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Schuler Democracy Forum Launch confronts “moment of reckoning”

1 October 2021In the first hybrid event of the new academic year, Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, welcomed guests both in person and online for the launch of the Schuler Democracy Forum.

Taking place on the United Nations International Day of Democracy on September 15th, Professor Patten noted the relevance of the UN 2021 theme of “strengthening democratic resilience”. The Forum builds upon the Hub’s recent work around the crises of democracy. It engages Arts and Humanities research with some of the most pressing questions relating to democracy, media, technology and communication.

While welcoming Mark Little as the inaugural Schuler Democracy Forum Media Fellow, Professor Patten also thanked Dr Beate Schuler for her “encouragement” of the Trinity Long Room Hub over many years, and for supporting the vision for the Democracy Forum.

Left to Right: Dr Beate Schuler, Professor Eve Patten, Mark Little and Dr Elpeth Payne

Also speaking live at the Forum launch, Dr Schuler expressed one of her main concerns as that of the “role the media plays” in the destruction of our democracies, adding that at times its extensive influence can be “manipulative” and “dangerous.”

Commending Dr Elspeth Payne’s work over two years as the Beate Schuler Research Fellow and in bringing the Forum to fruition, Dr Schuler said she hoped the Forum will give us the tools to “detect fake news” and to “restore an atmosphere of fair discussion and tolerance.”

Dr Payne, Coordinator of the Schuler Democracy Forum said that, together with the new media fellow, she would work to deliver on initiatives that would be “both practical and creative” and offer “hope and solutions, not just problems.”

Provost Linda Doyle, who was not able to attend in person, expressed her delight in welcoming Mark Little “back to Trinity” in a project  she believed would be as “exciting, innovative and inspiring” as Mr Little’s student days.

Let us commit to safeguarding the principles of equality, participation and solidarity, so that we can better weather the storm of future crises
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Speaking of the trajectory of his career from his early days in journalism and working for the Irish State Broadcaster, RTÉ, to selling his company— the first social news agency Storyful—to Rupert Murdoch, Mr Little alluded to one “nagging question” which has stayed with him throughout: “Why does the media, and journalism in particular, do such a bad job of preparing democracy for the future?”












“I think we’re at a reckoning as a society”, he argued, describing the existential threat that climate change poses as one which “will not be solved by politicians alone.”  

He also highlighted the “exponential gap” between the pace of technology and our ability to keep up, and the “overabundance of information”, or what Peter Pomerentsev calls “censorship through noise”.

Adding to this what he described as a “radical decentralisation of power”, Mr Little said “journalism can’t survive unless it does things differently”. In the future, Mr Little noted how “journalists will write about this moment as an inflection point”, but he asked “how could journalism be fit for purpose” in a future where the only constant is going to be change.

Mark Little in conversation with Dr Elspeth Payne

Disputing the idea that journalism is about the “first draft of history” he said that we can only see narratives in retrospect, while “history is people looking to the future and having no idea what happens next.” 

Offering a number of solutions for engaged journalism, disinformation and trust and the information crisis, Mr Little concluded that “we will lose if we continue to obsess over the first draft of history rather than embrace the ambiguity of the future”, a future which, he said, should be “grounded in the humanities.”

To find out more about the Schuler Democracy Forum, click here.



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