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From AJR,   April 1995  issue

Homes of the (Journalism) Stars   


By Chip Rowe
Chip Rowe, a former AJR associate editor, is an editor at Playboy.     

Last fall, Chicago magazine dug into city property records, discovered where a few dozen local celebrities lived and sent a photographer into the streets to compile its first "Homes of the Stars" feature, a story that has long been a staple of city magazines around the country. No addresses were given, but the pictorial did include market values, purchase dates and neighborhoods.

An invasion of privacy? Columnist Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times thought so – and his home wasn't even included.

In a column that appeared soon after Chicago hit local newsstands, Roeper wrote that if his house had been pictured, he would have been "tempted to grab my 34-inch Louisville Slugger and head for the magazine's offices. True, this information is legally obtainable – but just because you can find out stuff about other people doesn't mean you should abdicate the moral responsibility of respecting their privacy."

Now that's a sentiment you don't hear in the newsroom every day.

Dennis Rodkin, the contributing editor who wrote the Chicago article, says none of the journalists whose homes were included complained about their privacy being invaded.

Rodkin's story included photos of homes owned by veteran local TV anchors Carol Marin, Warner Saunders and Walter Jacobson, the latter of whom explained on-air that he personally didn't feel he could complain about any unwanted exposure.

"The invasion of privacy by reporters is an everyday thing," he said. "As long as we're dishing it out, it seems to me we have to take it."

At Cleveland magazine, Editor Liz Ludlow says none of the local journalists included in the "Homes of the Rich and Famous" feature in 1993 said a word in protest. Among the homes included in the story was the $130,000 condo owned by local TV anchor Dick Feagler and the $210,000 home of Plain Dealer President and Publisher Alex Machaskee.

Cleveland plans to run the feature again this year, and Ludlow hints she's gunning to find the living quarters of Plain Dealer arts critic Steven Litt and gossip columnist Mary Strassmeyer.

Philadelphia magazine plans to revive its homes of the stars feature this year after a 14-year hiatus, says Research Editor Duane Swierczynski. Although the abode of Gene Roberts, then executive editor of the Inquirer and now managing editor of the New York Times, was included in the 1981 story, there may not be any newspeople in the update. "People who have money aren't usually journalists," Swierczynski notes.

Atlanta magazine last ran a home of the stars feature in 1992 and included the residences of Journal and Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard (now deceased) and local anchor Monica Kaufman. Freelance writer Lynn McGill, who wrote the piece, says she suggested that it also include the home of either Atlanta magazine's editor or publisher. Then-Publisher Tom Casey made the sacrifice. The story's crowning glory was a photo of Ted Turner's home, which McGill boasts she discovered because "it's in Roswell and I live out there and know some firemen."

At the Washingtonian, which has perfected the presentation of celebrity facades, former Managing Editor Mitch Gerber says few if any journalists have ever complained about its annual "Map of the Stars" feature. In fact, some are downright cooperative.

"Nina Totenberg said she didn't mind that we included her, but noted that we had the wrong house," Gerber recalls. "For Sam Donaldson's house, we figured out how many [lots the size of his Washington estate] would fit on his ranch in New Mexico. We asked Post television critic Tom Shales how many TVs he had and how much his monthly cable bill was."

Gerber says that while readers love the famous homes feature, he can sympathize with homeowners who despise it. "If my house were in it," he admits, "I'd be pissed."