As Poland celebrates 25 years of Democracy, the time was right to assess how journalists in the country are doing and help them prepare for challenges to come. For three days in early July, the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy (GCJD) had the opportunity to work with Polish professional and student journalists to share best practices of the essential role journalists play in an open and democratic society.
In partnership with Jan Kochanowski University (JKU) in Kielce, Poland, professional journalists from three news organizations and journalism students from JKU, along with representatives from a local NGO that does development work in the region with EU funds, met to discuss cutting edge technology, how to accurately decipher data, hold local officials accountable, navigate the social media landscape, and develop and protect sources.
The first day began with a session on the Polish Media Landscape, followed directly by a look at the American Media Landscape, and the changes and challenges faced by American journalists in the 21st century. This sparked numerous conversations between the Polish attendees and the American trainers in the audience, leading to an engaging and interactive start to what would become an intense three-day conversation on the importance of journalists in holding officials accountable to their public.
Theory was then put into practice for the second two days as the team visited Chmielnik, a small town of 4000 people, about an hour outside Kielce, where EU funds were used to renovate a synagogue in the center of town. Participants met with the Mayor Jaroslaw Zatorski, local alderman Bogdan Latosinski, and local businessman Wlodzimierz Wrzesien about the renovation project which was not completely supported by residents. They also toured the synagogue and the town to get a first-hand look at the project and the context in which it was created.
Chmielnik officials were indeed gracious, inviting participants to a symphony orchestra performance in the synagogue to showcase what they hope will become a tourist attraction.
"I was surprised when I heard trainers were coming to Poland, I thought we were forgotten" said Aleksandra Zaczek, a journalist with TVP Kielce.
"I was doubting my choice of professions, but I am now totally committed and enthusiastic about journalism", said JKU student Matewn Kaczmarczyle.
Participants were also hosted by Jan Kochanowski University Professor Emeritus Stanislaw Zak, an activist and academic who was in prison during Marshal law and who was elected as a senator during Poland's first free elections in 1989. It was a rare treat to hear his perspective on how his country has changed.
Two SHSU students joined GCJD on the trip, Kizzie Frank and Steven Snook. It was the first time either had been overseas. "I learned so much. I never thought I'd get an opportunity like this" said Frank.
GCJD's team of experts included Susan Lisovicz, former CNN anchor and visiting professor at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School, Dr. John Hatcher, the former head of the Center for Community Journalism and professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The team also included three representatives from SHSU: Mike Foster, a former FOX TV photojournalist and current video producer at SHSU, Dr. Robin Johnson, social media expert and director of the new graduate program in digital media, and data expert Dr. Jason Enia, a political science professor.
As a result of the trip, JKU is pursuing an exchange program with SHSU.
The project was made possible in part by a grant from the Headliners Foundation. GDJD is proud to be the first recipient of a grant from the organization.
Global Center for Journalism and Democracy
Dan Rather Communications Building, Room 201, Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 294-4399