That’s not some fake photo smile there. Elysia Bryan-Baynes is very charismatic and approachable, and was more than willing to be profiled in a story I wrote for The Gazette that was published in Friday’s paper.
Bryan-Baynes was named the late-night anchor at Global Montreal in May, five months after Richard Dagenais was moved from late nights to the new morning show. Though she has been at the station since 2003, this is her first permanent job there.
She hadn’t done much anchoring before, her boss admitted, but she had a great screen test and she’s done just about everything else there. A researcher and runner for the previous morning show (which was cancelled in 2008), an overnight lineup editor and field producer for that morning show, a lineup editor for the 6pm newscast, and of course reporting, including a stint as the Quebec City bureau chief.
Bryan-Baynes is described in her official bio as being “of Jamaican and Vincentian heritage,” and a lot of that Caribbean culture shows in the way she describes her life. She has a big family, and they’re very close-knit. In fact, even though her newscast ends at 11:30pm, it’s followed by phone calls with her family, she said. To say that they’re proud of her would be an understatement.
Among that family is stepmom Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, who runs the Taste of the Caribbean festival and is very active in the community. It also includes half-brother Joel Anthony, centre for the Miami Heat.
“I didn’t get the genes,” she said when asked about the discrepancy between the 6-foot-9 basketball player and the 5-foot-3-“and-a-half” news anchor. Her sister is also tall, not that she’s bitter or anything.
Comic book afficionado
I didn’t know much about Bryan-Baynes before our interview, but I did know she had a thing for comic books. She’s not the first Montreal TV anchor to have a love of comic books. But what I learned during our interview is that she didn’t grow up with it. In fact, her addiction only started in 2009, during a chance visit to 1000000 Comix on Pierce St.
“It all started, I was on the road with a cameraman, and we were about to have lunch break and he was like ‘Do you mind if I just stop off?’ We walk in, and it was right after Barack Obama had been elected the first time and they had the Spider-Man comics with Obama on the cover. He went in to pick one up, and I thought ‘You know what, I’ll get one too’. I got three of them with different variants. And then I slowly started, just out of curiosity, I just started going back to the same shop. At first I would just go in and look around and not really talk. And then after two or three times I actually spoke to (the comic book store guy) and was like ‘Is there anything you recommend?’ And then I got hooked. I totally got hooked on the stories and characters. Now I go every week, I have a pull list, titles I get every Wednesday. Sometimes I just go there to talk.”
The 32-year-old estimates her comic collection has probably reached about 1,500-2,000 by now, and she gets about 10-20 new ones every week. It’s so big that, now that a roommate has moved out of her apartment in St-Henri, she plans to rearrange it so that a room can be devoted to reading and storing the comic books.
In researching for this story, I put Bryan-Baynes’s name through our database. I was surprised to get some hits, and not just passing references that reporters can sometimes find themselves in. I found stories that were more than 10 years old, before her time at Global, when she was in school.
One, dated March 26, 1998 by Hazel Porter, spoke to Bryan-Baynes and three other recipients of a $1,000 scholarship from the Bank of Montreal. It described her this way:
Elysia Bryan-Baynes of Pierrefonds wants to become a journalist and is keeping her fingers crossed waiting for a reply from Carlton University in Ottawa.
She has other options, but journalism is a priority for the soon-to-be graduate of Royal West Academy. Bryan-Baynes, who turned 17 last month and whose grades average in the 80s, said she owes her success to many good role models along the way.
“I remember in Grade 7 looking up to these older kids and thinking I want to excel like them,” she said recently.
As head prefect at Royal West this year, Bryan-Baynes not only excelled, she is now a role model herself.
Attached to that story was a picture of Bryan-Baynes with her school newspaper. I asked Gazette editors to republish that along with her profile (click on the “photos” tab on the story online).
As it turned out, the media attention she got from participating in this program would have a significant impact on her life.
“That program was where a young researcher from the CBC came to do a story,” Bryan-Baynes said. “I got along with her really well. I took her number, I went away to school, I called her maybe once a year. I came back to Montreal, and I ran into her and she was like ‘Actually I’m producing the morning show now at Global Montreal. You should come by and see if you can do an internship.’ I did, and I never left.”
That “young researcher” was Alexandra Henderson. She would stay at Global Quebec/Global Montreal as assistant news director after This Morning Live was cancelled, and moved to Global Toronto a year ago.
Bryan-Baynes was also mentioned in a few other Gazette stories. Two months before the BMO scholarship story, she had gotten a mention (and a photo) as the recipient of the Victor Phillips Award from the Black Theatre Workshop. In 2002, she was interviewed for a feature about where people were during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (she was studying in Ottawa and working at Carleton’s art gallery). In 2007, while she was working for Global but before she had created a public profile by being in front of the camera, she was honoured for her community activity by charitable group Shared Vision.
Bryan-Baynes studied communications and law at Carleton. “I thought it would be useful,” she said of the law part, and it does come in handy when covering legal/court stories.
My Gazette editor asked me if Bryan-Baynes was the first black anchor to get a position like this. Unfortunately for the story, the answer is a bit complicated. While black anchors aren’t very common at the other stations, there’s a few of them at Global. There’s Camille Ross on the morning show, and Peter Anthony Holder doing weekends, though his job is part-time and he’s not part of the permanent staff even though the job is de facto his.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a factor. After I fumbled through trying to turn this into a question (turns out it’s hard to turn “so you’re black, huh?” into a good open-ended journalistic inquiry), she said this:
“I recognize that it’s a big deal for some people, and I respect that. There’s a lot of people coming up (where that) might make a difference. They might see someone who looks like them and think ‘Hey, I never thought but I might be interested in doing that.'”
She pointed out that the response to her hiring “has been very positive and warm.” And she recognizes that her bosses are gambling on her for this job. “I recognize the responsibility in that.”
Of course, every anchor hire is a gamble. Bryan-Baynes didn’t break the mold on that.
The Gazette story points out that her job is split between reporting for the 6pm newscast and anchoring the 11pm one. Though that’s the factoid that made it into the headline, it’s not that unusual. CTV does the same thing. The reality of scheduling means late anchors can be brought in early enough to help with the 6pm news, but not so early that they can put together a whole package. So they might report live from the newsroom about a late-breaking story, or write up a brief or two.
Bryan-Baynes said she likes the fact that her job still involves some reporting.
“The thing that I like about reporting is the part where you’re getting to speak to people, and you’re hearing what they have to say. I wouldn’t say that I have a specific type of story that I like but that’s the part I like, the part where there’s a person and they’re interesting and they’re willing to talk and they’re open and you get that connection.”
“It was the part i liked about researching too. Sometimes you have an idea of what your subject might be thinking or feeling per experiencing, just based on what the story is about, but a lot of times people surprise you.”
After 6:30pm, Jamie Orchard leaves, and the newsroom gets quiet. Bryan-Baynes checks in with a cameraman who’s out patrolling for late-breaking news to shoot. She checks with the police regularly to make sure she knows about emergencies around the region. And she lines up the late news with the technical team in Edmonton. The late newscast will have many of the stories that were filed for 6pm, but the lineup could change for various reasons.
Bryan-Baynes works until 11pm, when the newscast begins, and then at 11:30pm she’s on the phone with family and then heading home.
“An actual dance”
Ten years of contract work is a lot. I thought I was a contract lifer, but I only did it for about six years. But there was enough work for Bryan-Baynes that she could hang on, even through tough layoffs in 2008.
“I knew I liked working here, I liked the team,” she said. “Throughout the 10 years I’ve sort of been waiting for a permanent position and had faith that I could find something else.”
But she didn’t want to leave town. Like many at Global Montreal, she had little desire to seek out another job.
So when she found out that Station Manager Karen Macdonald had chosen her as the new late-night anchor, she was really happy.
“I was excited,” she said, with a squeal similar to Oprah’s when she introduces a big-name guest. “I did a little dance when she told me. Like an actual dance. And I kind of choreographed it in my head. I cried, because I was so happy. I couldn’t help it. I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve. I can’t pretend I wasn’t ecstatic.”
Elysia Bryan-Baynes anchors News Final, 11pm weekdays on Global Montreal.