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February 2004 Vol. 19, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Do You Get Freebies?

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Ben,

I am one of your subscribers. I would like to enquire if you have a policy regarding acceptance of free or discounted travel by yourself or those who write articles to the newsletter. I am obviously not asking about reader contributions to the Chapbook.

-- David Shem-Tov
London, England

Dear David,

The policy is that we pay for everything. Always. And we never tell a resort or travel agent that we are doing a story.

I founded Undercurrent in 1975. On every trip I've taken -- every flight, every upgrade, every hotel room, every tank, every meal, and every drink -- I've paid for myself. I never identify myself while doing a story and rarely dive again with the same people, though occasionally a guide at one resort pops up at another, but none has figured me out (probably because they don't read).

On a leisurely trip in 1989, I befriended a dive operations manager on the East End of Cayman, and I took him on a dive on the West End to show him the degradation of the reef. I ran into him several years later, on a leisurely, nonwriting trip, and he offered to comp me the dive, but I said "no thanks." I have written about one resort favorably in Belize and have since gotten to know the proprietor. I have returned on several nonwriting trips and have paid the normal rate.

There's a caveat. Over the years I have had many people write travel stories for me, for what amounts to a small honorarium. Each of these divers I trust to travel anonymously and not identify themselves as writing for Undercurrent. As far as I know everyone has done admirably. I have never heard from any resort or live-aboard who says my writer has identified himself or gotten a freebie. In a couple of cases, however, where I thought the resort might be on to us, I didn't run the story. I have gotten inquiries from resorts saying that an Undercurrent writer was there and asking when the story would appear. Unfortunately, these resorts got hornswoggled.

In 1977, a friend who worked for the CIA told me he had a month vacation in Micronesia and he'd be happy to do a story for me. He said that while there he'd be departing on "business" for a month, and then would return for another week or so. He wrote two great stories, and I paid him his honorarium. Several months later, I learned that my friend had walked around Palau as Mr. Undercurrent, with business cards and all. Several years later, I read an article in The New York Times that when my friend was writing for Undercurrent, the CIA was illegally operating in Micronesia. For a brief time, it seems as if Undercurrent and the CIA were one. He needed a cover, and I got hornswoggled.

By the way, when you see initials after travel articles, you still don't know the name of the writer. While L.K. writes often for us, the initials L.K. have nothing to do with her name.

-- Ben Davison

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