a journalist – using platforms as a tool for news gathering and audience building.
Hitting all social platforms 24/7
When Barry moved to CNN in September 2014, the timing was particularly exciting as the US election frenzy was really beginning to ramp up. And that had a positive impact for the growth of the social media scene.
“I have been very lucky with great timing so, from the outset, I have had amazing buy in from the very top. They realised that social was something that we needed to really focus on.”
Experimentation and collaboration was an opportunity that went hand in hand with the elections run-up for the CNN bosses. The group partnered with Facebook for one of the political debates, they were the first organisation to go Live on Facebook and, after launching on Snapchat – one of three messaging apps they launched on in the last year - CNN held interviews on the channel. This move helped reach an even younger but nonetheless eager audience.
“I’ve always been passionate about people; how they were consuming news on social media and the way that we reached out to each other,” she said.
“But it’s essential that we take each of the different social platforms and we look at them separately. The story is the same but how we news gather or deliver from these platforms will be targeted as they all have different demographics and they ingest and react to the news in different ways.”
From influencers on Twitter to the visually focussed Instagram followers to the slightly older but strong audience on Facebook to getting news bites on Snapchat – Barry believes they all have an interest and all have a voice.
“We know our audience across some platforms is younger but they have an appetite for news that is sometime overlooked. You adapt and tailor your storytelling to meet their needs. Not one size fits all.”
Like most media agencies globally that use digital as an output method, the recognition of mobile as a key driver and being able to reach people anywhere at any time has become essential in a competitive market.
“CNN was always about innovation: 24 hours a day on TV, on apps and on mobile web – I just wanted to make sure that this was sustained on social. Now we have 24/7 global publishing around the clock, manning and news gathering from social.”
How CNN social team tackle a big news story
A perfect example of how the CNN social media team react to a global event is when Donald Trump’s immigration ban became the leading news piece across every continent.
“When the travel ban came into effect, as is the case with a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, the key people get aligned from the get go. From the news gathering team to the editor in chief...asking what are the stories we have, what do we need to get out and push in. We work closely with the bureaus about getting the stories out.
CNN set up a voicemail project so that those affected by the travel ban could leave a message that could then be reviewed and made available for listeners to tap in to. Feeds coming in via Facebook Live were monitored and desked as “good place for viewers to watch unnarrated streams of live feeds”.
“We were in constant contact with our international colleagues to discuss how were dividing the different stories – and how we could output the one story across all of the different platforms,” she said.
In the last two and a half years at CNN, Barry has shown her ambition to bringing her team to the forefront globally – and realises that it’s not something she can become complacent about.
“I wanted us to be number 1 on the platform that we played on. We’re competing for time and attention whether it’s watching a satirical show on Netflix or reading a newspaper column. The competitors of the past are not the same on social. We are always watching what other people/news agencies are doing.”