Twelve Questions
Jennifer Dann poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Sue Chetwin

Former newspaper editor and now CEO of the Consumers' Institute, Sue Chetwin talks shopping, media and Christmases past. She lives in Wellington with her partner.

Sue Chetwin tends to buy things for the long haul. Photo / Supplied
Sue Chetwin tends to buy things for the long haul. Photo / Supplied

1. What do you recall about childhood Christmases - was it defined by rampant consumerism as it seems to be now?

I come from a middle-class background but Christmas was very important, not in terms of the number of things you got. I also come from that era when you had a stocking with an orange and some chocolate. You'd get one present and maybe a few things from aunties and uncles. Which was probably more than what a lot of people got. At the same time, I love shopping. "Half price" are two words I seem drawn to. My father also loved to shop. He still does.

2. Your dad schooled you in the art of shopping?

We'd sometimes have to rescue him from shops. He had three daughters and my mum of course. So he enjoyed taking us out. He didn't have a lot of money but his advice was always buy the best quality you can afford.

3. Finish the sentence ... "The less I have the more I ..."

Realise that exercise and yoghurt is good for me.

4. What do you not have to own to appreciate?

Relationships, family, New Zealand's outdoors. The ability to think. Although I should preface that by saying to think you have to own your own mind. I have a pretty open mind. Sometimes I wish not quite so.

5. What material treasure could you never part with, and what's its story?

An art deco onyx and marquisate ring I bought secondhand when I was 19. I rarely take it off. The band is so thin now. I tend to buy things I'll keep. I keep things for the long haul. I still have my first doll, Sally. She has red hair. I got her when I was about 5. I was amazed that mum and dad managed to find a doll with red hair like me.

6. What do you hope not to get for Christmas?

A floral and frilly cushion. This is a message to grandparents and parents out there - they won't like them.

7. What do you miss least about print journalism?

Honestly, there's not a lot I don't miss. I loved that time. But being a Sunday newspaper editor, there was this time I dreaded from about 3pm till 7pm on a Friday when you'd be waiting for some lawyer to file a writ or a threat about a story. They were also huge hours.

8. What exasperates you about the media?

I don't like mean spirited stories. I really don't like facts that mean nothing. Endless stories about employment levels or crime going up - what does that mean? What is the context? I don't like journalists who say, "That wouldn't have happened in my day". I would hope young people going into journalism today will do it with their eyes open, but they are confronted with a lot of pressures.

9. What other place do you feel most connected to, other than NZ?

New York. It's so different to New Zealand. It's big and fast and there are lots of shops. But it's diverse and confident in ways New Zealand is not. This is a superficial observation, but it's not mired in the class system that England has. People just seem to get on with it.

10. What, if anything, intimidates you?

Nothing much. A news editor once called me a pocket-sized bulldozer. I think that's quite true. Even if I am nervous I try not to show it. My friends say they know when I am, because I start twisting the ring on my finger. I'm not intimidated by people, but perhaps, sometimes by intellect - that you can meet that discussion.

11. For what would you like to atone?

Something I said to my mother once. She was at home with us till I went to secondary school and then she got a job. She asked me if I could put the veges on after school because she wouldn't be home till a bit later, after work. I said to her, "I'm not doing that. That's your job". I've never forgotten it. Mum hasn't either. I mean it's funny but I feel sickened by it. And I'm a strong feminist. What an appalling thing to say.

12. How far removed is your life now from your imaginings as a young girl?

Not that far. I haven't become the princess. I'm pleased I haven't. I feel I did get to the top of the ladder in journalism and I enjoy what I do now. I'm in a very happy relationship.

It's a happy place to be.

- NZ Herald

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