Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

May 31, 2011

Is only the good news the news that’s fit to print? #eqnz #chch

In the last three days, my blog has had over 6,000 hits.

The attention has been generated not by the heart of what it was about, which was the thought process going into land retreat decisions, and the reasons why that has slowed – it was attracted by a couple of statistics which have caused great debate in our community.

The debate has been about whether the statistics should have been released or not, and if so, by whom.

The blog was reported on the front page of the Press in print, on its website, on the front page of the Herald, led the news on TV1, made it to RNZ, TV3, and I also fielded calls from a number of other stations. I referred them all to Roger Sutton and to the Minister – the media were all interested in their figures, and I had no desire to be used a piece of local colour to pad out stories on a slow news day.

Comments from people who have actually read my blog have been largely but not universally supportive.

People who only heard about it, particularly with TV One’s coverage, have been much less complimentary.

Phone calls to my home (six in total) have ranged from completely in support (reader) to “you’re an effing maggot for terrifying my children” (tv one viewer) and touched all the bases in between.

Feedback on the “retreat” part of the blog has been almost universally positive, and shared with wide numbers of people and groups. The closest to a negative is “not specific enough” or “vague”.  As I’m just sharing the information I can’t do much about that.(My writing style also attracted some negatives but the bad news is – it is how it is and it’s not changing. Sorry.)

Feedback on whether or not I should have put those figures in my blog at all is much more mixed. Those in the yes camp were just glad to have them out there. Those against either didn’t want to know or thought I was overstepping my role. One or two thought like mother always said – if you can’t say something nice, you should say anything at all.

In my opinion one of the biggest issues facing the city going forward is how the Council, CERA, and the Crown handle information. In my opinion, it’s neither reasonable nor sensible to expect information to sit politely in a back room awaiting a nicely news release typed by diligent communications professionals.

Whether those in the know like it or not, this is the first major natural disaster in the world which is being reported as much by social media as it is by the old school systems, and the time frame on them is completely different.

We saw it all over Facebook after September, the chatter every time an aftershock rocked us. (One did just then  – a tiddler – about a 3.7 I’m guessing, which is what we all did.) We saw Rise Up Christchurch spring up. We saw the twitterverse fly into action. Bloggers have emerged all over the place. All of us have information and experiences, and if the information is public – it’s going to get out there.

People’s expectations about the level of available information are also completely different. Google has changed our world. Links and attribution are non-negotiable.

One of the clear messages I have picked up over the last few days is “even if there’s nothing new to tell us – please tell us there’s nothing new to tell us, or we think information is being withheld.”

Another opinion I am beginning to form is that we have all been barraged with so much information that we forget what we knew, or it misses us completely. People who aren’t from here may not grasp just how hard it is to assimilate complicated information when you are still living through a trauma of  this type.

It’s not just the aftershocks that do your head in. It’s the personal stresses of dealing with broken houses, broken homes, broken families, the EQC circuit. Today I had two separate conversations where people have told me their spouse is reducing their work hours just to attempt to progress their EQC claim.

In the middle of that we are consulting on the future planning for our city – which is great, and we need to be doing that, we need to be moving forward – and we are doing that as people are starting to hit the really hard part, where they have simply run out of puff.

I spoke at length to day with a woman who rang me very upset at what I’d written. She just didn’t want to hear that there might be more aftershocks because she has nobody who is supporting her. She is very traumatised by everything that has happened, and her friends, in her opinion, find her anxiety tiresome. She feels a burden. She has stopped talking to them. She’s had enough of Christchurch now, if it isn’t over. She wants to move on.

Now is the time when we who can need to look around us and reach out even more into our community and into our social circles. We need to be looking to support the people who really need us. We also need to be accepting of people whose circumstances make it the right choice for them to go away for a while.

Anxiety is not abnormal in situations like this. What feeds it is a question that I think is at the heart of today’s great debate. For some, anxiety is fed by the absence of knowledge. For others, it is knowing the reality of what is going on. In a democracy, generally speaking, information is provided and people are given the opportunity to filter it themselves.

I think it’s time we had a big community catch up on information, so that people who want it have it, and also have the chance to let the powers that be know what it is they want to know, and get an understanding of when they can have it, while acknowledging that in this dynamic environment timeframes are a bit of a moveable feast.

I heard someone remark yesterday that in the absence of information – you find emotion.

Bring on the information I say. Do you agree?




  1. I would much rather have information and know what could potentially happen, that be kept in the dark, and run around panic, complaining that I wasn’t told.

    Comment by Andrew — May 31, 2011 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Sue

    Yes I agree – information is power and to be empowered in these challenging times is a great strength. Keep it up Sue – you are helping many people out there.


    Comment by Janette Hinton — May 31, 2011 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

  3. Well said, Sue. Of course the people who are complaining would probably be the ones saying “We should have been warned this could happen” if another big quake came along and nothing had been said.

    Comment by Richard Grevers — May 31, 2011 @ 8:52 pm | Reply

  4. Yep. Bring on the info, good or bad. We deserve to know, to make informed choices about our lives and futures. We’re all stakeholders in the future of Christchurch and should be treated as such.

    Comment by Carly McCall — May 31, 2011 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

  5. The thing is, they have been saying all along that aftershocks would continue, for a long time. Even before they said that I knew they would from my high school Geography classes. It’s not a fact that’s going to go away if no one dares say it. We should know so we can prepare for it. Yeah, it’s overwhelming, and scary, and sometimes feels like it’s never going to end, but we *need to know*.

    Also, it sort of disturbs me that people (I’m assuming from the wording that at least a couple of them were complete strangers) felt entitled to call you up and harangue you. I’ve experienced that – I have a very uncommon surname and I no longer use it when I write letters to the paper, etc, because the experience of having someone (a man, incidentally) ring me up and rant at me over the phone was truly frightening. Argue with me on Twitter. Follow the link to my journal. I don’t care. But don’t ever, *ever* ring me at my house after sleuthing my number out of the phone book unless you’ve asked and I’ve given my permission. It’s more than rude, it’s creepy as hell, especially if it’s a man and especially if the person you’re tracking down is a woman, the gender mix involved in the vast majority of stalker cases.

    Comment by Kei — May 31, 2011 @ 9:21 pm | Reply

  6. Yes – information is power: power to make decisions for ourselves, rather than have them made for us. Newspapers and TV news are for another world: the quake zone lives on Facebook and Twitter and blogs – it’s faster and shares information within communities, and isn’t controlled by someone in a distant newsroom – it allows debate, questioning, clarification and conversation – 2 way communication. This gives us the information we need to make decisions (even such seemingly small decision such as which route to take to get the children to school today – and even having the power to make that decision gives one some heart) – certainty in an uncertain future.

    Comment by Beth Jolly — May 31, 2011 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  7. Yes, I agree…

    Didn’t see anything new in your report that hadn’t already been said by GNS Science publicly in any case or that was out of line with information report from the Royal Soc NZ Office of Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee. Seemed reassuring compared to other documents that have passed across my desk like the recent Sesoc report. This whole issue seems much more about the treatment the report was given in some parts of the media.

    Comment by Martin Luff — May 31, 2011 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  8. I didn’t even realise your previous blog post had turned into some sort of scandalous unauthorised release of information. Sigh. Please, share everything. The most frustrating thing after the quake was the lack of information – understandably because the quake overwhelmed all communication channels – but still, I don’t expect information to have been vetted, verified, authorised, washed and rinsed.

    I can think critically, I can sort the wheat from the chaff and facts from fiction. It’s essential for participating in society, learning & knowledge … and particularly when using the Internet and social media (A.C. Grayling has some good thoughts on this).

    So I appreciate you sharing – although as I’ve said on Twitter I’m pretty dubious about the figures even if they are from GNS. The challenge of developing quake probability predictions just seems insurmountable so I’m just going to stay prepared regardless of whether the scientists say it’s safe or we’re all doomed. The information hasn’t changed my approach, although has made me a little less complacent yes … but either way if there’s something that can be known I’d rather know it than be ‘protected’ by authorities trying to avoid mass hysteria or lawsuits or whatever.

    Comment by Nathanael Boehm — May 31, 2011 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  9. Hi Sue, Yes, I completely agree. Communication is the key – long may you continue to write your blogs!

    Comment by Pat Carswell — May 31, 2011 @ 11:30 pm | Reply

  10. One hundred percent in agreement. We need to know these probabilities (and all other information) in order to make informed decisions regarding rebuilding, repairing, and even just the day to day. Thank you for releasing this when no one else thought the public would want to know.

    Comment by Jennie — June 1, 2011 @ 2:31 am | Reply

  11. Keep the info coming- we will filter it ourselves 🙂

    Comment by Robyn — June 1, 2011 @ 8:11 am | Reply

  12. Of course we need communication. I for one am really interested in hearing what the results are of all the hidden fault finding surveys. An honest and thoughtful discussion of what is known and what is not would be good, because when you don’t hear anything it is tempting to believe that things are being withheld. I am really glad that you posted your blog, and I hope you continue to feel that you can be open.

    Comment by marigold — June 1, 2011 @ 9:14 am | Reply

  13. Hits is what you are after and hits is what you got, congrats.

    Comment by Jonathan — June 1, 2011 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  14. I think your blog is great. I certainly agree with the others who have commented above me, about wanting more information so we can be prepared.

    Comment by Liz — June 1, 2011 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  15. Hi Sue,

    Like many, if not most, others I would rather know even if it’s not good news. Hiding one’s head in the sand is not the best strategy.

    Comment by Tom Taylor — June 1, 2011 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  16. Sue, I totally agree. Good on you for sharing the info, and please don’t stop. We need to hear it like it is. Kia kaha!

    Comment by Peter Tuffley — June 1, 2011 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  17. I agree with your openness Sue. We, in Avonside, have been smashed twice by broken homes, roads, community and damned liquifaction, and have heard very little, which, talking regularly with the 20% of residents left, has left us all short of breath and untrusting of all authorities that are involved. CCC told us they had delivered notices to all Avonside residents on the 9th of April regarding sewers etc, but not one person on the Avonside Loop has received it. Also, CCC told us every house had been called on by the Welfare Team to check on peoples health and wellbeing. We asked all residents resident and found no one that had been seen. Then, suddenly, the next day staff appeared, 9 weeks after the Feb 22 quake. No wonder our trust is non existent in Avonside. We keep getting told lies and are permanently in the dark here. We, like those in Bexley, Avondale, Riverside, and Horseshoe Lake have been doing what so many others have started for nearly 9 months now. Keep the information going Sue. Information is so empowering to us.

    Comment by Andrew B — June 1, 2011 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

  18. I agree absolutely. I need facts and information to understand and rationalise what’s happening. Logic keeps me sane at night. I need this debate not to be a personal one. Good on you for that Sue! Hats off to the guys and gals from GNS, the engineers, the politicians making the hard calls. Good luck Sue and keep it up.

    Comment by Angelene Holton — June 2, 2011 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

  19. Sue!! Its awesome that you can feed the information good or bad to the world. Its great that we can say yes its made a huge impact on all of us and brokenness is all around, because at the root of our future is the connections we are making now with the people around us. Thanks for your soapbox!!!!

    Comment by janet — June 2, 2011 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  20. Sue as a POM who has settled close to Christchurch with my family I fully support you making these statistics available to the public. Statistics are statistics and used correctly they provide people with the means to make decisions. What has changed, nothing, the risk is exactly the same as it was last week and the week before that!

    Comment by Ian S — June 2, 2011 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  21. Hi Sue, I have just found your blog a few days ago and I can tell you that I am wrapped to get straight forward talking. Those that have a problem with knowing the possible outcomes need to grow up we are adults and own property and as such deserve to have all information so we can make informed decisions. Those that can’t handle the possibility of ongoing quakes albiet small mostly unfelt and live in fear of “another big one” should reassess if this is where they really want to live but bear in mind New Zealand has potentional problems anywhere you go, and there is the big red bus theory too. Thank you for your decision to keep us informed I for one really appreciate it.

    Comment by Jane — June 4, 2011 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

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