Web sites paint rival pictures of area
by Kevin Hoffman, Times-Leader (1999)

Is the city a haven for "scumbags, Dead heads, white trash, and 'gangstas' " or "an area of opportunity with a diverse industrial base and hard working, loyal employees"?

The answer depends on where you click.

Type the word "Hazleton" into an Internet search engine and the resulting Web sites tell a tale of two very different cities.

Web sites created by CAN DO Inc., the nonprofit industrial development corporation, and by the city's Chamber of Commerce tout Hazleton as an idyllic city rich in social and cultural opportunities.

Many personal Web sites take a far dimmer view.

Billed as a tribute, "There's Something About Hazleton" takes loving, good-natured jabs at the municipality while providing a comprehensive lists of Hazleton-affiliated links.

The Web site's anonymous author offers this thumb-nail sketch of the city: "The hair styles are stuck around 1983, half the population seems to drive a Camaro, Firebird or IROC, and there really is a bar on every corner."

Visitors can participate in an online poll to determine the biggest problem facing the city (currently "blatant political corruption" leads the pack with 37 percent of 27 votes) or check out the ever-growing "You know you're from Hazleton if ... " list.

"It's hard for me to say if it makes a difference or not," said CAN DO President W. Kevin O'Donnell. "If I had my choice, I would choose not to have anything out there that's derogatory toward the community, but how can we control that?"

O'Donnell and Chamber of Commerce President Jim Boyle said they had not seen the negative Web sites. Both men recognized the importance of presenting a positive image on the Internet.

When a business is deciding to move to a community, they buy local newspapers and watch local television stations to get information about the community. Increasingly, companies are also using the Internet.

Three years ago, Pittsburgh-based trucking company Pitt Ohio Express Inc. was considering opening a terminal in Hazle Township's Humboldt Industrial Park. The Internet played an important part in the decision-making, said company spokesman Charles Hammel.

"It provided me with all the information I needed at my fingertips so we could make a quick decision," Hammel said.

The company looked at professional Web sites and didn't put stock in personal sites because they're often slanted, he said.

Anyone old enough to make an informed decision would know not to trust Web sites that exist just to poke fun, Intergrafix president Victor Lutsky said, "The same way you don't take caricatures in the newspaper at face value."

Hazleton has taken a giant step forward on the Internet in the past five years, Lutsky said. Although the city doesn't have as many resources as metropolitan giants such as Philadelphia or New York, Hazleton's presence on the Internet is at least competitive.

That's because in the information world, the Internet is the great equalizer. A Web site created by a college students will pop up on search engines just millimeters away from corporate-created sites.

"This wonderful thing we call the Web has many faces to it, and we can only hope that people read through the (Web sites) that mean the most to the community," O'Donnell said.

Type "Hazleton" into a search engine and you might find the Intergrafix Web site that provides a live view of downtown Hazleton from a camera mounted high atop CAN DO's Renaissance Center.

Or you might get a glimpse into a different world, the married life of Mark and Lesley Hazleton, Texas residents who would probably never be categorized on the same list as a Pennsylvania city, except on the Internet.

© 1999 The Times Leader

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