How Toni Williams, executive producer and host of community produced talk show Brooklyn Savvy, is changing the media dynamic with a strong, unbiased, female-perspective on social issues
by Amanda McCoy • photo this page and last page by jon Gordon
The media’s influence is everywhere— from television screens to phones and other social media conveyors, to radios and billboards—in part because it has the transcendent power to educate, rouse emotion, affect public opinion, enact social change…and misinform when the moral stars are not aligned. Yet, despite the fact that we reside in such an ethnically and culturally diverse nation that’s more than half female, representation in the mass media is still notoriously dominated by the male demographic. A recent study by the Women’s Media Center noted that 62% of all multimedia bylines in TV, print, and digital formats were those of men, and that women comprised only 29% of expert guests on Sunday talk shows.
Toni Williams is trying to change that. In an effort to provide a strong female voice on issues both hyper-local and national in scope, the longtime champion of borough community activism founded Brooklyn Savvy, a sharp, discerning, female-centric talk show broadcast on NYCLife channel 25 and One Caribbean Television. The idea was born in 2009, and although the Crown Heights resident had formerly spent four years as the host of Brooklyn Independent Television’s Brooklyn Reporter Roundtable (where she received a Telly Award for her program “Sons of Color”), she had limited experience on the production side, but received a quick crash course in what works and what doesn’t.
Brooklyn Savvy originally aired on Community Access Television, but only two years after its inception was picked up by NYCLife, the city’s official TV, radio, and online network. Her mission was never centered on monetizing the broadcasts, but instead on authenticity… to discuss topics usually considered too controversial for mainstream media.
“We’re community-produced TV with strong production values, so we can speak our minds,” Williams said. “I’m not owned by anyone; I’m aligned with my own common sense…my own values.”
Originally from the Northeast, Williams spent a few years working at the University of California, Berkeley’s post-graduate school, but quickly realized that her personality and energy belonged in the Big Apple.
“In California, I kept hearing how hyper I am, as if energy was a negative thing. In New York, no one has ever called me hyper,” she said with a laugh. In 1988, Williams joined Con Edison—one of the nation’s largest investor-owned energy companies, with approximately $12 billion in annual revenue and $46 billion in assets—as its manager of public information, and was promoted to the director of corporate affairs not long thereafter, a position she still holds. When office hours end, the mother of two can be found in the Brooklyn Savvy studio discussing weighty topics like undoing racism, disparities in education, and the evolution of women in the media, among other topics—featuring a panel of distinguished and diverse guests.
“It’s a real conversation,” explained the host, and therefore it brings in an eclectic mix of both male and female guests from an array of backgrounds, races, and professions. Authors, City Council members, physicians, public activists, and many others have appeared, each offering their unique and uncensored stance. Notable guests include Farnoosh Torabi, author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women (Brilliance Audio, 2014), offering financial tips and advice, Laurie Cumbo, Councilwoman of the 35th District, and Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses:
Nine Ways Women Can Change How We think About Power (Seal Press, 2012).
Brooklyn Savvy has a library of more than 150 episodes, and shows no signs of pumping the brakes anytime soon.
“It’s an incredible feeling when people call me and say that my show has given them great information,” said Williams. “That’s exactly what I wanted…to create a voice and hear other voices on issues. My goal, then and now, was to start conversations that were important and significant to making a difference.”
With her hands in numerous local nonprofit boards and community activities, from the arts to restoration initiatives, Williams is no stranger to community activism. Recognized by the Mayor’s Commission of Women’s Issues for her efforts in building the dialogue around female-focused issues, and awarded the Corporate Citizen of the Year Award from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, her work continues to garner praise and appreciation from the borough she’s called home for more than 30 years.
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