Watching out the window of his daughter’s Dallas apartment as high-speed winds tossed leaves and debris through the air, Barry Simms ’80 reached for the remote to turn on the news. To his dismay, his 26-year-old daughter had no local television stations. They later discovered the windstorm had culminated in a tornado that touched down just outside of the city. After a lecture on the importance of local news, Barry set up alerts on his phone so he could keep an eye on Dallas-area happenings from back home in Baltimore, where he serves a similar purpose in keeping people informed as an anchor for WBAL-TV 11 News.
Barry had journalistic aspirations as a student at The Mount, though whether he would go into print, radio, or television was at the time uncertain. Junior year, he traded afterschool track practices for an internship at WWIN radio. Alongside a few other young, eager interns, Barry learned the ropes of running a radio show from then-Director of Public Affairs Mary Claiborne. One of his fellow interns went on to write for the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, and Barry credits their success in large part to the mentorship they received from Mary.
“It was what we learned, the interesting things she made sure that we knew,” he says. “That we were comfortable sitting in front of a microphone. To speak clearly so people can understand you. How to command a room. How to be confident in yourself. I learned a lot from her; she was one of my greatest mentors.”
Barry went on to study journalism at Marquette University, where he quickly immersed himself in the field. The summer before his senior year, while home in Baltimore, he had an internship at WBAL that led to a job offer in newswriting, but at the advice of his former mentor he decided to turn it down. “You have to get your degree,” Mary instructed. “Be patient.”
Barry listened, taking full advantage of his final year at Marquette. In addition to enrolling in 18 credits-worth of classes, Barry had a part-time job and an internship at WISN, a Milwaukee-based TV station affiliated with ABC. “I did a lot of things the other interns weren’t doing,” he says. “I took the shifts nobody wanted. Sometimes I’d be there all weekend. I’d go out early morning with the reporter, then I’d stay and help write the show.”
His hard work and patience paid off when he landed a job as a weekend anchor and reporter at WREX-TV in Rockford, Illinois. After three years, he moved south to KTBS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana. Another three years later and he was on to KXAS-TV in Dallas. He finally made his way home to Baltimore in 1998 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter and a member of the WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team.
Barry’s day starts with a 10:00 a.m. staff meeting, during which the team discusses the stories on the docket for the evening news. He then sets up interviews and heads out to the scene of the story to collect video footage, often doing his research on the road. By 2:00 p.m., he has to let the station know what he’ll have ready for that night’s show. Then comes writing and editing to get the story in and approved by the 5:00 p.m. airtime. Sometimes the details are being finalized down to the wire, but when the camera comes up on Barry, he has to give the calm, collected impression that he’s been ready and waiting for the viewer all evening.
“I have to go on air and act like this wasn’t the most stressful day I’ve ever had,” he laughs.
It’s a quick turnaround from following a lead to putting together the news segment, but Barry says it’s a collaborative effort with his cameraperson, who offers suggestions as to which video clips will best supplement the story. Over the past several years, Barry has had the opportunity to work closely with WBAL cameraman and fellow Gael Thomas Culp ’75. The pair has often been referred to by others at the station as the “Saint Joe Crew.”
Barry has covered all kinds of news throughout his career. “I’ve had a lot of memorable stories,” he says. “There are some that have made me laugh and some heartbreaking ones.” But his favorite stories have been those that have allowed him to give a voice to individuals who might not have the opportunity to share their experience otherwise. “Those are the stories I gravitate to because I’m trying to make sure they are at least heard,” he explains. “I may not be able to solve their problems, but at least they can tell their story.”
When telling stories of trauma, Barry takes care to ensure that the people he interviews are represented with “plenty of dignity.” Once, a mother had awoken to the devastating news of her son’s death and graciously agreed to be interviewed. But the shock of the morning’s events was written all over her appearance, with her hair still rolled into curlers and a dressing robe draped over her clothes. When it was his turn to speak with her, Barry gently offered her time to go inside to prepare to be on camera, a kindness clearly not afforded by the reporter from another station who had just completed his own interview with the grieving woman.
Barry asserts that the most important task of an investigative reporter is to listen. Listening has led him to confront conflicting information and uncover truths, while helping him battle personal biases to ensure both sides of a story are presented equally. There have been instances in which his interviews have provided vital information to law enforcement officials and stories that have led to actionable change.
When Barry steps in front of the camera, microphone in hand, he stands up a little straighter and speaks as clearly as he can. Whether he’s out in the wind warning viewers about impending severe weather or creating a platform for the otherwise voiceless, he knows full well the importance of providing live, local, and late-breaking news to the citizens of Baltimore.From the Spring 2022 issue of The Mount magazine.