Students discover media at crossroads during Poland visit

Fordham students visited Poland in May 2015.

Fordham students visited Poland in May 2015.

By Claire Curry

The media industry in Eastern Europe is at a crossroads. On a week-long study tour to Poland in May, Gabelli School graduate students discovered why.

On one hand are state-controlled media that trace their roots through Eastern Europe’s communist past. On the other hand are challenges from digitization and competition from free news sources. Insufficient funding compounds the problem.

Led by Bozena Mierzejewska, an assistant professor of communications and media management, Fordham students went to Krakow to explore these issues from the inside.

During their week abroad, students heard from industry leaders and from faculty at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University; they also attended a conference on public media funding in Poland. Speakers included a Polish Broadcasting Council board member, Poland’s minister of culture, the U.S. consul in the country, investment analysts, and media practitioners.

Topics included public broadcasting, the political context of the media industry, and its role in an Internet-on-demand society. Students learned about and discussed the landscape of state-run media in a post-communist Eastern Europe.

Jagiellonian University

Jagiellonian University

“There is clearly a hangover from the communist time, and that still has a compelling effect on media,” said Zilin Chen, MSMM ’16. “The content is regulated more seriously, and a lot of media channels are under the control of government, compared with America’s more commercialized market environment.” Still, new technology and a younger generation’s desire for change is gradually spurring media in Poland to become “more diverse and dynamic,” she added.

Site visits to the daily newspaper Gazeta, the Catholic magazine Tygodnik Powszechny, and the largest regional radio station, Radio Krakow, helped to put the discussions into real-world perspective.

Chris Maloney, MBA ’15, was impressed with Radio Krakow, which “is living its mission and doing it well,” he reported on the Fordham group’s trip blog, calling it Poland’s version of NPR. CEO and editor-in-chief Marcin Pulit took the students on a tour of the facility, explaining operations, funding and content development.

Beyond media, the students investigated Poland’s tech industry, visiting two startup firms. Patricia Schwerdtman, MBA ’16, noted that the fledgling Polish companies face many of the same obstacles as those in the United States, including growing pains and the impact of expansion on company culture.

“What’s different,” Schwerdtman pointed out, “is the leadership style, the willingness to learn from mistakes and the caution of expanding too rapidly, particularly given the aftermath of the financial crisis in Europe.”

In addition to visiting key Krakow-area sites such as the University Museum and Auschwitz, the students ended their information-packed days with group dinners — including one where they bonded with their Krakovian peers, a highlight of the week that one student will always remember: “I will not forget talking about technological infrastructure, European Union programs to support entrepreneurial ventures in Poland, and trying to convince local undergraduate students that not everyone in New York City eats McDonald’s for lunch.

Here is a video of highlights from the Poland tour:

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