April 25, 2023

The delegation with former CNN correspondent Jill Dougherty, third from right, front row

In March, a delegation of journalists from Poland gathered in the U.S. for a two-week professional study tour focused on elevating legitimate journalism.

Funded by the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission and implemented by World Learning, the program provided the opportunity for the group to discuss some of the major challenges they are seeing in the field today, as well as share best practices to address them.

The delegation was comprised of 12 journalists and freelancers selected by the commission who write for major newspapers and news agencies, policy magazines, podcasts, radio, and television and cover topics ranging from foreign policy, cyber defense, and information warfare to climate change, migration, and women and LGBT rights.

“Our aim was to connect the group with excellent U.S.-based practitioners and thought leaders, and create fora for passionate conversation,” said World Learning’s Director of Global Programs Matt Brown. “We carefully chose speakers and topics to represent the diversity of the U.S. across socioeconomic, gender, race, and ethnic demographics.”

“What I liked the best was the occasion to meet and talk to people who treat their job very seriously and who believe that journalism hasn’t died yet.”

The group met with more than 25 prominent—and often award-winning—journalists, professors, and media consultants during the program and visited a variety of top media outlets in both Washington, DC, and New York, including Bloomberg Government, Washington’s National Public Radio station, Voice of America, The Associated Press, the Futuro Media Group, Popular Science, and The Wall Street Journal.

Program sessions covered topics such as disinformation and the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as it relates to the region’s information ecosystem, legal and ethical considerations regarding freedom of the press, how oppression in the U.S. is reflected in the media, and how best to work with sensitive sources.

The delegation at Voice of America meeting with VOA’s Eurasia Division Director Dr. Elez Biberaj

For Kaja Puto, a freelance journalist for several Polish-, English- and German-language media outlets, the “diverse selection of presenters, the opportunity to explore both cities, and the many opportunities to network with journalists and experts” was what stood out as particularly useful because the variety best suited the varying needs of the group.

In a session titled “Does Anybody Believe Journalists Anymore?”, they met with Jill Dougherty, an expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union who spent three decades as a foreign correspondent with CNN covering the Department of State and international affairs.

A robust discussion took place that was largely centered on current events—specifically Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s then visit to Moscow—and Russian politics and policies.

“There’s no independent journalism in Russia whatsoever,” Dougherty said. The group noted this has created a lack of faith in journalism overall in the region which she said is a very hard dynamic for their profession. Both the group and Dougherty were thankful for the nearly 90-minute conversation among fellow journalists.

“It was really inspiring to see that journalists in the U.S. and Poland share similar problems and have pretty similar workshops. I hope that this experience and contacts stay with us for a long time,” said Dominik Uhlig, an editor and journalist with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

“What I liked the best was the occasion to meet and talk to people who treat their job very seriously and who believe that journalism hasn’t died yet, although many say it has,” Joanna Cieśla-Hanke, a writer for Polityka magazine, said. “It was interesting to listen about their tools, about their dilemmas, and about our own responsibility for the distribution of our values.”

“It was a unique opportunity to observe and learn from some of the most experienced journalists and media institutions in the U.S.”

The group met with Nina Jankowicz, a vice president of the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience and author, who presented on the power of social media to spread disinformation campaigns and the use of gendered and sexualized propaganda to discredit female professionals.

The delegation met with John Daniszewski (center, blue shirt), editor-at-large for standards and former international editor at The Associated Press.

The group asked questions and raised discussion points around the sophistication of disinformation campaigns that now micro-target populations, the algorithms behind social media channels, open-source data, and information laundering. In a later meeting with Richard Tofel, the former president of the investigative journalism organization ProPublica who now heads a journalism consultancy, the discussion explored the future of journalism in an age of digital and social media.

In a session with Devlin Barrett, a Washington Post reporter who covers the FBI and the Department of Justice and was part of teams that won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 and 2022, the group discussed how to balance thoughtful reporting against clickbait and how to build trust and chemistry with sources, as well as the differences between reporting in the U.S. versus Europe.

Alternatively, in a trip to Street Sense Media, which focuses on solutions to homelessness and provides employment for individuals without housing, participants discussed the term “unhoused” versus “homeless” and how a vendor-model publication works.

The group met with journalist Fernanda Santos at The Futuro Media Group in Harlem, New York.

“It was a unique opportunity to observe and learn from some of the most experienced journalists and media institutions in the U.S.,” Joanna Stempień, a reporter in the Warsaw office of TVN24 Poland, said about the two weeks. “Very lively discussions, good dynamic, no boredom—just a pure intellectual and professional challenge. I absolutely loved it!”

When asked what lessons they would put into practice back home, participants noted ideas such as trying new formats for data, training on journalistic trauma, using collaborative storytelling to engage readers, and increasing transparency of reporting processes to build reader trust.

“It is difficult to choose one thing,” said Andrzej Kozlowski, a freelance writer for specialized digital issues portals, when asked about his takeaway from the program. “But the most important thing was to better know the American media from various perspectives.”