Haters Gonna Hate: El Paso fends off malevolent tweets and blogs
El Paso seems to be in a never-ending battle to defend itself.
For the past few years, the city has had to prove it isn't a lawless, body-strewn border town based on its proximity to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico - which held the title of Murder Capital of the World during the worst part of the Mexican Drug War.
Now, El Paso is taking on a fight to overcome the perception that the city is just plain boring.
On Monday, after hearing of the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl matchup, USC linebacker Tony Burnett unleashed a torrent of disgusted tweets:
"Georgia Tech!? El Paso, Texas!? New Years Eve!? FML."
"If you never seen a real life giant tumbleweed get ready … "
Burnett later apologized and took the tweets down. But not long after, the Bleacher Report website started getting some digs in on our fair city.
Sports writer Lisa Horne wrote a snarky article touting things USC fans could do in El Paso while in town for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. She based the recommendations on posts about El Paso on TripAdvisor. The No. 1 destination? A movie theater (actually, the Plaza Theatre, which is much more than a movie theater-though Horne wouldn't know that). Another El Paso hot spot? Hanging out with ghosts of cowboy outlaws at the dusty ol' Concordia Cemetery.
Some people didn't like the joke and took to social media to blast Horne and her screed. Horne tweeted that she received death threats from El Pasoans who claimed to be gang members, and later took the article down.
"First of all, to those people in El Paso, I apologize. I did not mean to do that. I did offend you, but on the other hand-and this is not to take away from the apology-but I think people overreacted and didn't realize it was satire," Horne said in an on-air phone call with 600 ESPN Radio El Paso.
And before we could recover from that drama, the Wall Street Journal delivered a virtual kick to the crotch, and nicknamed this year's Sun Bowl the "Flatliners Bowl."
Still, Bill Blaziek, general manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, is taking it in stride.
"We have the opportunity to change (Burnett's) opinion and that's really where we shine," Blaziek said. "If we could package the qualities of El Paso and market it out in front of their visit, they'd have a completely different attitude."
Blaziek said the City has hired a media house out of New York to handle public relations. He said they are "garnering or generating positive media for El Paso and the Sun Bowl is surely one of those opportunities. We've employed them in Los Angeles to help with this week and they're very engaging and given us sharp and clear direction on how to respond to media."
Blaziek said that outsiders don't have a perception of the city before they arrive. However, year in and year out, the teams and their fans love the city after the game, he said.
"They leave with a different attitude," Blaziek said.
Sometimes, attitudes make a complete 180.
Berry Tramel would not have been mistaken for an ambassador for El Paso in 2009. In the lead-up to that year's Sun Bowl, Tramel, a sports writer for The Oklahoman, said El Paso was "not a great tourist destination."
He also said faulted the city for its weather, and its lack of things to do.
"El Paso might be a fine place to live, but I'm in no hurry to return," he wrote in 2009 as Oklahoma was getting ready to face Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
He did return, however. This time he was a bit more complimentary, even calling it a good trip.
"I enjoyed it. I hope to be back soon," Tramel wrote in his blog this past September after Oklahoma defeated UTEP at the Sun Bowl.
Tramel wrote about Marty Robbins' ballad "El Paso," describing it as "one of the best ballads ever written, and that it would make a great screenplay with just a few pieces of dialogue thrown in."
He said he felt safe in El Paso, but when he looks over the border at Juarez, he is reminded of the violence and its gloomy designation as the "murder capital."
Maybe most perplexing, he said Oklahoma's Mexican food is better than El Paso's. Still, Tramel liked the sopapillas at Leo's Mexican restaurant so much, he said he could have inhaled 30 of them had he been there with an empty stomach.
His colleague, Stephanie Kuzdym, the beat writer for the Sooners, posted several pictures and a couple of videos from the trip, saying she loved how the Sun Bowl is carved into the mountain.
Visting El Paso
People don't just come to El Paso because of athletic events. In early November, about 230 people involved in the tourism industry came to the Sun City for the Social Media Tourism Symposium.
And a good amount of those symposium attendees enjoyed their time in El Paso.
"In our post event survey 58.5 percent said they would recommend El Paso to a friend or relative as a potential travel destination," said David Serino, founder of the Social Media Tourism Symposium. "We had a great experience in El Paso - based on the welcoming spirit of everyone in town. Everyone we ran into was very accommodating, and they were super excited to know that there were guests in town and we were enjoying ourselves."
Serino said because of the schedule, they didn't have a lot of time for extra stuff but that they did head out to quite a few restaurants and bars. He said the bar workers - especially Downtown - were extremely friendly to them when they found out they were a convention group.
As for activities they were able to partake in, if you're in Texas you just have to get a certain kind of footwear.
"A lot of people went boot shopping," Serino said. "I would say roughly 30 people bought boots out of about 230 attendees. Also, the authentic Mexican food was awesome. And there was great price value in the city."
Carlos Aguirre, an El Paso tattoo artist and singer, thinks the bad perception of El Paso comes from within its residents and that has to change.
"El Paso itself has had self-doubt and the world sees that," said Aguirre, who has a two-year-old video called "I Love My City." "When they see someone doubting themselves they're going to say 'that city ain't nothing.'"
Aguirre travels quite a bit and said El Paso has quite a few things over other cities.
But the main thing El Paso has is the people. He said in other cities you could live years without knowing your neighbor but in El Paso everyone knows everyone and that comes across in friendliness and hospitality.
As for Aguirre's advice to tourists visiting El Paso?
"Find someone who lives here and have them talk to you about the city and places to go," Aguirre said.
And the first place Aguirre would take a visitor is to the Franklin Mountains.
Oh, and as for that TripAdvisor list of places to visit that named the "Plaza Movie Theater" as the number one place to visit? Well, it's actually the Plaza Theatre and it hosts a variety of events such as musicals, concerts and, yes, occasionally, movies.
And one of the biggest rock stars around absolutely loved his time at the Plaza and would probably consider it his number one place to visit in town.
"I read that in 1986 this beautiful building came very, very close to being torn down," Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder said toward the end of his Nov. 7 El Paso concert. "So I don't know who the people responsible for saving it are ... if I ever got to meet 'em I'd thank them profusely. It's so important to keep treasures like this alive. It's been a real extreme pleasure, not just come to your town for the first time, but to play in such a beautiful building. And I'm grateful that the contents (the audience) of the building have been so generous and kind."
KVIA asked some of the Social Media Tourism Symposium guest speakers their thoughts on El Paso. Here are some of their responses:
Jessica Lawlor, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Visit Bucks County, Pa. - LOVED running up the canyon, dining at Tabla (amazing food!) and enjoying the gorgeous Texas November weather :)
Shannon Morgan, Senior Editor and Online Media for Maryland Life - Was mostly at the convention center but enjoyed dinner at Star City Kitchen and the view from McKelligon Canyon Pavilion
Jeremy A Williams, Interactive Marketing Manager at Indiana Office of Tourism - I was very impressed with El Paso. Loved that downtown had free WiFi everywhere and enjoyed Leo's downtown & McKelligon Canyon
Stephanie Lynch, PR and Social Media Manager at Hoffman | Lewis in Missouri - I loved the mariachi, Popsicles and rolled tacos. Would come back to visit art museum!
Copyright 2013 KVIA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.