Wendy Knowler (44), consumer editor for Independent Newspapers and presenter of “Consumerwatch” on East Coast Radio, had her first encounter with journalism as a schoolgirl when a close friend’s mother, Colleen Shearer, involved her in testing products for the “The Talking Shop” consumer column in the Sunday Tribune.
She thought Knowler would make a good journalist, but Knowler’s father poured cold water on the idea, saying “journalists earn too little and drink too much”. Two years after finishing high school, Knowler took the plunge. She decided to study journalism at the Natal Technikon – initially without telling her parents. “It was totally the right decision,” she says. “I love what I do – especially consumer journalism. If I could live my life again, I would do it exactly the same careerwise.”
Knowler was leisure editor at the Mercury 10 years ago when she was told focus groups with readers had shown the necessity for a consumer column and that she would be “the ideal person” to write it. She did both for four years, after which she focused entirely on consumer journalism. She considers a story she did last year on Corsa Lite windscreens that exploded to be among her best to date.
“I had heard about two instances. After the first stories I received over 300 e-mails from people who had had similar experiences. General Motors South Africa (GMSA) then agreed to cover the victims’ costs and eventually issued a recall.
“It affected a lot of people. I’m quite proud of that story.” Knowler, one of “about seven” specialist consumer journalists in the country, says she has been called a “consumer bitch” – an insult she found quite flattering. An insult which “really stung”, on the other hand, was when a man who was not satisfied with the way in which she dealt with his complaint, wrote an e-mail to her, in which he asked: “What is the point of you?”
Knowler says that in such cases she tries to look at the bigger picture. “Most people get that I can only do so much.” Her job is more rewarding than it is tough. “I have bad days. The expectation of readers is overwhelming. But it’s really gratifying to be relevant and to be making a difference. It’s a form of journalism that affects everyone.”
About Wendy Knowler
Wendy Knowler has been working as a journalist for 23 years, mostly with the Independent Newspapers group. She wrote her first consumer column – “Taking Issue” – for The Mercury in 1998, and due to its popularity, she was asked to write a second weekly consumer column for its sister paper in Durban, the Daily News. Not long afterwards, it was syndicated by the Cape Argus, Pretoria News and The Star. In April 2006, after a brief stint as Fairlady magazine’s consumer editor, she was appointed as consumer editor for the Independent Newspapers group.
Her consumer columns – which tackle issues ranging from misleading advertising and crooked car deals to the effects of the aggressive marketing of junk food to children and dodgy practices in the debt collecting industry – appear twice a week inThe Star, Cape Times, Pretoria News and Daily News.
In addition, since January 2004, she has been investigating and presenting a weekly consumer show, “Consumerwatch”, for East Coast Radio, a massive brand in KwaZulu-Natal, with almost 1.9-million listeners.
- This profile first appeared in The Media magazine (August 2008).
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