Brittni Smallwood has studied Buffalo’s TV history and quietly recently made some of it herself.
When the Channel 4 anchor and reporter was recently told that she had made history here, Smallwood said she realized that.
And then she did what any good reporter would do – she researched her place in history and discovered how little she really knew.
As the anchor of the 8 a.m. edition of “Wake Up!” on Channel 4’s sister station WNLO-TV, Smallwood became the first African-American to regularly anchor a weekday news program in Buffalo in about two decades.
“I didn’t understand the scope of it so I did my own research,” said Smallwood of the history of African-American weekday anchors here.
What does she think of her place in local TV history?
“I’m really excited,” said Smallwood. “And I’m humbled to not only represent the African-American community, but all communities as well.”
Unfortunately, her new role also has a downside. More people were watching Smallwood when she anchored weekend mornings on Channel 4 than watch five weekdays on little-watched WNLO
Smallwood researched the African-Americans who previously have made history in this market, including Wanda Starke, who became the first African-American to anchor a weekday evening newscast in 1991 at Channel 2. The list of African-Americans in prominent anchor roles here isn’t a long one. It also includes Bazi Kanani, who was at Channel 2 briefly and then left for a bigger market in Denver and eventually became an ABC News correspondent.
Lester Holt’s history-making promotion to anchor “The NBC Nightly News” made the absence of African-American anchors in key weekday positions locally a relevant topic again. Holt is the first African-American to be the solo anchor of a nightly weekday national network newscast.
Although she anchors in the early morning on a little-watched station, Smallwood’s new job stands as progress in Buffalo, which has had a history of underrepresentation of on-air minorities. At one point, Channel 7 didn’t have any on-air African-Americans even when it was owned by Granite, an African-American station group. It now has two, as do all the local news departments.
Smallwood understands one of the bigger reasons why African-American anchors in weekday positions have been so rare here.
“Buffalo is unique,” said Smallwood, “because so many people are loyal to the news and news personalities. People just enjoy the news personalities they have because they have grown an attachment to them.”
In other words, the major jobs don’t become available often. Channel 2’s Scott Levin and Maryalice Demler, Channel 4’s Jacquie Walker and Don Postles, and Channel 7’s Keith Radford and Joanna Pasceri have all had long runs working the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
However, there have been weekday openings at 5 and 5:30 p.m. and none has been recently filled by African-Americans.
Over the years, station general managers have privately stated that the longevity of anchors here and the difficulty of keeping many talented minority candidates from going to bigger markets are additional factors resulting in the lack of African-Americans in weekday anchor positions. They added that while the city has a significant minority community, the on-air staff composition roughly represents the much smaller percentage of minorities in the entire Western New York area.
“Recruiting minority talent to Buffalo is a difficult task in general,” said Channel 7 General Manager Mike Nurse. “There needs to be a commitment to develop and grow talent as we are doing with Desiree Wiley and Cierra Johnson. … I believe that limited resources impaired Granite’s ability to develop talent in a similar fashion.”
Smallwood certainly has the voice, the personality and skills to become a major anchor someday. In the past, she showcased her voice in oratory competitions.
“Oratory is something I have really worked on,” said Smallwood of her style and delivery.
Raised an hour from New York City in Somerset, N.J., Smallwood graduated from St. Francis College of Pennsylvania and received her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Syracuse University. She didn’t go to Syracuse as an undergraduate because she couldn’t turn down a track scholarship that she earned at St. Francis as a sprint specialist.
Why did she decide to become a journalist?
“I really wanted to do something that at least tried to make a difference in some person’s life,” she said. “I wanted to tell inspiring and motivating stories each day.”
After college, she had a few years of seasoning at an Elmira station before arriving at Channel 4 in 2012.
The important things in Smallwood’s life include her religion, dancing and her recent marriage.
“My religion is very important me,” added Smallwood. “I’m a Christian. I pray each day before I go on the air.”
She met her husband, Dr. Galan Moore, at a Sweethearts Ball in Elmira about four years ago when a friend of his placed Smallwood next to Moore. “We danced all night,” she said.
That came naturally for Smallwood. She has done liturgical, African-American and modern dancing with her churches. She and Moore were married in April in Niagara Falls.
Since Moore is a chemist who works in Corning, he and Smallwood live between Buffalo and Corning. Traffic isn’t a problem for Smallwood’s long commute. She leaves at 2:45 a.m. to get to the Elmwood Avenue station by 4 a.m. to report on Channel 4’s “Wake Up!” before taking her anchor seat later in the morning.
“I’m really excited,” said Smallwood of her new role after working two years as a morning weekend anchor. “This allows me to anchor and report. It’s nice to have weekends back. I have more time with my friends and family.”
After anchoring in the morning, she may hear from her parents back watching a live stream of the program in their New Jersey home. They tell her when she has a good day – or a bad day.
They are mostly good days these days. And she believes her voice will be heard around WNY for many years to come.
“I think I’ll be here for a number of years,” said Smallwood. “When I was in graduate school, I looked at this market and said that is where I want to be one day. I really liked the area. Channel 4 was one of my favorites on my computer. I knew Buffalo is the second-biggest city in New York State. When I walked into the building at Channel 4, I thought ‘We made it.’ ”