Cameron Dueck is a freelance journalist, sailor, adventurer and also a consultant with Ryan Financial in Hong Kong. In the summer of 2009, Cameron completed a journey made by fewer people than have climbed Everest: he sailed through the infamous NorthWest Passage on an expedition he led with a small crew onboard the Silent Sound. These waters are normally locked in ice, but due to climate change it is now possible to sail here for a few short weeks each summer. Each person they met along the way added their story to this colourful tale of life in the Arctic; a unique place where the climate change experience is affected by the critical and ongoing debates over sovereignty, resources and cultural assimilation.
The story of the journey is told in the book: The New NorthWest Passage: A Voyage to the Front Line of Climate Change. Cameron has worked for outlets including Reuters, The Financial Times and the South China Morning Post.
Did the journey confirm – or change – views on climate change in the Arctic?
It both confirmed and changed my views. The anecdotal evidence given by the hunters confirmed what scientists have long been saying that there is change occurring. However, the opportunities and risks that those changes trigger are a very complicated and multifaceted issue.
You were conducting a lot of interviews with local communities. How open and receptive were they to telling their stories of change?
They were very hospitable, but few of them spoke about Climate Change in the terms we speak of it in the south. They spoke of it in terms of very simple, physical changes they see in the land and wildlife around them.
Do you feel their story has been neglected?
Yes, I do. Much attention has been paid to the melting ice, the polar bears, whales, etc. But there is a fragile, ancient and incredibly interesting culture at risk as well. Few people realise that.
How were you communicating with stakeholders during the 4 month voyage?
Email and blogs. I was writing six different blogs and doing many media interviews during the voyage. We had sponsors and thousands of people interested in the journey, so I felt a great sense of duty to share as much of it as I could.
How effective – and taxing – were the blogs?
It's hard to say how effective they were — we certainly heard from a lot of people in far-flung corners of the world who read them. Writing a few hours a day while also standing watch for 8 hours a day, running a yacht and crew — it added up to the busiest summer of my life.
What role did PR play in raising awareness of your journey and promoting the book?
I've learned to sell stories to journalists using the news sense I developed as a journalist. I certainly think my experience has helped. During the journey the story sold itself, now I'm finding that selling the book takes a bit more work.
How would you change your approach – if at all – to communication and PR for a journey like this?
If I had the budget I'd hire a full-time agent/publicist, and I'd make sure they had the tenacity of a pit bull. I'm being haunted by all the PR people I've blown off as a journalist through the years.
What’s your next adventure and when will it start?
In June I will leave by motorcycle from Canada and ride it all the way to the tip of South America to research a book on Mennonite culture in Latin America. I'm Mennonite, and I like adventure, so the trip suits me fine.
When wearing your “financial journalist cap” what don’t you like about how PR professionals interact with you?
It annoys me when they know me, know my work, and have worked with me before and they still distrust me enough to ask for quote checks, and even go as far as ask to see the story before it runs. This is a chronic issue in HK, and I'm not sure if it's due to paranoid financial institutions or bad reporting.
I like PR folks when…They get the interviewee on the phone and send me background material after the interview. That's all I'm asking for.
Business journalism standards in Asia are… Varied. There are some great journalists here, but real reporting and research is expensive and time consuming, so much of what you see these days is just regurgitated PR material. But there are some that rise about that and actually think about the story and add a fresh angle to it.
And finally, the biggest lesson learnt from the journey through the Northwest Passage?
You can never have enough pairs of dry socks if you're going somewhere cold and rainy.
The New NorthWest Passage is published by Great Plains Publications and available through Kelly & Walsh stores as well as on Amazon.com.