KSJ Tracker February 1, 2013

New Scientist contest offers winner an oil-industry tour of the Arctic.

Troll gas platform

New Scientist, the respected British science news magazine, is running a contest offering the winning writer a tour of the Arctic sponsored and led by a Norwegian oil company.  

"New Scientist has teamed up with the global energy company Statoil to provide one lucky winner and a guest the trip of a lifetime. They will cruise around Spitsbergen, one of the closest islands to the North Pole, fly to the giant Troll platform and descend 300 metres below the waves to the sea floor," says the contest announcement.

The description of the prize sounds like something from a TV game show. "You and your friend will fly to Svalbard and spend one night in the capital Longyearbyen and two nights aboard a luxury cruise ship. A Statoil guide will be your host as you sail across the pristine waters of the Billefjorden, go hiking in the primitive landscape - watch out for seals, polar bears and other natural wonders - and visit the Russian ghost town of Pyramiden."

If that isn't enough to tempt you, "The two of you will fly to Bergen and stay the night before a day of excitement, taking a trip in a helicopter to the 472-metre-high Troll gas platform." 

It's unclear whether this is meant to be a journalism contest or a contest directed at New Scientist's readers. Entrants are asked to write 100 words on "which energy technology you think will have the biggest impact on our lives in the near future, and why." But the previous winner blogged about his trip on the New Scientist web site. How could the magazine have allowed that?

This is not the first we've heard of contests intended not to reward entrants but to push an industry or scientific agenda. Last October, I wrote about a the European Southern Observatory's "new journalism competition to capture and promote inspirational coverage of European astronomy." Note the contest was intended to promote coverage--not to reward performance. 

This latest example involving New Scientist is a dubious venture that magazine would have done well to avoid.

-Paul Raeburn


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