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Mission 21: Is Poland Ready for Euro 2012?

City University London journalism students to test Poland a year before the 2012 Euro Football Championship
by Hollie Jenkins

Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's leading daily newspaper, has invited 21 undergraduate journalism students from City University London to visit the 21 biggest cities in Poland to determine whether the country is ready to host the UEFA Euro 2012 Championship.

no altAbout a million foreign soccer fans and their families are expected to flood Poland in June 2012. From June 18 this year, the undergraduate journalism students will embark on  nine-day journeys funded by the newspaper and will share their experiences of using Polish services, travelling in the country and interacting with Polish people.

The project, called Mission 21, is also an experiment by the newspaper, testing to what extent social media tools can enrich journalism and stimulate public debate, with the students blogging and using tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share their experiences.

The students themselves are a diverse group, representing 11 different nationalities, to capture a range of perspectives and experiences likely to be encountered by tourists travelling to the country. Most of them know almost nothing about Poland and none of them speak Polish. 

Grzegorz Piechota, Senior Editor and Head of Public Awareness and Social Campaigns at Gazeta Wyborcza says that the students will offer insight into a wide range of issues just under a year before the Championship begins.

"We believe Euro 2012 is not only about sports, stadiums and highways. It's in fact the biggest mass event organised here since the collapse of communism in 1989. Whether we want it or not, the Championship is going to be an exhibition of all Polish achievements, failures, strengths and weaknesses. Mission 21 is a bit like having a look in the mirror at ourselves, before the football fans arrive. 

"We are interested to find out how the students interact with the Polish people and whether the common stereotypes about Poles are actually true. We also want them to test how easily a foreigner can book a taxi, whether the railways are reliable and if tourists are more likely to be scammed. We are also interested to know whether our tourist information staff are helpful, whether anyone on the street can speak English and what services are available to tourists who get robbed or who are sick." 

Professor George Brock, Head of Journalism at City University London said it was also a rare and exciting opportunity for City's students: "It is a unique chance for 21 of our best students to do some hands-on reporting in a foreign country, the kind of chance they are not likely to have again until well into their journalistic careers. They are all tremendously excited - as they should be!"

John Stammers, one of the 21 'missionaries' and an undergraduate journalism and economics student at City, said that Mission 21 is "the most exciting social-media journalism project to date."

Anna McKane, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Journalism City University London said: "We teach our students about blogging and using all the social media to drive traffic to their blogs and build their online profiles. This is clearly one of the ways that journalists will work in the future and at City we make sure that all our students are experienced in these areas.

"This mission to Poland will be a huge leap forward for them in their learning and experience about social media, as well of course building their skills in all the more traditional areas of reporting, interviewing and writing."

Mission 21 has already been praised among over 150 European newspaper top editors who gathered in Zurich last week (June 9-10) at the WAN-IFRA Newsroom Summit.

At the event, Aralynn McMane of World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers WAN-IFRA said: "Gazeta Wyborcza and City University London have come up with a fresh idea that will put youth at the center of something that will make great stories and perhaps even change mentalities."

The project can be followed on the Mission 21 website, on the blog site, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

In a few days hundreds of ordinary Poles have already offered their help to students -- by sharing tips, opinions and even inviting them to parties or matches.

Gazeta Wyborcza was named by WAN-IFRA as the World Young Reader Newspaper of the Year in 2008.

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