Wendy Bell, an award-winning journalist with WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh) for 18 years, was fired for comments she made on Facebook about a mass shooting in a nearby community.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that she wrote, in part, “You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday... they are young black men, likely in their teens or early 20s.
“They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs.”
Shop Talk panelist Jasmine Crighton said Bell crossed a line and should have been fired. She said the comments made the station look bad – though she also noted many stations encourage anchors and reporters to engage with the audience through social media. She said stations should have guidelines in place to avoid such controversies.
Crighton also pointed out this is not the first time a reporter has been let go for comments made on social media. Crighton said she warns her students to give some thought to what they post on-line.
Panelist Jonathan Ahl said journalists should be reporting the truth. Instead, Bell wrote opinions that were inflammatory and controversial. He said by all accounts she is a good journalist but in this instance she stumbled and he can’t fault the station for firing her.
Panelist Rich Egger agreed journalists should stick to the facts. He pointed out police had made no arrests in the case so Bell could not have offered any facts about the shooters. He said journalists should put the same care into what they write on social media that they put into a news story.