Opinion/ Comment

SNF Dialogues: Spectators or Citizens?

A discussion on news consumption, civic engagement, and democracy

“What the media are trying to do is not to passivize citizens, but to activate them as fans. They are blurring boundaries between information and entertainment and politics,” says Dr. Laurie Ouellette, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Minnesota.

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Against the backdrop of a 21st-century media landscape where information often becomes “infotainment” and traditional journalism risks “tabloidization,” the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Dialogues event Spectators or Citizens? took a deep dive into the interplay between media and civic engagement. Curated and moderated by SNF Dialogues Executive Director, iMEdD Managing Director, and journalist Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, the discussion offered expert perspectives from Dr. OuelletteDr. Darren Lilleker, Professor of Political Communication at Bournemouth University; and Dr. Timothy Shaffer, SNF Chair of Civil Discourse and Director of the SNF Ithaca Initiative at the University of Delaware. The event’s central focus was on the evolving dynamics of media consumption and their impact on contemporary citizenship.

The participants tackled key questions, such as the rise of “tele-citizens,” mass media’s potential to empower audiences, and the vital role of slow and substantive journalism in shaping informed and engaged citizens.

One notable moment from the evening was Dr. Shaffer‘s comment on the essence of being a citizen: “To be a citizen means to be well-informed. One of the great challenges is the ability to see beyond one’s own preferences, the inclination to go to the familiar sources that align with one’s own views, this confirmation bias that is so significant right now.”

Dialoguers_Timothy Shaffer

Dr. Ouellette elaborated on the forces driving media content, saying, “I think in terms of media content, we have prioritized profit and not public service or public good as an operating principle, and that has led us to a misunderstanding of public life through media.”


Dr. Lilleker, reflecting on the democratization brought about by digital technologies, added, “Digital technologies allow everyone to have a voice to some extent. Anyone can speak, but not everyone can be heard.” He elaborated on the media’s connection with its audience, saying, “People feel empowered through the TV. They can make choices, decide on programs, and even contribute, but the real issue is their lack of productive participation in citizenship.”


Drawing the evening to a close, Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou remarked that there’s a broader discourse about responsibility, commenting, “All of us are responsible, but not in the same way. Journalists and the media industry are much more responsible because they have the expertise. The responsibility is not equal.”


Held on September 27 as a prelude to the iMEdD International Journalism Forum taking place in Athens and streaming online from September 28 to 30, the SNF Dialogues event highlighted that as the media’s role in society continues to evolve and challenge existing paradigms, discussions like this remain more pertinent than ever. 

For more information on upcoming events and discussions, please visit snfdialogues.org.

The SNF Dialogues are held through the journalism nonprofit iMEdD (incubator for Media Education and Development).

SNF Dialogues: Diverse opinions, new ways of thinking

*The opinions expressed by SNF Dialogues participants, whether officially representing institutions and organizations or themselves alone, at events, in articles, or in other audiovisual media are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) or iMEdD. Speakers’ remarks are made freely, without prior guidance or intervention from the team.

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About the SNF Dialogues

Free and open to everyone, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Dialogues offer a public platform for engaging with some of the biggest and most pressing issues of our time through live discussions, in-depth multimedia content, and more. Seeking to encourage new ways of thinking, foster the exchange of ideas, and forge connections across geographic and social divides, the SNF Dialogues see participation in public discourse as an essential component of active citizenship. The SNF Dialogues are curated and moderated by Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou and are held through iMEdD (incubator for Media Education and Development), a journalism nonprofit organization.

See more at snfdialogues.org.