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The heat wave is causing us to sweat ... again

September 12, 2000
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It’s happening again.

  An old stereotype is rearing its ugly head once more. With the early hot weather in spring and summer, local journalists are finding a lot of fodder for the their news-hungry readers.

The higher temps in many areas of the country will undoubtedly bring a flood of articles about distraught customers, wallowing in steamy kitchens and fanning themselves on porches, impatiently awaiting visits from overworked service technicians.

Sure it’s interesting news, like those stories that originate from post office parking lots on April 15 or from Punxsutawney, Pa. on Groundhog Day. We expect a deluge of stories and are seldom disappointed.

But this is one reporter who is disappointed — not by the timeliness — but by the content of stories like one that recently appeared in The Detroit Free Press, known locally as the “Freep.”

Since it is my hometown newspaper, I usually read it from cover to cover. It is an example of very good journalism written by professional and conscientious reporters. Before you start wondering if I’m writing a press release for the Freep, let me explain.

In a June 10 article, headlined “Some Like it Hot,” the Freep profiled a local hvac technician who was working a long day, servicing 12 customers and helping provide relief from the heat wave that has gripped the Midwest. He was doing an admirable job and the article was well written.

My beef is the impression that readers got from seeing this technician’s appearance and hearing some of the things he had to say.

For example, he did not wear a uniform. His baseball cap read “Jeep.” The opening picture showed him drinking from a garden hose. He was driving a van with over 120,000 miles on the odometer and had a “busted air conditioner.”

He was quoted telling a homeowner that his air conditioner has leaked refrigerant because it had been installed sloppily. Later on, the article said, “He tells them [customers] when they’ve been cheated by other repairmen and once he called a company that he met on a service call and threatened to report the other company to the attorney general’s office if it didn’t refund the money.”

Is this how we like our industry to be portrayed? I think not. It is true that technicians talk about competitors and try to make themselves look better. That happens in any competitive industry. But why air that in the local newspaper? If the intent was to get more service calls, the repairman in this story probably succeeded. Promoting yourself by slandering someone else is shameful and should not be seen as representative behavior in our trade.

And what about the lack of professional appearance? Maybe the technician’s employer couldn’t afford a uniform for his people but knowing about the media coverage, you would think the owner would try to put his best foot forward.

I aired my dissatisfaction with the editor and reporter and got contrasting responses. The editor was congenial. He listened to my complaints and then presented his side of the story, which I respected.

The writer, however, was defensive, saying she couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and questioned if I was “for real.” She didn’t understand how I could react so strongly to the article, suggesting that I should have chosen the contractor for her. She said that many of “my” contractors didn’t return her phone calls when she asked for someone who could provide a technician for the article.

I am not going to beat a tired (but not dead) horse. The media continues to perpetuate the notion that hvac techs are overworked, unprofessionally attired, and who criticize their competitors to make themselves look good.

You’ve probably seen similar stories in your local newspapers. If you do, drop me a copy, but more importantly, respond to them yourself. With a little nudging, we may get a few “good” stories about our industry.

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