As a new documentary follows Cork native and ‘Glamour’ editor-in-chief Samantha Barry in the run-up to the Women of the Year Awards, she takes time to talk to
At one point in Fearless, Samantha Barry says: “When my heart is in my throat, that feels like success to me.”
It is this fearlessness that gives the documentary its title but it’s also the characteristic which has pushed Barry to embrace new challenges and technologies throughout her career.
“I don’t know whether my brain confuses fear with excitement and that’s why I am always jumping into things that seem a bit of a stretch,” says Barry on the phone from New York, in a call interrupted briefly by none other than Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
“That has got me further than playing by rules that pre-date me. I get a little bit of enjoyment out of the fear, and (the twinkle in her eye is audible) out of breaking the rules.”
A turning point in Barry’s career was a period spent in Papua New Guinea with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation working with local radio journalists.
Her early adopter status was apparent in her introduction of text messaging and Facebook into the stations there.
This experience helped forge Barry’s path as a journalist with many tools at her disposal not least social media.
“I left that country thinking of myself as a multimedia journalist — from a career perspective it was formative.”
Her 18-month stint in Papua New Guinea also brought issues such as domestic violence into stark relief for her.
“It was the first time in my career that I had what was a quintessentially a ‘women’s story’ and I had to think about how I was going to tell it in a bigger way. I knew I could tell it, but also, I could help the women there to tell it.”
It was Barry’s global perspective, as well as her innate curiosity, that made her an ideal candidate for the job as editor-in-chief of Glamour according to colleagues such as Anna Wintour.
“News and information is hyper-local in many places. In Ireland the news has always been international,” she says.
“From a young age in Ireland we are taught that the world is bigger than just Cork or Dublin.”
In Barry’s first year as the digital-first editor of Glamour, she covered the drought in Cape Town, South Africa, and wrote an editorial on the Repeal campaign in Ireland.
She says it’s about telling big stories in a way that connects with the Glamour reader: “It’s about asking: How do I tell a global story but through a Glamour lens?”
At the BBC and CNN she learned how to “break through the noise” but she also had to “unlearn” the breaking news agenda of being first and fastest for her role at Glamour.
“At Glamour it’s not about breaking news but about finding out what women care about,” she says.
While the casual observer might see Glamour as a fashion and beauty media outlet only, Barry says that it has always been a trailblazer.
“Its tagline in the 1940s was: ‘For the girl with a job’. It was the first place to pay Andy Warhol for an illustration and we were the first fashion magazine to put a black woman on the cover.
“Glamour has always been forward-thinking about the stories they want to tell around women.”
Barry cites CNN editor-in-chief Meredith Artley as a mentor and guide.
“I learned a lot about running a crew and about what motivates different personalities at CNN,” she says. “I think that equipped me to be editor at Glamour. You have to be considered and aware of your own flaws too.”
In Fearless the viewer is introduced to Barry’s New York friends. “My friend Orla talks about going to Anna’s house, my friends come to the Women of the Year Awards or go to movie premiers with me. What’s the point in having all of these amazing things happen if you can’t share it? Absolutely my friends ground me but they’re also people with whom I can share in the delight of things.”
Barry is described variously in Fearless as courageous, vulnerable, tenacious, hardworking, honest, connected and curious.
She credits a lot of her confidence to her mother.
“As children she always said to us: ‘You’re a smart girl. What are you?’ and we had to say: ‘I’m a smart girl’ back. My family never made me feel like there was anything I couldn’t do — whether that was pretending I was Anne Doyle as a kid or working at RTÉ or at the BBC. I think it is very important that kids are allowed to dream big.”
Barry says that she speaks to her sister by phone three times a day. “My sister said to me: ‘Give this documentary everything because how cool would it have been for us aged 11 or 12 and to see someone from Ballincollig up there like that?’.
“I would love to think that a young girl watching this would see all the possibilities that are out there.”
- Fearless: Samantha Barry airs on RTÉ One at 9.35pm on Monday, June 8