While having some dental work done last week, I had a TV screen stuck in front of me. It was showing Nostradamus: 2012, from Armageddon Week on the History Channel. In this intellectual investigative report, a solemn, authoritative male voice objectively narrates what some scholars believe and what other scholars believe. Particular scholars appear as talking heads. Bottom-third text boxes on the screen show the scholar’s name, usually “Ph.D.” after the name, and, on a line below, the scholar’s scholarly affiliation. They seriously debate the question of Nostradamus’s predictions. Viewers are encouraged to assess the facts presented and to come to their own conclusions.
Emerging from the earliest English newspapers and the first deliberately styled objective report of current public opinion, Armageddon Week on the History Channel is the apotheosis of a particular style of public reporting. This style flourishes in a era of expensive media, when editors make crucial affective choices about what to present to viewers. It trades on conventions of authoritative knowledge created in circumstances in which obtaining knowledge is difficult. The ongoing collapse of traditional media might at least offer better opportunities for different styles of reporting.