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Career

Melissa Stokes and Wendy Petrie on bad hair, good days at work and getting older

''I find the more people expect me to look the way I do on TV, the more I push away from that,'' says Melissa.

As 1 News marks half a century on air, presenters Melissa Stokes and Wendy Petrie sit down to share a beautifully candid conversation about bad hair, good days at work and how they're embracing the realities of getting older. We are loving their honesty!

Society & community

Melissa: Looking back on the past 50 years, how do you think New Zealand has changed?
Wendy: Well, we're much more diverse – we accept diversity. Women can do much more than we've ever done before.
M: Yes, I think we're much more open-minded and accepting. Life is also a lot busier now, isn't it? Although in a work sense, we don't really know what it was like for those who were in our roles before us. Perhaps it's just that we're right in the midst of our short time here, so it feels that way?
W: Also news, and the way news is delivered, has evolved so much. And our jobs have changed so much. Often now, at the end of the day, your audience has already seen the news on their devices. So we have to adapt and change. The challenge for us is to stay relevant, and for the news to stay relevant. Of course, with all the fake news out there and the whole social media echo chamber, I actually think it's never been more relevant.
M: Obviously, the advent of the internet and social media has changed life dramatically. And there's a negative side to that with cyber bullying, especially amongst kids. But on a positive note, what it means for our jobs is higher engagement. And then as you said, we have more responsibility because you can now look at your phone and your Facebook feed and think that you're seeing everything that you need to see, but those articles might be skewed in one direction. So we are that balance and we sort through that information. We've also changed how we present the news in the sense of not having to be so stoic or so unemotive. We're allowed to show a little bit of who we are, and I think that's for the better.
W: And we're both mothers, so we have busy family lives as well as work lives. I find I'm multitasking more than ever and it is a challenge on a daily basis. I thought having little kids was busy, but now with teenage kids, weirdly, it's even busier – in a different way. They seem to need you on a more emotional basis, and so I find my attention span for other things is probably less.
M: I definitely think our attention spans are being pulled in every direction, almost every hour of the day.
W: More so than they were in the past, certainly.

Public image

W: Do you remember when you started in the job, feeling really excited about getting your hair and makeup done every day?
M: When I started out it felt like a really big perk. But now I just want to get in and out because I'm like, 'I've got things to do.' That's when you've got to remind yourself what a privileged position we're in – to still get to do that every day.
W: I've got curly lamb hair, so getting my hair beautifully blow-waved every day is a plus. If I ever have time off work or go on holiday, it's always a shock to the system having to try and style it myself. I almost don't know how to now.
M: Has being on TV made you more appearance conscious?
W: I think you and I are both quite relaxed and laid- back about that. I often don't turn up to work until 2pm and I very rarely have makeup on, which is terrible because I look dreadful!
M: I have people at school – and you would be the same – who have no idea that my job is news reading, until they see me somewhere with makeup on. Only then will they recognise me. In fact, I went to our school fundraising ball earlier in the year and a woman came up to me and said, 'I'd been told that one of the school mums is a woman who reads the news – I never knew it was you because you don't look like that's what you do!'
W: The same thing has happened to me.
M: But don't you think that's actually better? I find the more people expect me to look the way I do on TV, the more I push away from that. Because I just have no interest in it. I really like how I look at work and I really appreciate the effort that goes into it, but I don't feel the need to be noticed out and about on a daily basis.
W: I'm the same. I quite like the fact that I don't get recognised thanks to my curly hair, and the fact that I look quite different when I'm rocking my activewear, which is definitely my go-to outside of work. How do you deal with the criticisms of strangers?
M: I don't think I take criticism of my personal appearance that seriously. I take it more seriously when people criticise my work, but I don't really care what they think of my look.
W: I agree, as I've grown older I've definitely stopped caring about that so much.
M: I think when I started out, I might've looked for those negative comments. But now I'm like, whatever.
W: I also don't take myself as seriously as I did when I was younger. I think I'm a lot happier with and relaxed about who I am.

Mental health

M: You get those days where all you're doing is delivering bad news. How do you switch off?
W: It's tough. Some of the news pieces we deliver are just awful to watch. Especially when they involve children.
M: I'm a real crier, as you know. I cry at everything. So reading the news can be quite a challenge for me.
W: You are tearing up right now, talking about it!
M: I know! People actually know now to come to me, and tell me that I need to watch a story before it goes to air, if they know it's going to upset me. That way I can process it, and cry at my desk if I need to, then watch it again, and hopefully I'll be able to get through it later on. At the same time, I don't think it's bad for people to see me cry. I mean, I know they don't want to see me cry every night...
W: Like, here she goes again with the tears!
M: But you know, some stories do really get you, don't they?
W: And it's good that they do, because we want change, and if you want change you need to have emotion.
M: Exactly, you need to show that. But if I need to get something out of my system, I'm a mad walker. I just walk the streets. People are always like, 'I saw you walking.' Yes, you probably did. And that's for my mental health. I need to walk.
W: Mine's running. I do a lot of running.
M: I think the whole office knows about my mental health, even the big bosses. Because I will constantly be like, 'So, this is just making me a little bit anxious...'
W: You're a talker.
M: I am, but if I stopped talking, if I didn't come to people, that's when you actually would worry about my mental health.
W: I think there's much more of a focus on mental health in workplaces now, and certainly in schools. We're much more aware of it, and aware of the fact that we need to look after ours, and each other's. We know how important it is to keep talking.
M: And you know, we can have a laugh about the fact that I talk to everybody about how I'm feeling all the time, but of course our very good friend Greg [Boyed] didn't, and his passing was something that we really lived through in the newsroom.
W: We're still learning. We're still coming to terms with that. What's the best thing you've done for your mental health?
M: I think just knowing that I've got to take care of it. I don't exercise for how I look, I exercise for my head.

Career

W: We both grew up watching the news, didn't we?
M: Yes, it was big in my household because my father was a really voracious news watcher and consumer of news. And my uncle is Spencer Jolly who was a political reporter at TVNZ for a time. And he didn't get on with Muldoon apparently, so he moved to Australia where he was political editor at Channel 9 for years. So he was actually why I wanted to get into news. I didn't necessarily grow up wanting to be a presenter but I always wanted to be a journalist.
W: I thought you wanted to be a pilot?
M: I wanted to be a pilot until I realised I can't see very well, I'm terrible at maths, and probably anything to do with keeping a plane in the air was not going to be my forte.
W: I was always a performer so I thought I would be an actor, but as it turned out I was not a good actor. So that was that dream over.
M: Is there a news story that sticks out for you, from your childhood?
W: Not from my childhood, but I remember when I was doing political studies at university, one of the subjects was the USSR. And it was the year Russia fell. And so at the end of the semester the professor said to us, 'Forget everything you've learned. Just read the newspaper.' And that was our exam. It really inspired my passion for journalism because it was actually happening – news was happening. And perhaps even more so now, I realise that every day, every story we do, matters. Every story we do has an impact on something, or signifies a movement towards something. It's reinforced how relevant and important news is.

M: There are so many memorable stories for me, but the one that flashed into my head just then was Teresa McCormack, the little girl in Napier who was murdered. And I just remember that because I was the same age as her, and my grandparents lived in Havelock, and we went there at the time that she was missing, with all her photos up everywhere.
W: I think one of the most memorable stories I've actually worked on was when I was living in Toronto and 9/11 happened. So obviously that was huge, and I drove down to New York, as you do when you're a young journalist, and I covered the story there for a few days. It was really full on, and really traumatic. I'll never forget it. But you're an ex-correspondent, you'll have so many!
M: I do, and I don't say this to be glib, but I do feel like I had such an eye-opening time reporting. I loved going to Gallipoli for Anzac Day because that put it all into context – the whole history of how that happened. And then I spent time in Gaza and Israel during the conflict there in 2006, and for me that was really eye-opening in a professional sense, just standing there in the sea of international reporters and seeing how they were covering it. For a 27-year-old girl from Tauranga, it just put a lot of stuff into context quite quickly. It's hard work, but there have been a lot of wins.
W: I think the biggest win is still having a job!
M: I also I feel like we have bosses now that really value the experience that women, and in particular older women, bring to the table as journalists, and as reporters and news anchors. And that has not always been the case in my opinion.
W: I feel like there's never been a better time to be a woman on TV, and that's exciting.

Getting older

M: As I get older, I realise that you can still contribute to conversations with people younger than you because you've been where they are, you've done what they're doing – so your thoughts and your advice are valid. My spectrum of friends is a lot wider now, for that reason.
W: You're a lot more accepting as you get older, too. I used to have quite narrow-minded views, and now I can see that every view has a reason behind it. That's maturity, I think.
M: This year on my birthday I was like, 'I'm turning 37 again!' And my friend said to me, 'Melissa, every birthday is a good one when you're here.' And that is my new mantra.
W: Well I'm a lot older than you. I'm two years away from turning 50. I used to think, 'Oh gosh, 50 is so old.' And sure, it is compared to 25. But I've got so much more living to do, and I don't feel old, I feel young. It's also exciting to look at how far I've come in 50 years, and I feel proud of what I've achieved.
M: Do you know what? I wouldn't do my 20s again. Would you? I had the best time in my 30s.
W: Your 30s are good. Although they're tiring, if there's children.
M: But that's the thing, isn't it. I actually wonder if your 50s are the best years of your life.
W: Well we're so much healthier than we used to be.
M: I do have concerns about my double-chin as I get older…
W: You'll just look at yourself in the mirror less. You don't look quite as good as you did when you were 25, but that's life.
M: That's what those makeup artists are for!

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