In the early ‘90s, I was so financially secure I gave up my otherwise successful career at the age of 45 to get involved in the diving industry. I was able to manufacture my job as Technical Editor of the British Diver Magazine because I could make them a financial offer they couldn’t refuse, working for only a notional fee.
At that time, there was a lot of unprofessionalism and self-serving contributions to diving magazines worldwide (only Undercurrent, a modest diving newsletter, broke that mold), and I was determined to take on the role professionally. The then proprietor of Diver, Bernard Eaton, made the good call to give me my head.
Resort and liveaboard operators and equipment manufacturers initially hated me because I told the truth about them, but soon realized I favored none of their rivals, so I eventually garnered their respect.
Years later, a doyen of the industry, Bob Hollis, bought me lunch and told me I was a ‘pillar of the industry.” I was polite enough not to remind him that he was the first (of several) to threaten to sue me for what I’d written.
The readers loved the new and honest Diver, and circulation climbed to 55,000 readers, unprecedented for a niche publication. I like to think I played my part in that, and my recompense became commensurate on the payroll. Advertising revenue followed.
But veracity comes with a price. I was often the target of disgruntled and envious posters on social media. When I enthusiastically promoted the revolutionary vacuum leak test of one underwater camera housing manufacturer, others accused me of being in the company’s pay. I even had to resort to sending the invoice for my own housing to Adam Hanlon, the editor of Wetpixel, to prove it had not been a gift.
The funny thing is that although many who had invested in other makes of housing disputed the usefulness of the vacuum test, the company, Hugyfot, generously did not patent the idea so that other manufacturers could adopt it. The rest is history.
Of course, there will always be pioneering manufacturers with new products that have no rival when they are released. The Buddy Inspiration rebreather was one. The Ocean Reef full-face mask is another. Although I gave them the oxygen of publicity, I also reported on the design problems that became apparent when used by a typical diver, a guy like me.
I’m pleased that manufacturers were invariably happy to accept my empirical research and modify their products. However, some distributors merely wanted to sell their existing unmodified warehoused stock and complained bitterly about my reports.
To get my attention, all the manufacturers provided me with endless equipment to test and report. They allowed me to keep it with the proviso that they did not have to compete with me in the marketplace. I still hear stories of “writers” or “influencers” getting stuff ostensibly to test but selling it before it’s been anywhere near water.
Bernard Eaton died in 2012, and Diver magazine reverted to the conventional business model of chasing advertising revenue instead of writing the unvarnished truth for its readers. It’s finally gone the same way as many other publications which followed that path. Luckily for me, Undercurrent takes no advertising and still concentrates on serving its subscribers, so here I am.