A Model Journalist

Potential Houston-area home buyers likely peruse the Houston Chronicle's Sunday Homes section; for the rest of us, the advertiser-written supplement is just another of the many parts of the Sunday paper that hit the discard pile without a glance.

Those who paid close attention, though, might have noticed something unusual the week of June 8. There, on a page featuring advertorials about a new Kingwood shopping center (featuring "an old-fashioned barber shop") and slashed prices on Royce Builders homes, was a three-quarter-page ad for Village Builders.

Touting "Very Beautiful homes for the Very Best of times," the ad said Village Builders homes are special because "our commitment has always been to quality and design."

Illustrating matters was a huge picture of a festive occasion in a Village Builders home, with two couples sharing drinks and laughs. The two women of the group were perched on barstools in the kitchen, chatting amiably about…hey, wait a second: Who's that blond, the one smiling genially right under the Village Builders logo?

It's Donna Savarese, reporter and weekend anchor for Channel 39 news!

Hard-boiled print reporters who roll their eyes at airheaded TV types have been known to mutter darkly about models trying to be journalists, but even then they usually figure the reporter in question has given up the fashion job.

KHWB news director Joe Nolan wasn't too happy when the ad was pointed out to him. He says Savarese told him she had posed as a favor to a friend who owns a modeling agency.

"She was asked to do it by a friend and didn't give it a lot of thought," Nolan says. "We discussed it, and she assures me she won't be doing it again."

Savarese, somewhat incredibly, says she doesn't feel she did anything wrong. She knew the work was for an advertisement, although she says she didn't think it would be in the Chronicle. "I didn't think anyone would notice," she says, "because I hardly ever get recognized when I go out, because [39's news show] is so new and I'm just the weekend anchor."

She said she "would rather not comment" on whether her appearance in an ad implied endorsing a product or risked the station's credibility. "It isn't a problem. I haven't been fired. If you saw the picture, I was not doing anything risqué," she says.

On Your Side

Chronicle readers may have noticed a larger-than-usual number of corrections popping up on page A2 every day. Part of that is thanks to the new ombudsman of the paper, James Campbell.

Campbell, a former reporter who moved to the Chron's editorial board ten years ago, has been named the so-called Reader's Representative. It's a new position and the first visible change to the Chron since new editor Jeff Cohen took over in June. Campbell will handle complaints about factual errors, perceived slants in coverage or gripes about things that aren't being covered.

"I looked independently at other papers that did this, and I found that they enjoyed getting reaction from readers," Campbell says. "I think it will make us a better paper -- I know that sounds like a bullshit company line, but I think it's true…To ignore people when they call in with a correction, no matter how minute it is, it just pisses them off."

So far, he says, he's been getting cooperation from editors and reporters when he calls to verify complaints about errors. "But it's a culture change," he says. "Reporters think I'm here to look over their shoulders, but I'm not."

Campbell hopes to get a regular column out of the position. "We've talked about it, and I think it eventually will evolve into that," he says. "I think it's a necessary component of the job, so that people see what other people are saying about the paper."


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