Blathnaid Healy is the Director EMEA for CNN International, overseeing CNN’s digital journalism across Europe, the Middle East and Africa every day from her base in London. From working in RTÉ as a multimedia journalist to the UK at Mashable, Healy is now at one of the world’s largest news organisations. This week, she’ll be appearing at Social Media Live in Dublin, a one-day event discussing every aspect of social media that businesses should be clued in about today. In this week’s Love Your Work, we chat early mornings, failures as successes and international workloads.
What was your favourite subject in school?
This is an easy one for me – it was music! I went to Sion Hill in Blackrock, and the school was known for having quite a big musical tradition, and I was lucky enough to play violin in the orchestra and sing in the choir – we even started a string quartet at one stage. A lot of that was done as an extra-curricular thing, as well as studying it as a subject. The great thing, looking back, was that all of our rehearsals were done so early in the morning that it got me used to being an early-riser, and having to cart around heavy bags of equipment. It wasn’t so nice at the time, but it prepared me for being a journalist!
What was your first job, and what other jobs have you had since?
Well, my very first job was as a cleaner of a B&B when I was 13. But my first real ‘career’ job was as a multimedia journalist for RTÉ, after having worked as a freelance journalist in Ireland and the U.S beforehand. I worked across RTÉ’s digital platforms for about five years and it was an amazing grounding in so many things – both editorial-wise and getting to know the different ways that news is consumed on different platforms.
After that, I went to work at a company called World Irish, which was a startup. Like a lot of startups, it ultimately didn’t succeed, but it was a great experience, and I look back on it really gratefully and proudly of what we tried to do. A short while after, in 2014, I moved to London to become the UK editor of Mashable, and two years ago, I started at CNN. I’m now the Director of EMEA for CNN Digital International.
What does your daily routine look like?
I wake up on weekdays at about 5:45 am and the first thing I do is check the CNN website to see what we’re leading on for the day – before the London team comes in, the Hong Kong team have been leading on news, so I check all of that. I read emails, I check Twitter to see what people are talking about, I check competitor’s publications to see what they’re focusing on, and I start thinking about what stories are developing and worth covering.
I’m usually at my desk at about 7:45 am, when the team gathers together for a small discussion on what we should be covering, and then at 8:30 am, I chair the morning news meeting for all platforms internationally, which brings in all the different bases across the world, whether it’s Atlanta, Abu Dhabi, Moscow and so on. We discuss the stories that are important that day and how we will cover and make sense of them.
The rest of the day, there’s a lot of forward planning; discussing developing stories, overseeing different initiatives, meeting with different people on my team and others, and catching up with international colleagues.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
It’s definitely the privilege of working with a team of incredibly talented journalists and editors and I just think it’s so rewarding to be around them.
What’s your least favourite part?
The 5:45 am alarm!
What are the key skills you need to make it in your industry?
For journalists and editors, you need determination to keep going when a story is difficult. Curiosity to keep asking the questions that the public want answers to. And you need creativity to come up with new and different ways to tell a story that makes it stand out, so that people will read and watch and share it.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned for success in your career?
I think it’s important to remember that your successes are rarely just your own – they come from your team and the people that help you along the way. I thoroughly enjoy my team at CNN; they’re sharp, they’re ambitious, they’re innovative, and I’ve found that the hardest part of leaving any previous role has been leaving the teams behind.
It’s not really a regret, but I always think about my dad – my father died when I was 12, and I think he would have always been curious about the paths that myself and my sister have taken in life. My parents always took so much care that we were informed, and knew what was going on in the world; the Six One news was always on the telly, and he loved to have spirited discussions about news and politics and history. I’d love to still be having those with him. It’s not a regret, it’s just something I wish was different.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
I think almost everyone has been terrified to speak up in a work situation, whether it’s meetings or to a boss. When I was starting out, I didn’t know that, and I thought that everyone was just confident about it. I wish I knew that finding your voice doesn’t come easily, and you don’t have to be the most vocal person in every setting. But you do need to know how to make your voice heard in some way, and don’t keep the great ideas to yourself. Seek out mentors who can help you find your voice.
What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t let the knocks that you get set you back. Take the constructive parts of feedback, dust yourself off, be patient and try again. Part of what will make that easier is not burning yourself out – find other things outside of work that fulfill you. When I left World Irish, I was a bit lost and it was over a year until I found my next full-time role – at times, that was definitely tough, but having the patience and persistence is what will get you through.