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Wendy Bell backs out of Point Park social media conference engagement

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, March 1, 2017, 4:45 p.m.
Former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell is shown at her home in Point Breeze, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. Bell will be starting an online subscription news service called Positively Wendy Bell near the end of summer.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell is shown at her home in Point Breeze, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. Bell will be starting an online subscription news service called Positively Wendy Bell near the end of summer.
Former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell is shown at her home in Point Breeze, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell is shown at her home in Point Breeze, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.

After backlash from students and alumni, former WTAE-TV anchor Wendy Bell backed out of an agreement to serve as the keynote speaker for a Point Park University social media workshop.

“My attorney asked me to pull out of this social media discussion because it directly conflicts with mediation in my lawsuit,” Bell said in an email Wednesday night to the Tribune-Review. “The timing is lousy. I hold Point Park University in the highest regard and look forward to participating in a panel at a later date.”

Bell sued WTAE in federal court after her firing, and the case is ongoing. A check online Wednesday evening revealed that a mediator has been appointed to assist with a resolution.

Earlier Wednesday, Point Park's Center for Media Innovation posted on Facebook that Bell would speak March 16 at Point Park's annual social media conference, dubbed #Burgh3.0. Dissenters quickly sounded off on the center's Facebook page.

By Wednesday evening, Bell had changed her mind, said Andrew Conte, director of the Center for Media Innovation.

“It's definitely for the best,” said Olivia Ciotoli, a 2014 photojournalism graduate. “I hope they find a more appropriate speaker for the event.”

WTAE fired Bell for an online comment she posted following the March 9, 2016, shooting deaths of five adults and an unborn child in a backyard barbecue ambush in Wilkinsburg.

Bell speculated in that post about the race and family background of the shooters and contrasted that profile with her recent encounter with a black busboy.

The company fired her March 30 amid outcry from people who labeled the post insensitive. She also had many supporters rally behind her on social media.

She is in the process of launching her own subscription-based website, “Positively Wendy Bell,” which, she says, will focus on uplifting news stories.

Conte pointed out before she decided to withdraw as keynote speaker that Bell's experience with a social media controversy made her an appealing potential guest. She has more than 90,000 followers on Facebook.

In Bell's controversial post, which was later edited, then deleted from a Facebook fan page, Bell wrote: “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 teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs.”

In the same post, she said she was given “hope” by a hardworking black busboy at a SouthSide Works restaurant who “moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. ... He's going to make it.”

The post, the company's delayed reaction and Bell's subsequent firing drew widespread public criticism on social media.

“Wendy Bell is a key example of what it means to act unprofessionally in the world of media and communication,” said Point Park student Samey Jay, 24. “She is not an example of how to succeed in the world of media.”

After learning that Bell had changed her mind, Jay said: “Wendy Bell backing out of her participation in this event proves that when people come together to fight, we win.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com .

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