The Houston Chronicle sent a reporter to South Padre Island to cover spring break, which is (ever so slightly) a more thankless gig than you might imagine.
Sure, there are drunk, almost naked young specimens of whichever gender trips your trigger, energetically making fools of themselves.
But as with any annual event -- the rodeo, the state fair in Dallas, the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York -- there are few new angles to discover.
Reporter Andrew Guy Jr. did a nice enough job with a piece on cops waiting to bust underage drinkers returning from the Matamoros bars, but we're guessing the new, hip, appealing-to-the-young'uns Chronicle sent him down there to get the other story he filed, which was the standard spring break party feature.
Highlighted by a large pullquote of "It's all about the sex and the drinking," the March 15 piece had several quotes from partyers.
Getting quotes from drunks is not difficult, but it can lead to trouble. Everyone gave their age as 21, even though the one name unique enough to check through a driver's license database, Brent Blair, shows he's 19 (quelle scandale!).
But that's to be expected. What brought us up short was an anecdote buried deep in the piece, where an Amanda Gomez (21, naturally) said she had received $600 from "some guys" for briefly taking off her top. She flashed them while her boyfriend was in the bathroom, she said.
The Chron story moved on from there, to quotes from Texas A&M student Mark Price (21, naturally) and pals yelling for girls to "take it off." (He was also the source of the pullquote.)
But we got stuck on that $600 tale. A group of guys -- what, a dozen? -- say they'll pay 50 bucks each to get a glimpse of a girl's tits? And after they're briefly flashed, they actually hand over the money? Or somehow 60 guys all put $10 each on the table while the boyfriend's in that bathroom? What, they didn't have any cheap Mardi Gras beads handy?
It all just sounded a little unlikely. But maybe we're not young anymore.
We're definitely not saying that Guy wasn't told that this happened. We just think it's possible some drunk kids were having some fun with a reporter. And it'd be pretty difficult for the reporter to check it out after the fact.
"Her boyfriend backed it up and another friend backed it up, so I used it," Guy says. "She said there were probably ten to 12 guys, so it would have been about $50 each, and that sounded right. I saw that down there -- kids were just tossing money around."
Even with the spring break piece, by the way, the Chron couldn't win the competition for Best Sex Quote in the first quarter of 2003. That honor goes to KTRK/Channel 13, which ran a piece recently on the fact that teenagers are having oral sex in movie theaters. (We're assuming they used the same template from their 1950s pieces on Drive-In Theaters: Dens of Iniquity!)
The piece quoted "one teen girl we spoke with" who said oral sex was not sex.
"When you put something in your mouth, it's not like you're breaking anything or you're losing anything," she said.
Well, we're sure your boyfriend hopes so, kid.
Born to Shop
Talk about your irresistible stories -- a new wing of the Galleria, with 50 or so new stores (and potential advertisers!) -- opens March 28. On March 13 reporters were offered a "hard-hat tour" of the new space, not to mention insightful interviews with the mall's marketing director, who admitted under intense grilling that the new stores will provide even more of the same magical Galleria experience as the rest of the place.
We watched several of these reports, not so much for their content as for their aftermath. Would it be possible, we wondered, for a station to do one of these pieces and then not follow it with some giggling comment from a female co-anchor?
Much to our surprise, it was possible to do so -- on Channel 39 and even (miracles be praised) Fox.
Not, however, on KHOU, the supposedly sober-minded home of "Journalism for a Change." Lisa Foronda oh-so-girlishly let us all know she just couldn't wait for the new opening.
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Damn. Our money was on her co-anchor, Greg Hurst. We're sure he's already completed a full assessment of how the new addition has affected Houston's hair-product market.
Not So Fast
Chron headline March 19, on a story that the federal government has cut the Houston Police Department off from accessing a DNA database: "HPD Used DNA Databases So Rarely That It Lost Access."
Chron headline March 20: "Feds May Cut HPD Access to DNA Database." The feds hadn't cut off access, as it turns out, but they were (according to the quickly backtracking but doggedly not giving up Chron) thinking really hard about it.