Writer, TV Producer and Magazine Maven — Brianti Downing

Brianti Downing during a Valentine’s Day DIY segment on WMBB News13 in Panama City | Photo courtesy of Brianti Downing

The year is 2000, and Brianti Downing has found herself in a situation every journalist dreads — she’s missed a deadline.

However, this wasn’t just a regular deadline. The assignment? An essay for a countywide contest with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, better known as D.A.R.E.

“The only reason I didn’t write the essay was because I didn’t know about it,” said Downing. “I was sick the week before and wasn’t aware we had an assignment due until we had to present it.

After the shock of this unknown assignment wore off, Downing did what she does best — she got to work. As her fellow classmates presented their essays, she sat quietly in her 5th grade classroom and began to write. Fifteen minutes later, her paper was finished and she stood up to present it.

“I went up, read my essay and thought it went okay,” said Downing. “Well, I ended up winning that contest, and it felt so good. Writing has always come easy to me, but to win out of the whole county on an essay I spent only 15 minutes on really meant a lot.”

Little did she know this was the beginning of something special. When she got to high school, her cousin, who is currently the senior broadcast producer for CBS Evening News, took notice of her writing skills and got her into a “summer camp” that would change her life forever — the DOW Jones Summer Newspaper Workshop at Florida A&M University.

Brianti Downing had finally found her calling.

“At the end of the workshop I knew this is what I wanted to do. I think I was the only one at the end of those three weeks that actually felt like they took something substantial away from it. I even became the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper we created there!”

As a result, the Panama City native made her way to the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida where she then studied journalism (with a concentration in magazine journalism) alongside English and African-American studies.

Downing after graduating from the University of Florida in 2011 | Photo Courtesy of Brianti Downing

During her time at the University of Florida, she began crafting her resumé with internships at places like the Panama City Herald, the Gainesville Sun, JAYE Magazine and the New York Times Editing Center, where she was a regional editing clerk acting as the liaison between the New York and Gainesville offices.

But it was in an unexpected place that she found a home — television. After a producing internship at WMBB News 13 in her hometown of Panama City, Downing realized this was a division of journalism that she thrived in.

“I love being in the booth,” said Downing. “Being a producer is all about timing so I’m always being challenged. I thrive in the high-pressure environment and I love that when I walk in there, I don’t know what I’m getting.”

Downing “in the booth” at her current producing job at WXII News 12 | Photo courtesy of Brianti Downing

But while working in television has been incredibly rewarding, Downing’s heart has been with magazines ever since she started reading Seventeen magazine. Under the direction of then Editor-in-Chief Atoosa Rubenstein, Seventeen became an important aspect in shaping the future journalist’s career path.

“I loved Seventeen because of Atoosa,” said Downing. “Not only did she make the magazine a positive thing to read, she made it really interesting. From the stories she chose, to the women she featured, she really helped diversify Seventeen.”

As an African-American woman in journalism, diversity in the media is something that is incredibly important to Downing. Throughout her career, she’s made it a mission to challenge the stereotypes people have about black women, as well as help educate those around her about the issues plaguing the disenfranchised.

“I think it’s incredibly beneficial to have women and minorities in the newsroom,” said Downing. “We need more of them because it’s a necessity for accurate reporting — without their voices, you’re bound to make mistakes. It’s also important that there is a level of visibility. Without seeing my cousin as a producer, I don’t think that I would’ve thought that I could be a producer too. You want to see someone like you doing the things you want to do. There’s a responsibility in representation and a right way to do it.”

As Downing grew older, she found herself looking for a magazine that catered to where she was now in life — a female, college graduate who was interested in a whole host of topics, ranging in everything from social issues and politics to the latest Beyoncé video — and wasn’t finding it.

Enter Feather magazine.

Launched in October 2011, Feather magazine is Downing’s online lifestyle magazine and passion project that is the part of her career she is proudest of.

“I wanted to create a culture at Feather that was positive. I wanted the staff to feel welcomed and accepted and I put in a lot of effort to create a celebratory culture where everyone can come together.”

Downing’s championing of people and desire to create an inclusive community is something apparent in everything from the content and readers, to the various “Feather Girl’s” she’s employed on her staff.

“I love working at Feather magazine because I am able to surround myself with a group of empowered women who also have the same interests as mine in the realm of journalism, communications and marketing,” said Sarah DeGeorge, Feather’s Social Media Director. “The best part is being able to have a group of girls from across the country (and even the planet!) work together to help create a platform where women can speak out about the issues that matter to them. Plus, it has given me reasons to visit many different states so I can meet up with fellow Feather Girls for coffee!”

DeGeorge (left) and Downing (right) at a coffee meet-up in North Carolina this past October | Photo courtesy of Brianti Downing

So what’s next for Brianti Downing? Well, she’s letting life lead her where it may.

“The world will be different in a year. Journalism will be different in a year. I will be different in a year. For now, I’m taking things one day at a time.”

Alongside her role as Editor-in-Chief of Feather Magazine, Downing also currently serves as a news producer at ABC affiliate WXII News 12, covering the Winston-Salem area in North Carolina.