If you haven’t yet, read up on the Wendy Bell story before proceeding. It’s rare that I find myself “in the middle” of two entrenched sides, and this touches on a lot of topics about which I can be pretty passionate. As with most blog posts, this started off on Facebook and quickly spiraled into a longer format.
On one hand, it is the job of a journalist to be candid and sincere. An anchor doesn’t just read the news; they frame it within the context of local knowledge, broader culture, and with an eye toward the betterment of society. If that sounds like a tall order, it’s only because we’ve lowered our standards.
Wendy Bell spoke from eighteen years of local knowledge and with an eye toward the betterment of society, albeit a flawed argument. She acknowledged a problem within the community she covers in a way that shone light on that problem, and we all know sunlight is the best disinfectant.
By proposing that the suspects were “young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s,” Bell used the context surrounding her time as an anchor and, based on that, has a high likelihood of being correct. If it turns out to be true, it doesn’t mean she was lucky… it means she understands the trends in the community in which she anchors. In that respect, she was doing her job properly.
On the other hand, an anchor doesn’t just need to understand the trends in the community; they must also understand the deeper meanings of these trends. Here is where Wendy Bell went wrong. In stating that the suspects “have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs” and “have been in the system before,” she takes effects of poverty and racism and attempts to transform them into causes.
To write this off as overtly racist is destructive, because it throws away a learning opportunity for not just Bell herself, but for those who passionately agree with her premise. This isn’t a journalist spreading hate, but rather someone who is oblivious to the roots of the crimes she reports. A single mother working several part time jobs indicates a severe lack of opportunity, from access to education and child care to a stable local economy to provide quality employment. These are some of the same root causes of increased crime.
So, should Wendy Bell have been fired for her post? After serving her community so long as an anchor, a vital voice in the local community, she clearly needs to develop a deeper understanding of the systemic problems plaguing impoverished parts of her region, but throwing her off the air doesn’t help her — or her defenders — develop that understanding. It galvanizes her supporters against the very type of education that is necessary to grow and improve as individuals and as a broader community. Terminating Wendy Bell propagates the very problems we need to solve together.
Bell should be given the opportunity to learn from this misstep, come back to the anchor desk, continue educating and improving herself on the root causes and effects of crime, poverty, and related maladies in effected communities, and use that knowledge to bring her supporters along for the journey. Instead of galvanizing “both sides,” this incident has the power to create an important conversation that brings people together… but only if the network is transparent, brave, and humble enough to try.
And if they aren’t transparent, brave, and humble enough, that only proves the wrong person was let go.