Poland defies stereotypes in pioneering journalism project
During a nine-day trip in June, they blogged and tweeted their experiences of using Polish services, travelling in the country and interacting with Polish people.
The project, called 'Mission 21', has been recognized by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers as "one of the most exciting social-media journalism projects to date".
The extensive use of social media in Mission 21 was an experiment for both Gazeta Wyborcza and City University London. All discoveries in Poland were reported and discussed with readers in real-time on Facebook and Twitter. Later stories were reported in full on the blog. Some of the students' stories,after translation to Polish, were published in both the print and online versions of Gazeta Wyborcza. Text was enriched by pictures and videos taken by students and uploaded to the blog and YouTube.
Professor George Brock, Head of Journalism at City University London, said: "Mission 21 was an excellent example of the kind of real-time, real-life training for young journalists which rests on cooperation between a leading paper and website and a journalism school. And I don't think that it was just City University London's students who were learning: it seems that the editors at Gazeta Wyborcza learnt a few things about social media too. These young journalists are showing how to engage audiences in ways which will help to build and sustain journalism in the future."
The 21 students of 11 different nationalities spent nine days in Poland without any special assistance. They were simply given their plane tickets, some Polish zlotys and sent to the 21 different cities.
"Before the students came to Poland, they told us they expected to see a gray, depressed post-communist country, hard hit during World War II, inhabited by very conservative, Catholic people. We were so surprised listening to all these ideas. Poland has changed so much since the democratic and economic reforms of 1989 and joining the EU in 2004," said Grzegorz Piechota, Gazeta Wyborcza's Senior Editor and Head of Public Awareness and Social Campaigns.
Can Euro 2012 change this inaccurate perception of Poland? About a million football fans are expected to travel there next year. Many of them may be as surprised as John Seymour, a student based in Poznan, who wrote on the blog: "Call me naive but I did not expect to see shops such as River Island, H&M, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Apple and La Senza in Eastern Europe... Poznan appears to be a great example of Poland's progress since the fall of communism and a city that has the infrastructure and amenities of any Western European city."
Overall, Poland itself is a popular destination as seven out of 21 students decided to stay on after the Mission 21 had been accomplished.
"Pictures of attractions all over the country have impressed many Poles too. It seems many of us have not noticed how much our cities had improved since we joined the EU and spent billions on renovations and building new attractions. It took a group of Londoners to tell us to travel less to the Mediterranean and more around homeland," said Grzegorz Piechota.
Football stadium construction sites in Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and the only completed stadium in Poznan were also inspected as part of Mission 21. Officials of all these four Euro 2012 host cities assured the students they would be ready for the championship.
The Mission 21 was not all about Euro 2012. The journalism students also did some old-fashioned investigative reporting, for example Camilla Mills put Bialystok and its Mayor to shame for mistreatment of animals at the city's zoo. Others showed their entertainment talents, Petter Larsson recorded a song about Katowice and made a video clip that was broadcast by Poland's popular public television channel TVP 2.