Bottom feeding

April 10, 2008 by Paul Richfield, Senior Editor

Go to enough airshows and you can’t help but run into a wide cross-section of journalists. Some are professionals; others less so, but all share a fascination with airplanes and aviation. One of the more interesting groups is the “bottom feeders,” those that eke out a living on the industry’s fringes. Waiting for Embraer’s press conference to begin yesterday, I overheard two of the latter discussing their trade.
“You have to learn how to live on nothing,” one of them said. “To survive, you need to get at least 10 contract writing and/or photo gigs, because most of them only pay a couple hundred dollars or less. Recently I’ve started hiring interns to hunt down photos and graphics, because this can take up a lot of time you need to chase down work. It’s great because they’re smart kids and you don’t have to pay them anything.”
I wish these guys luck, but can’t help but wonder if they’d find full-time employment easier. Independence–or the illusion of it–must make it all worthwhile. Hope they like Top Ramen. I’m reminded of the weather-battered Europeans I’d see at the Paris and Farnborough air shows–these people would spend the entire show clinging to the airport fence, telephoto lenses ready to capture crashes as they occurred.
Several years ago, one of them hit paydirt at Paris, courtesy of the show daily I was working for at the time. A Russian Sukhoi fighter smacked into the runway and fireballed during an aerobatic demonstration–he caught it at the precise moment the crew were blasting away from the wreck in their rocket-powered ejection seats. The price? $2,500 for a Page 1 photo. Bottom feeding doesn’t get any better than that!

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