The cult of savviness

From Jay Rosen’s “Why Political Coverage is Broken“. Could this be the same problem we have seen here fro the past 5 days:

 In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane.  Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are.

Sounds like a cult:

To the people inside it, savviness is not a cult. It is not a professional church or “belief system.” They would probably reject my terms. But they would say that journalists need to be savvy observers because in politics the unsavvy are hapless, clueless, deluded, clownish, or in some cases extreme. The unsavvy get run over: easily. They get disappointed: needlessly. They get angry–fruitlessly–because they don’t know how things really work.

Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passion, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit.  Therefore the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you. They say: I am closer to reality than you. Especially if you are active in politics yourself.

Has the penny dropped yet?

Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sighted, but as mature, practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, child-like and dreamy.  This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog political realism to itself.

But even more insidious than that is the positioning effect. Remember what I taught you: to understand the ideas in play, ask how a given form of journalism positions us, the users of it. What’s so weird about savviness is that it tries to position us as insiders, invited to speculate along with journalists and other players on how the mass public will react to the latest maneuverings. But the public is us.  We are the public. But we are also the customers for the savviness product. Don’t you see how strange that is? #

Take the most generic “savviness question” there is. One journalist asks another: how will this play with the voters? Listening to that, how will this play with the voters, haven’t you ever wanted to shout at your television set, “hey buddy, I’m a voter! Don’t talk about me like I’m not in the room when I’m sitting right here watching you.” This is what’s so odd about savviness as a political style performed for the public. It tries to split the attentive public off from the rest of the electorate, and get us to join up with the insiders. Under its gaze, other people become objects of political technique. In this sense savviness is an attack on our solidarity with strangers who share the same political space.

This is why I can’t stand people who have studied politics at university, why I loathe university politics wonks in general and some in particular. They like politics to be an intellectual exercise, one at which they can play at being the insider, the expert.

My favourite politicians are those that don’t think about what is right, they know what is right and they do what is right, even if that hurts them politically. Sadly MMP has largely destroyed these types of politicians. The media can blame only themselves for the situation that we face now. Politics is about the guts. It isn’t about thinking what is the right thing to do or say it is doing what is the right thing to do or say.

The past week has shown that the cult of savviness is rampant in New Zealand media. Just look at last night’s debate where we had the “savvy” adding comments throughout the show, from the host to the comments people to the panel. The party leaders were just the “players”.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.