You know the story: A journalist parachutes into Downtown Las Vegas, under cover of night, an iPhone clutched in his teeth. At daybreak, he or she attempts to assimilate into the local culture; the journalist tries to go native, with varying degrees of success. This is the story of three such brave souls, behind frenemy lines:
• The first, Sarah Kunst, wrote a recent story for Daily Beast headlined “A Tech Millionaire Bets on the Urban Revival of Downtown Las Vegas.” The story is a textbook example of how not to write about Las Vegas, one that should be taught to the Beast’s entire staff of unpaid interns. She misspells Tony Hsieh’s name, several times. She references Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a way that demonstrates she hasn’t read it. And she uses the phrase “spank bank of disaster porn” without being Kevin Smith. The story is a perfect example of a classic national news genre, call it the “Lazy Vegas Story,” written at poolside in the hope that one’s colleagues won’t think the writer actually enjoyed the visit.
• Sara Corbett’s recent Wired piece “How Zappos’ CEO Turned Las Vegas Into a Startup Fantasyland” shatters the “Lazy Vegas” mold. Corbett makes a real effort to go beyond the swimming pool and the provided press materials, ferreting out a good cross-section of local voices and putting the revitalization of Downtown into national context without actively trying to make us look bad.
• The best of the three is Alissa Walker’s Gizmodo piece, “Evangelical Urbanism: A Review of the Downtown Project’s Vegas Revival.” From the first paragraph—one that mentions both mobsters and Mormons—it’s evident that she did her homework, plus extra credit. She covers the Downtown rebirth from all sides, giving equal weight to the newcomers, to the wary locals and to her outsider opinion. It’s an article that will compel you to ask hard questions about your town, while making you proud to live in it. There’s no word in parachute journalism to describe a story like Walker’s, but in war parlance, we’d call it a hero.