OK. The story has gotten too big. I need to take a moment to say a word about Sarah Tressler.
For those of you who haven’t heard about Tressler, here’s a primer: Up until this week she was the “society” columnist for the Houston Chronicle… while secretly moonlighting as a stripper. Her double life was exposed this week by the Houston Press and made national news. She was subsequently fired from her Chronicle gig and went on Good Morning America to talk about the whole ordeal.
But back in 2009, before all the current craziness, Sarah was an intern at the LA CityBeat when I was the senior editor there. Sarah was smart, she was determined, and to say she was eccentric would be putting it mildly. She was an odd duck. I remember her nearly constant smirking and dismissive eye-rolling during our editorial meetings, particularly (for some reason) when editor-in-chief Will Swaim would speak. Sometimes she’d call us (including Swaim) out for how terrible our ideas were–without offering the slightest hint of constructive criticism. We’d all be tossing ideas around and every-so-often we’d hear a loud grunt or groan from Sarah’s corner of the table.
Pretty, pretty ballsy. Your average alt-weekly intern is there to position herself for a job. Or at least to line up routine freelance work. Dismissing the ideas of the EIC and his staff in the least helpful way possible would seem to defeat that purpose. But her fearlessness cracked us up. Pretty much the entire CityBeat staff had spent time working under Village Voice Media, where sycophancy was the norm. I loved working with Swaim, but even I couldn’t help but admire someone at the bottom of the pyramid calling out the boss on occasion and getting away with it–particularly back then, when executive bonus culture and CEO worship were still thriving unchallenged in America. Not to mention Sarah did have some promise as a writer. She wasn’t in the paper that often, but she wrote a couple of great pieces during her CityBeat tenure (which I would gladly link to were the paper and its website not deceased). There was talk of giving her a style column.
We all knew Sarah was from Houston and she told us she had done some stripping there to help pay for school. I don’t know if she was actively stripping during her time here in LA. Not that we would have given two shits. We certainly didn’t have the money to pay her a living wage.
I didn’t work with Sarah for that long. CityBeat went out of business in April of ’09 and we all went our separate ways. I had no idea what she had been up to these past few years until I saw her name plastered all over the Internet this week.
So what do I think? A stripper writing a society column in LA… ho-hum. But back in Houston, with all its evangelical conservatism, dirty oil money, and Old South pretensions… writing for a bulwark of the establishment like the Chronicle? I think its arguably the most BRILLIANT FUCKING IDEA in the history of journalism. I also think it’s too good a story to lay off of, even if it did cost her a job. I don’t blame the Houston Press‘s Richard Connelly for outing her. I would have done the same thing. Here’s what I do have a problem with:
[T]hat is a pretty egregious lapse of journalistic judgment on the part of a reporter. And not just any reporter — as the Chron‘s society reporter, she is in many ways a face of the paper, or at the very least a representative of it, to those elites the Chron takes such pains not to offend, only to fawn over.
Those words would be Connelly’s, justifying his expose.
If you’re going to ruin someone’s journalism career, don’t be such a pussy about it. You lose the right to call yourself an alt-weekly writer if you can’t see the beauty in what Sarah pulled off. Even if you’re unwilling to give her credit for being self-aware enough to realize the irony in what she was doing–or even if she denies the irony and is simply a journalist who enjoys stripping–it seems pretty obvious that Sarah has a whole more to write about “society” than any other journalist in Houston. Don’t frame the story like such a moralizing prude. She pulled off arguably the most amazing feat in the history of Houston media.
I personally think Sarah is smart enough to know exactly what she was doing. And I can’t see how she won’t get a nice, fat book deal out of this whole scenario. I hope she names names. Because something tells me she was running into the same people at both of her jobs.