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Foreign Correspondence
Journalist Brian Byrnes ’98 moved to Argentina —
and his career started to tango

photograph by Fabricio Di Dio

Start with a smoky club, a sultry tango, a steak as thick as a linebacker’s wrist sizzling on the grill. That’s where Brian Byrnes ’98 began when he chose to move to Argentina, or, as he puts it, the country chose him. But the independent journalist soon discovered much more: Beauty, tragedy, and a venue to build himself a different, more adventurous life.

After a stint as a reporter and producer with WCAX-TV in Burlington, Byrnes sought a shot at the big time. He wanted to become a foreign correspondent, so he jumped on an offer to spend a month traveling through Argentina’s rugged Patagonia region to update a travel book. Then, in early 2001, he moved to Buenos Aires, an elegant city once called the “Paris of Latin America,” now torn apart by corruption, crime, a bizarre presidential election, and a devastating financial crisis that has nearly destroyed the city’s middle class.

“I had,” Byrnes says, “no idea what I was getting into.”

As he filed stories for National Public Radio, CBS radio, the Washington Post and the Miami Herald, Byrnes built his reporting skills even as he found his journalistic ideals being challenged.

“I have been trained to report on just the facts and to not get emotionally involved with the story,” he writes, “but that doctrine has been repeatedly tested as I am approached daily by an ever-growing stream of street children begging for change and I see countless unemployed fathers ransacking through garbage cans in search of scraps of food for their families.”

Through all that, Byrnes became confidently bilingual and familiar enough with his adopted city to write a travel guide. He has covered huge stories at a crucial moment in Argentina’s history, getting assignments that a young reporter based in the United States would never receive. And, amid writing about riots and failed presidential elections, he has also pursued more pleasurable subjects — from strolling with a horde of thousands of Magellanic penguins in Patagonia to hopping aboard the Argentine presidential jet, the Tango 01, for a jaunt to a wine festival in the Andean mountains.

“I really love living here,” he says. “I am doing what I have always wanted to do and think I have a lot more to learn about the art of storytelling.”

Despite the pain of chronicling a country in turmoil, the freelancer’s anxiety of always chasing his next reporting gig (anxiety that has subsided as he has better established himself with stateside editors), and the occasional frustration of dealing with the slower, stranger rhythms of daily life in a different culture, Byrnes isn’t going to leave Buenos Aires any time soon. The life of a foreign correspondent has hooked him, and there’s more to do: like branching out from his current print and radio work back into television, perhaps with a long-form documentary.

But Byrnes confesses that he still finds the idea of a new address and new experiences alluring. One day, he confesses, he would like to try living in Africa.

Kevin Foley