Recap: 2017 Media Symposium

Politicos, journalists and VIPs share wisdom with students

Editor-in-Chief Brian Wild

“Forge ahead… find a good story.” – Keahi Tucker, Hawaiʻi News Now

Keahi Tucker and Denise Latinen

Two dozen speakers descended upon UH Hilo’s Campus Center on Saturday, April 22, to present themselves before an audience of students and community members. The topic? All things media…

UH Hilo’s 2017 Media Symposium was sponsored by Ke Kalahea – through the Board of Student Publications (BOSP) – the Board of Media Broadcasting (BOMB), as well as a non-UH entity, the Big Island Press Club (BIPC). The general theme for this year’s symposium revolved around “Ethics and ‘Real News’ in the 21st Century.”

Media Symoposium participants at campus center 306 As such, one of the primary subjects for the symposium concerned someone who seemingly takes pride in his promotion of fake news: President Donald Trump.

Jeff Portnoy, a prominent Honolulu attorney and UH regent, lamented the diminished role of the traditional press in today’s political climate.

“There is a national-level attack on the media… journalists are not respected anymore,” Portnoy said.

“With the birth of “fake news,” and “alternative facts,”” referring to White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, Portnoy feared that “things have changed not for the better.”

Portnoy likewise expressed concern over the state of media here in Hawaiʻi, saying that “at the local level, the trend is for mainland companies to buy out local media… every single major Hawaiʻi media outlet is owned by one of these mainland media companies.”

In Portnoy’s view, gone are the days when major TV stations or newspapers “cared about something other than their bottom line.”

Moments later, Portnoy singled out Honolulu Civil Beat, an online outfit, for producing “well-respected reporting.” One of Civil Beat’s top reporters, Chad Blair, was in the room.

Blair was in town to moderate a panel featuring state Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna) and state Rep. Chris Todd (D-Hilo), which included a Q&A session on some of the Legislature’s most controversial decisions.

Council Member Aaron Chung

As with the lawmakers, county officials kept most things local; Hawaiʻi Public Radio (HPR) reporter Sherry Bracken moderated a panel with Hawaiʻi County Council Members Aaron Chung, Sue Lee Loy, and Eileen O’Hara. (Another member, Jen Ruggles, was questioned separately by Chad Blair.)

Aside from politics, other topics of interest were covered in-depth at the symposium, including the entertainment industry. HPR’s Bracken questioned a panel featuring top experts in the Hawaiʻi film, radio, and television industry. Denyse Woo, a radio personality at KBIG-fm, joined filmmaker Darrell Gabonia, director/producer G.B. Hajim, and former Big Island film commissioner John Mason to discuss a “survival guide” for aspiring writers and directors in Hawaiʻi.

For Woo, her motivation to seek work in film was personal. “My uncle worked on the original Star Wars movies… but I wanted to get into the industry on my own.” To do that, Woo explained that she “started off as a PA [production assistant], which is the lowest job, the starting job. You have to pay your dues, and then start working up.”

Another channel Woo took advantage of was her connection to fellow panelist, John Mason. “I hounded John for an internship; I was his first intern.”

Hajim, whose film credits include a sci-fi movie starring Tim Curry and George Takei, made it clear to young artists in Hawaiʻi: “You need to do everything, I’ve done everything… that’s how you survive on this island.” By everything, Hajim refers to acting, writing, directing, lighting, sound, set building, and any other aspect of putting together a project.

Filmmaker Gabonia concurred. “In L.A., most people only specialize in one particular thing they do, that they can do better than anyone else,” like actors or costume designers. By learning technical crafts like sound work in addition to the more artistic craft of storytelling, Gabonia said, he was highly valued by others when attending film school in California.

Failure to be multi-faceted in Hawaiʻi’s entertainment industry can have career-building consequences: “The film commissioner [may end up being] the only person on the island with a full-time job in film… everyone else has got two or three other jobs at the same time.”

The film panel also agreed on two other factors that prove crucial to success in Hawaiʻi: networking, as well as proficiency in finance or the law. “You need a network, to get a team of people who will help you,” Hajim said. “And if you have a background in the law or in accounting, that will help you immensely… that’s how you take advantage of the state tax credits for filming.” Even the professionals, like Hajim, find they’ve sold themselves short. “I wish I was able to take advantage of the federal benefits, too, when I was doing my last movie, that would’ve helped.”

Around noon, the sessions in Campus Center were ready to break for lunch, which was held in Campus Center Plaza. While attendees sat and enjoyed their meals, a one-act play – titled “The Last Journalist” – was being read for the audience’s entertainment. Written by a student, Zoe Whitney, “The Last Journalist” takes place in a dystopian world where President Trump’s crackdown on the press, and disastrous saber-rattling on the Korean Peninsula, create a world where journalism dies an agonizing death. The actors, Ray Ryan and Asia Helfrich, read aloud from the script.

After the play reading, the crowd welcomed a newcomer to the symposium: anchor Keahi Tucker of Hawaiʻi News Now. Tucker, who was in town covering the Merrie Monarch Festival, held court with the audience for over 40 minutes and fielded questions from students and fellow journalists alike. Tucker also expanded on his own background, with details on his upbringing in Kaua‘i, as well as his early days in the newsroom, traveling to Kansas, Baltimore, and back to Hawaiʻi in the mid-2000s.

When asked if he had any words of advice to young people like him, eager to make a name for themselves in journalism or media, Tucker urged them to never give up. “Forge ahead… find a good story,” and be passionate for what you do.