That Time WSB-TV Got Dragged by Westlake

Editorial by Shetia Kelty

It should have been an unequivocally positive story about Westlake High School graduates preparing to take on the world. Instead, WSB-TV took a sharp and offensive turn when reporter Tyisha Fernandes characterized the school as historically failing and the 30331 zip code as a horrible place students can only hope to escape.

I beg your pardon…

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Photo: Westlake celebrates the Class of 2017 by displaying the colleges where the students have been accepted.

It’s the same tired story mainstream media loves to play over and over again. Black students can’t simply excel. They have to have overcome some type of hardship – even if it’s manufactured.

The narrative is not unique. It’s not personal. This story angle runs in media outlets all across the country annually at this time of year. And in some places, it rings true. At Westlake, and in the 30331 zip code, it does not.

What’s particularly hurtful is that Fernandes is a woman of color and considered a friend to South Fulton in some circles. She moderated a panel at Langston Hughes High on community policing, and participated in the annual Old National Electoral College event.

And don’t get me wrong – I understand the game. A popular saying among journalists is “if it bleeds, it leads.” The overwhelmingly negative coverage of South Fulton by local mainstream media is indicative of the industry’s culture. And increasingly, outlets will do anything for clicks in an attempt to combat declining ad revenue.

But Fernandes learned a lesson last night on what happens when click baiting goes wrong. Current and past teachers and administrators, parents, students, alumni and random passers-by seemingly all had time and proceeded to go all the way in, as they should.

Westlake Principal Jamar Robinson clapped back with a series of tweets to set the record straight, and bring some much-needed light, and context, to WSB-TV’s shady reporting.

“The use of the word ‘failing’ during your story today does not align with the 30-year legacy of Westlake High School,” Robinson responded. “Our students attend Ivy League schools, are lawyers and judges right here in Atlanta and have started non-profits and positively impacted their community.”

He proceeded to share a litany of students’ accomplishments, while others in the community chimed in to share their displeasure with the news report.

“As a former student, it feels as if you are trying to sensationalize our stories when there is no need to,” said Nina Giddens, a Westlake alumna. “Westlake students are impressive enough on our own.”

LaDawn Blackett Jones, also an alumna, urged the reporter to remember that “systemic racial bias has also been in the media” and that it’s time for journalists to do better.

Collectively, the community expressed that the WSB-TV story diminished the hard work that students and educators have invested over the last six years.

Nevertheless, some positivity has emerged. Giddens is encouraging students and alumni to use the #BecauseofWestlake hashtag to share their accomplishments.

In starting the social media campaign, the Westlake alumna highlights an important lesson for South Fulton residents. Don’t rely on other people to tell your story. Do it yourself.

And as a proud resident of the 30331, and because I also had some time…

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