November 29, 2023

“Journalism in Democracy” Forum Explores Concerns About Disinformation

By Anne Levin

The disintegration of local journalism was the impetus for a day-long forum that will take place Saturday, December 2 at Princeton Public Library. But panelists and speakers taking part in “Journalism in Democracy” are not necessarily predicting a scenario that is all gloom and doom.

“The collapse, nationally, of local journalism as a resource for communities across the country is part of this, and there are a number of themes,” said Cliff Robinson, the library’s public humanities specialist. “The main thing we wanted to convey is while there is a lot of reason for alarm, there are also things people can do. It doesn’t have to be a completely pessimistic take.”

Panelists for the event come from Princeton University, Rutgers University, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), and the media.

Following check-in at 10 a.m., the first panel discussion is “Democracy, Citizenship and the Power of the Powerless” with Dan-El Padilla Peralta, associate professor of classics at Princeton; Rachel Devlin, associate professor of history at Rutgers; and Stanley Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies. Christopher Fisher, associate professor of history at TCNJ, is the moderator.

Lunch at 12 p.m. is complimentary to all registered attendees. The panel discussion that follows is “Democratic Societies and Participatory Journalism,” with Jane Ferguson, foreign correspondent for PBS Newshour and Princeton journalism professor; journalist Tennyson Donyéa, founder of Black in Jersey; and The Marshall Project computational journalist Andrew Rodriguez Calderon. The moderator is Anastasia Mann, lecturer at Princeton and founding director of SPIA in NJ.

Jan-Werner Müller, professor of social sciences and politics at Princeton, is the keynote speaker. His topic is “Democracy’s Critical Infrastructure.”

“Scholars, journalists and librarians require democracy and a free press as conditions to serve to an informed public,” said Robinson. “The many political challenges before us today – the global threat of autocracy, the strategic use of targeted disinformation, and the polarization undermining the potential for collective action – make the question of citizens’ rights and obligations not only timely but urgent. Throughout this forum, we will explore how citizens can be mindful consumers of information and how they can support and participate in the continuous production of reliable sources.”

Robinson began to think about planning the forum after joining the library’s staff last summer and being introduced to people in the community by Kim Dorman, the library’s community engagement coordinator.

“We knew with the election coming up that democracy would be in the air,” he said. “I had a lot of conversations with people to get a feel for concerns. One thing that emerged was the worry about disinformation and how polarizing it is.”

Registration for the forum is recommended but not required. As of Tuesday, 90 people were signed up. “We’re hoping for 125,” Robinson said. “And we’re hoping that people will leave with a sense that in spite of the challenges we’re facing as a country, there are things they can do as citizens to advocate for themselves and their communities. We have to work with democracy while we have it.”

Visit to sign up or get more information.