Who says newspapers aren't colorful anymore?
In the old days, there were real characters at Houston's dailies. Longtime society columnist Betty Ewing wore polka dotted outfits that matched her Dalmatian and feathers in her hair. She played the piano at the Rivoli restaurant every Monday night and hosted a holiday party where a group of cloggers danced to the George Michael hit, "Faith."
Zarko Franks covered ax murders and mayors with the gusto of a lead character in The Front Page while gravely-voiced Maxine Mesinger matched wits with Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, who regularly sang at the Cork Club at the Shamrock Hotel.
The story raises some issues about privacy and a stern warning to anyone under 30 — You don't have to detail every aspect of your life on the web.
Now, it seems, Houston Chronicle society writers have livelier lives.
After leaving the newspaper last year, society writer Douglas Britt, who also covered art, wrote a detailed blog about retracing his days as a meth-fueled male prostitute — only this time without the meth — while new hire Sarah Tressler kept a blog, now taken down, that details her double life as an "angry stripper" who was once extremely bored while Entourage star Jeremy Piven performed oral sex on her.
Blame it on the Internet.
We were going to ignore the story, since both hires came in an attempt to replace CultureMap's own Shelby Hodge (who, as we knew all along, is simply irreplaceable). But after Gawker, The London Daily Mail, The New York Daily News, Jezebel, The Christian Post and just about every news source in the world chimed in on the Tressler saga after The Houston Press first detailed it on Monday, it grew into a story that's impossible to dismiss.
On Wednesday, it was a prime topic of conversation during a preview of the newest exhibition at the Menil Collection and all the ladies who lunch were buzzing about it at the Houston Chronicle Best Dressed Luncheon.
It also raises some issues about privacy and a stern warning to anyone under 30 — You don't have to detail every aspect of your life on the web.
A lot of commentators on the original Houston Press story have criticized veteran reporter Richard Connelly for writing the story in the first place. They say the girl was just trying to make a living and it's sexist and misogynist to make a big deal about it. As one commentator wrote:
We all know journalism is not exactly a high-paying industry, especially for a freelancer and/or new hire. So what if she supplements her income as a stripper? The last time I checked, it's a legal and legitimate job — she's not breaking any laws.
I'm not buying it. That's the classic "blame the messenger" defense. Everyone is entitled to privacy, but when you write about your life for all to see, you shouldn't be surprised when it comes back to haunt you. (It also makes many wonder, hasn't the Chronicle ever heard of Google?)
Call me old-fashioned, but having worked in this business for 30 years (most of it at the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle before joining CultureMap), I've always found journalism a noble calling. Sure, most reporters don't get paid well, but they get enormous opportunities to gain access to a world that most people will never see.
In exchange, they are held to a higher standard, which includes not doing anything to affect your credibility as a journalist and being open with an employer about anything in your past that might cause readers to view you in a different way.
But it really comes as no surprise that the story has drawn such a hubbub. It has all the classic elements of great fiction — sex, scandal and the possibility for redemption and second chances.
I feel bad that Tressler is reportedly no longer at the paper, but I don't feel too sorry for her. She, no doubt, will get a book deal, multiple appearances on Fox News and a cheesy Lifetime movie because you can't make this stuff up.
See Fox 26 reporter Kristin Kane's story about the Tressler affair: