It takes two to tango

3rd of June 2021
It takes two to tango

Scandinavian reporter Lotte Printz on the interaction between journalists and the cleaning industry. A clash of professions? 

Let’s make it very clear from the beginning. This is not some sob story from a hurt journalist. In my time as a correspondent for ECJ, I’ve talked to and met many obliging people in and around this industry.  But I’ve also ‘met’ some closed doors and ‘silent’ sources. Having been rejected on a number of occasions when looking for stories for this magazine, yours truly does wonder (as journalists do) what might be the cause.

In Denmark (my home ground), people are generally known for being trustful. Yet, thrusting journalists seems to be a different matter. When polls are made about the credibility of various professions, journalists rank low on the list. Only ‘surpassed’ by second-hand car dealers and politicians!

This combined with the press generally considering bad news to be good news, focusing
considerably more on armed conflict, natural disasters and the like than on positive and constructive stories.

Closed doors

Could that be one explanation for the closed doors? That I’m being ‘judged’ as one of those ‘
not to be trusted’ journalists who is basically up to no good – even when writing for an
industry magazine?

Having trained as a journalist, a critical approach is in the DNA. We are ‘brought up with’  the notion of not letting sources say just about anything without challenging them. Professional integrity and editorial autonomy are at stake. In addition, journalists see themselves as important people – generally speaking of course! – watchdogs seeking the truth and educating the public about issues that affect their lives.

So, when not invited to walk straight in after merely having introduced him- or herself as a journalist, it may offend the journalist’s pride with a follow-up scenario likely to be: 1) “Can’t they see just how important my job is… Well, never mind… their loss!” and then perhaps ditch that potential source or article for good. Or 2) “Aha! When they don’t want to speak to someone as important as me, they are hiding something… there’s something rotten that we better bring into the light of day!” Again, I’m generalising, of course!

Once, a source of mine suggested that various cultural backgrounds in the industry could be another explanation: if a cleaner, for instance, is asked to talk to a journalist about something apparently harmless (from our perspective), he/she may refuse because talking to a journalist in some countries could be fatal.

Reluctant to talk

Now, could these ‘closed doors’ be explained by a clash of various perspectives or are people in this industry downright afraid to talk to journalists? For obvious reasons, I couldn’t get a response from the people who didn’t want to talk to me or didn’t answer my calls, so I turned to the trade association, Danske Service, and its head of office, Malene Jæpelt, for her take on things.
“I think there are several explanations for what you see as people seemingly being reluctant to talk to you.”

“First of all, this industry consists largely of SMEs that are out there in the field on a daily basis and whose main concern is to provide excellent service to their customers. There’s not much time for or focus on speaking to the media and these companies don’t have a press service like the largest players on the market and usually don’t have the ambition to grow into a large enterprise either,” Jæpelt explains.

The typical Danske Service member is a business that employs 20 people or so and operates locally. As a member of Danske Service, cleaning companies are obliged to comply with collective agreements.

“Reputation is important to our members, but they prefer it being spread by word of mouth,” Malene Jæpelt explains and continues: “Surveys we’ve done among our members in the past show that they are concerned about the image of the industry. The cases that the press most frequently focuses on are those that involve the ‘black sheep’ of our business and the way they act and behave can harm the overall industry, and thus influences our members as well even though they are committed to providing excellent service, motivating employees and offering them proper conditions.”

Boosting the image

Looking at things from the journalist’s perspective, Malene Jæpelt does acknowledge that ‘ignoring’ calls and ‘declining’ chances of being expert sources – no matter the reason – might backfire.

“However, our members will always ask themselves: What’s in it for me?”

Offering their members seminars about handling the press is not in the pipeline, but Danske Service will always be committed to boosting the industry’s image, Jæpelt declares.“We would very much like to contribute to telling stories with a different angle, more positive stories from the industry, so that it is not just the black sheep of the business that make news,” she says.

In this sense, Covid-19 has perhaps turned out to be a blessing in disguise?

“It has certainly increased focus on cleaning and the industry. Cleaning is now being prioritised separately and as we’ve seen fewer outbreaks of the flu during this time, the gains of good cleaning, from a community point of view, also show. Whether this positive focus will continue… well, I guess only time will tell,” Malene Jæpelt says.

Only time can tell whether the pandemic will also have an impact on or even ‘ease’ the relationship between journalists and people in the cleaning industry. But one thing is certain. It still takes two to tango!


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