On Sarah Tressler: Reporter, Professor, Stripper and Former LA CityBeat Intern

OK. The story has gotten too big. We 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 LA CityBeat where yours truly was a senior editor. 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 out for how terrible our ideas were, without offering the slightest hint of constructive criticism. As we tossed ideas around, we would hear, every so often, a loud grunt or groan from Sarah’s corner of the table.

Pretty ballsy. Your average alt-weekly intern is there to position themselves for a job. Or at least to line up freelance work. Dismissing the ideas of the EIC and staff would seem to defeat that purpose. But Ms. Tressler’s fearlessness cracked us up.

I personally loved working with Swaim and 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 in America, unchallenged.

Tressler showed promise as a writer.  Her work wasn’t in the paper that often, but she wrote a couple of solid pieces during her CityBeat tenure (sadly, these articles are no longer online). There was talk of giving her a “Style” column.

We all knew Sarah was from Houston and she had 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 in Los Angeles. Not that we would have cared, as LA CityBeat didn’t have the money to pay her a living wage.

I didn’t work with Sarah for that long. When CityBeat went out of business in April of 2009, 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, a city with evangelical conservatism, dirty oil money and Old South pretensions, writing for a bulwark of the establishment like the Chronicle is a BRILLIANT F*CKING IDEA. I also think it’s too good a story to lay off of, even if it did cost her a job.

And I don’t blame the Houston Press’ Richard Connelly for outing her. I would have done the same. But here’s what I do have a problem with:

That 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 are going to ruin someone’s journalism career, don’t be such a wimp 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 most other journalists in Houston.

Don’t frame the story like such a moralizing prude. Tressler pulled off arguably one of the most amazing feats 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.