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Marvelous journalist, not so marvelous talk

Sacha Phfeiffer and Jeff Potter on a radio show. Photo by Jeff Potter on flickr available under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Sacha Phfeiffer and Jeff Potter on a radio show. Photo by Jeff Potter on flickr available under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Lakota Nguyen

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It’s not everyday that a world-renowned journalist comes to the University of Hawaii to speak. On Friday, February 17th, Sacha Pfeiffer, known for her work in the Spotlight Investigative team in the early 2000’s on sex abuse within the clergy, as well as countless radio programs including NPR, came to the UH art auditorium to speak about investigative reporting and fake news. While I am eternally grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, I felt underwhelmed on how the talk played out.

The lecture hall was set up with two chairs and a small circle table in the front with plants and cords for microphones in the back, kind of like the Ellen Degeneres show. From college students, families, and senior citizens, the hall was filled to the brim; viewers had to stand in the back. Even though the crowd was huge, the audience was very respectful and quiet. You could tell that they cared about the topic and were anxious to hear Pfeiffer speak.

The talk was in an interview style with the professor acting as a moderator and asking questions while Pfeiffer answered them. It was interesting to hear her as she gave valuable observations on the industry as well as narrating her experiences in the field of investigative journalism. She was very genuine and often talked to the audience and cracked jokes. However, I couldn’t make out what the moderator was saying since he mumbled in his speech and trailed off at the end of sentences.

The topics of discussion included social media, the different forms of journalism, fake news, and most importantly: Spotlight. While it was interesting hearing Pfeiffer’s insight on her opinion on radio/broadcast journalism vs. traditional articles, the moderator didn’t give much attention to it and often glossed over the topic.

Instead, he chose to talk about the spotlight case–and only the spotlight case. Although it piqued my interest hearing about Pfeiffer’s stories, the moderator’s questions got boring and extremely unnecessary which didn’t advance the discussion any further than Spotlight.

For instance, he asked questions about the Spotlight movie and not the real-life events. He asked her opinion on how the movie perceived the case, if the actor that played her portrayed her realistically, and even how it was like to be on the red carpet at the Oscars. It satisfied my thirst on the behind the scenes making of movies, but it was off-topic and got repetitive quick.

The most problematic issue that happened during the talk was probably the technology. It was too quiet and made it hard for the people in the back to hear. In addition, there was feedback from the microphones which caused it to have a tendency to turn off randomly. To fix this, the tech moderators had to rush to the sound board, and tamper with the controls. This caused even more feedback and disrupted the rich or bland conversation between Pfeiffer and the moderator. The most irking instance was when they interrupted Sacha mid sentence to ask her and the moderator to move more apart from one another to fix the screeching mics.   

Shortly after they got the sound systems to work, Pfeiffer was stopped again by someone abruptly saying that now the hall was open to questions.

I wouldn’t have had a problem with changing gears and asking educated, thought-provoking questions to Pfeiffer if the people who asked them weren’t so presumptuous. The “questions” repeatedly turned out to be personal statements, opinions, and boasts about how great they are (which is quite ironic considering that the Sacha Pfeiffer was just yards away). If the questions were not about someone bragging, it was usually political.

It may seem that I did not enjoy the talk one bit and would label it as a waste of time, but when the discussion had high points, it was intriguing and valuable (although scarce). In the long run, the talk as a whole was an interesting experience that made me learn more about journalism and the struggles it faces today with “fake news,” social media, and advances in technology. Although it had set backs such as poor moderation, technology, and a humdrum question session, it was still pretty awesome to be in a room and listen to Sacha Pfeiffer talk.

 

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Marvelous journalist, not so marvelous talk