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Not Just Another Pretty Face

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Channel 8’s Sonia Baghdady wants the world to know sheÂ’s no vacant news bunny

news8redSonia Baghdady doesn’t like to be the center of attention — she swears. Yet every weeknight, she finds herself with a million eyes (give or take) on her as she anchors some of Connecticut’s most-watched newscasts.

SheÂ’s hard not to notice.

WTNH-TVÂ’s rising star has worked her way up through the ranks from an internship as a dewy-eyed Fairfield University co-ed to the stationÂ’s most coveted seat: news co-anchor. Side-by-side with the (likewise easy-on-the-eyes) Darren Kramer, Baghdady delivers the news with poise and aplomb at 5, 5:30 and 11 p.m. for ConnecticutÂ’s ABC affiliate.

“From the age of six or seven, I not only wanted to do this for a living, I just had it in my mind that I was going to do this,” she says. “I can’t even tell you what went on in my brain as a child to be so confident that I was going to be a TV news broadcaster.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., she remembers asking her father to go out in front of their brownstone with a video camera while she interviewed passersby about current events or even what clothes they were wearing.

“People would actually stop for me!” she recalls.

Despite her last name, which leads people to assume she’s of Iraqi decent, she’s Lebanese. She grew up in a very strict household with traditional Arab-American parents and credits her exposure to the traditional roles of Arab women throughout her childhood and teenage years as part of what made her want to pursue her career.

“I wanted to be independent and feel accomplished in the workplace,” Baghdady explains. “I was a shy child, but there was something inside of me — despite my lack of thick skin — I had a goal of seeing how far I could go.”

Being in the spotlight every day, she has to stay grounded and tries to avoid being consumed by competitiveness despite the hyper-competitiveness of the media industry.

“It's just not who I am,” she says. “I'd rather tuck away in the corner by myself than take part in a conversation that might be hurtful to someone.” She’s found that can work for or against a person, since those who isolate are easily portrayed as aloof or diffident.

“I'm merely trying to cheap adderall can be described as the 'ugly' side of this, or any business,” she says. “Once people get to know me — really get to know me — they ask, 'How on earth were you ever attracted to this business? It doesn't fit your personality at all.’ I think there's a lot of truth to that.”

While few question her journalistic integrity, Baghdady is sensitive about being marginalized for her attractiveness. LetÂ’s face it: The girl is hot.

“I believe it’s harder to be taken seriously in the news business, particularly when you’re a female who puts energy into her image,” she acknowledges. “I think the industry has changed. I remember very early on in my career intentionally buying oversized clothing and jackets to hide my shape. I wore minimal makeup and my hair was significantly shorter, thinking it made me appear more credible.”

Then one day she decided to accept her body and stop camouflaging it.

“I’m a female with curves,” she says. “This is how I was born.” (Well, maybe not exactly.)

Baghdady found that the credibility she has earned as a journalist comes from confidence.

Co-anchor Darren Kramer agrees: “To her credit, I think she makes it work very well. I don’t think it’s unique to our business that women have to work harder for respect.”

“We work very well together,” Kramer adds. “She’s funny and we have the same twisted sense of humor and we really do have a good time on and off the air.” Since Kramer and Baghdady were moved up in class from Good Morning Connecticut (6-7 a.m. weekdays) and the noon news broadcast to the more traditional 5, 5:30 and 11, there is less latitude to joke around on the air with each other.

“Mornings are bit more intimate and relaxed than the evenings, so opportunities to be relaxed have changed a bit, but we still try to work a little bit of it in when we can,” Kramer says.

Baghdady concurs. “If they aired what happened during commercial breaks, our ratings would be even higher. We got to the point on the morning show where we’re like a dysfunctional family. A commercial break would hit and we’d put on music and dance and at the ten-second count to come back on the air, we’d need to recompose and behave. It’s a good time and if you enjoy the people you work with — it’s half the battle.”

Baghdady has worked with Kramer now for more than four years and he’s become what she calls her “significantly older annoying brother.”

Kramer would have the public believe that his co-anchor is older than her 35 years. At one time he had half of Connecticut convinced that Baghdady was crowned Miss Noank in 1982.

“I’ve never been to Noank in my life and I was seven years old in 1982,” Baghdady counters. “He said it on the morning show so often that I’d get e-mails from viewers in Noank who were so excited and wanted to know when I lived there.”

When asked to share one thing about Baghdady that nobody else knows, Kramer whispers: “Just between you and I, Sonia is 57 years old. Don’t tell anybody.”

A sense of humor keeps the job light when news isnÂ’t always so light. It also helps Baghdady deal with comments and criticism regarding her appearance.

Baghdady admits she doesnÂ’t get to the gym as often as sheÂ’d like, but she enjoys Pilates and walking while listening to her iPod. She loves food, but has learned to pay attention to her bodyÂ’s reaction to it.

“I can eat whatever I want, just in moderation. I know it’s cliché, but I know when to stop,” she says.

Since switching from morning to evenings, she has been enjoying dinners at downtown restaurants and lists LÂ’Orcio on State Street and Barcelona on Temple Street among her favorites.

“Embracing her curves” has not gone unnoticed by many, including by WPLR-FM morning talk show hosts Chaz & AJ, who have named Baghdady the reigning queen of their “Tight Shirt Alert.”

Each morning, Chaz & AJ monitor local television while they’re on the air, and though she’s no longer on the morning newscasts, Baghdady has been bestowed with a score of 4.9 (on a scale of one to five) for her “tight shirt.”

Her confidence surfaces when dealing with such silliness. She doesnÂ’t find it terribly offensive, but instead laughs along with them.

“Even with all of their stunts, I enjoy hanging out with those guys,” she says of her occasional on-air banter with the radio guys. “They’ve been nothing short of great to me since I got here and I appreciate them.

“I know a lot of people see it as raunchy and they’re appalled for me, but honestly, it’s all in good fun,” Baghdady says. “I’m happy they feel they can joke with me like that. They know I can take it and that I’ll probably give a little bit back. I think it’s important for viewers to see that I have a human side.”

She admits she has received many e-mail comments from viewers regarding how she dresses, some of which have accused her of artificially enhancing her body and flaunting her, um, assets.

“This is how I was born and there’s not much I can do about it,” Baghdady responds. “I think that people have not so much of a problem about my clothes or how I dress than how those clothes fit me. I think people have a hard time attributing credibility with curves. I could try to change people’s perceptions, but people are going to think what they want to think.”

She does hope that her body takes on different kinds of curves some day.

Baghdady and husband Frank DePino, owner of interactive Web design company Media Boom, live in Guilford. She adores her husband and speaks highly of his work: “If he doesn’t know it, he learns it. He’s working on a site for [magician] David Copperfield now that’s so cool and interactive.”

Baghdady says she would feel blessed when the time comes if their children have DePino’s creativity — matched with Sonia’s drive.

“I didn’t want to have children and be selfish in my career and not be able to give the necessary attention to a family,” she says. “That’s unfair to the child.”

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Baghdady literally worked her way up through the ranks after graduating from Fairfield in 1997. She was subsequently hired by WTNH as a part-time weekend tape coordinator, recording satellite feeds for news broadcasts. She then became a full-time associate producer and helped write news copy. After a year, she went to work for CablevisionÂ’s News 12 on Long Island and then on to NBC affiliate WWLP-TV in Springfield, Mass.

While at WWLP, she became co-anchor with Dan Elias for the 5 p.m. newscast.

Even as a child, Baghdady would venture outside her family's Brooklyn brownstone to interview strangers on camera. PHOTOGRAPH: Steve DePino

Elias recalls his first impression of Baghdady. “She was new to on-air work and I was most impressed with the way she took to the work,” he says. “In the first couple of days, reporters do on-set pieces, where we’re sitting next to the anchors, presenting a story we’ve covered during the day. I walked by the set and heard someone talking. It was Sonia. She was so professional and poised and I remember thinking, ‘That’s talent.’ She’s got it.”

“Women do face that issue that, if they’re very attractive, it’s perceived that’s why they were hired,” says Elias. “Women especially have to prove that’s not the case. She did that very quickly. She’s very attractive, but it’s not long before you have great respect for her skills. She’s the whole package. She’s likeable.”

Baghdady once harbored big dreams of joining a network, but since nightly network newscasts are losing hundreds of thousands of viewers to cable and the Internet, sheÂ’s happy with her choice in Connecticut.

“I knew I wanted to come back to Connecticut and interviewed at a number of stations and I came back to WTNH as a reporter over seven years ago,” she says.

The goal has always been to work for one of the top-ranked TV markets. According to Nielson Media Research, New York is No. 1, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Hartford-New Haven is the 30th largest TV market, just behind Nashville and San Diego. (Glendive, Mont. is last, cheap xanax No. 210.)

“For a while I had seen this as a stepping stone and then I settled in here — Connecticut’s such a great place to live,” Baghdady says. “I have family here and life has become very convenient here.” She acknowledges that as she gets older her priorities are changing.

Climbing the ladder to a larger market “looks great on paper,” she allows, but “I’m not sure it’s something I really want to do. I guess it’s a matter of deciding how important my career is to me.”

Baghdady won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Soft News Series for her series ‘Is It Worth the Money?’ a consumer product review segment.

She enjoys features, but Baghdady says she is driven by hard news.

“I think that the harder a story is, the more it is taken seriously, and the more it is perceived to be true journalism,” she explains. “But honestly, sometimes the more difficult stories to do are the ones that require you to use your imagination.”

Baghdady says she does have a hard time separating herself from hard stories, especially when she was working as a reporter out in the field.

“It’s very difficult to separate yourself from what could be the most trying day of someone’s life,” she says.

While working behind the scenes at WTNH, she was out with a photographer covering a light feature. While listening to the police scanner, they heard of a possible drowning. They didnÂ’t have GPS in the car at the time, so they pulled out all of the maps to find the location.

“There were three guys on a boat and one was missing,” Baghdady recalls. “Parents had been notified, but hadn’t been told exactly what had happened. We were there when the parents got to the scene and the mother’s reaction when she saw her son’s two friends and realized it was her son who was gone. We were there when they pulled the body out of the water and to this day, I can here hear the shrill of her screaming.

“I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way we can put a camera in this woman’s face or record any of this.’ It was horrible.” But she did it anyway. “You have to get in people’s faces when you don’t feel comfortable doing it,” she says. But the experience did make her second-guess whether she was cut out for her chosen profession.

As stressful as the news business can be, BaghdadyÂ’s job has also given her the opportunity to meet many people she never otherwise would have. Cooking side-by-side with Martha Stewart one day, hanging out at the casino with celebrities at an event the next day, then she check out a new show in town.

She loves to cook and entertain and loves clean (just not the act of cleaning).

“I don’t like clutter and I don’t like stuff,” she says. Hence the simply decorated house she and her husband share.

She likes to think there’s a little Martha Stewart in her. “I’ll plan a brunch and literally start setting up a week ahead of time, using lemons and limes in flower arrangements,” Baghdady says. “Maybe I should have gone into event planning or a lifestyles show!”

When asked what she’d like the world to know about her, Baghdady pauses for a moment before replying. “Sometimes I wonder how I got into this business because I actually dislike being the center of attention,” she says. “I was a really shy kid. Something drove me into this business and I’m not sure what.”

“I just started working with Geoff Fox on the evening shift and although I’ve known him for years, I’d never spent too much time with him,” Baghdady recounts. “A week or so ago, he looked at me and said, ‘You’re nothing like I thought you would be.’ I didn’t know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult.” So she asked him. “He said it was a huge compliment, and that he liked me a lot.”

If there’s something Baghdady would like people to know, it’s that it’s “so easy to pass judgment on people and [the perception of] perfection is not always reality,” she says. “I think that once we start to peel back the layers of the onion, we find there’s a lot more there than you thought there would be.” That’s easy to say for someone as pulchritudinous as Baghdady.

“I don’t see gorgeous when I look in the mirror, but I guess we’re our own worst critics,” Baghdady says.

Being on television “is a business and it’s a game,” she acknowledges. “To stay in the game, I’ve got to look the part. But not because I’m a shallow person. It does bother me that people perceive me as shallow.

“It goes back to the ‘Tight Shirt Alerts’ and the curves. You might be surprised at what’s underneath.”


 

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 July 2012 17:06 )