Remembering News Pioneer Frank Magid

Apr 11, 2010  •  Post A Comment

By Jon Lafayette

When Walter Cronkite died, the nation mourned one of the most trusted and influential figures in the history of television news.

But when Frank N. Magid died in February, few TV viewers knew who he was, despite the impact he had on the local newscasts that they see.

“His influence has really affected my whole professional life in terms of his impact on television,” said Stacey Woelfel, news director of KOMU-TV, Columbia, Mo., and chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association. “It’s probably apples and oranges to compare Cronkite and Magid, but at the same time here’s a person that most television viewers never heard of and they don’t realize what sort of impact he had on what they were able to watch on television news over the last couple of generations.”

That’s probably the way Magid, known as a modest man, would have wanted it.

Magid, after earning Master’s degrees in social psychology and statistics in 1956, became one of the first television station consultants.

By introducing viewer studies to television news, creating the lively and much copied “Action News” format that is still dominant today, popularizing morning newscasts, and advising stations in nearly every market, Magid and his company put their stamp on the industry. He also recommended Walter Cronkite as the solo anchor of CBS’ “Evening News” and helped start “Good Morning America.”

“The guy was an absolute genius. He would see things that no one else saw,” said Stanley S. Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, who worked with Magid for 40 years.
According to Hubbard, Magid believed that “people want to know the news, they want to know what’s going on, but they wanted it presented in a fashion that’s interesting.”

Hubbard recalled the way Magid reviewed the work of one news anchor. “You see how that person’s lip curls? People are going to notice that, and they’re not going to watch that person because they’re going to take the focus off the news where it should be,” Magid concluded, according to Hubbard. “Details, details. He was really into details.”

Beginning at KYW-TV in Philadelphia, “Action News” was a ratings winner, but Magid’s work was also criticized for creating local newscasts that were indistinguishable from market to market and which pandered to the audience with stories about crime and happy talk from anchors.

“Thanks to him, local newscasts throughout America are like airports or fast food joints; they lack all traces of indigenousness,” wrote Tom Shales of The Washington Post in 1982.

“I think a lot of it is sour grapes,” said Brent Magid, now president of his father’s company, Frank N. Magid Associates. “I think you’ve got a lot of ‘capital J’ journalists who didn’t really make the cut as the business became more competitive.”

“I remember Peter Jennings hated Frank Magid,” recalled Hubbard.

Magid’s research provided an objective look at the way journalists’ work was being received by the public.

“No one likes to know they’re not as good as they think they are,” Hubbard said. “Frank Magid put up with a lot of abuse.”

And after being told what viewers said they wanted to see, some stations responded with more crime and less in-depth reporting.

That’s not necessarily what Magid was recommending.

“They labeled it ‘Happy News.’ ‘Here’s this Magid guy coming in and creating all this flash and dash with no substance.’ That’s pure malarkey,” said Brent Magid.

Woelfel, the RTDNA chairman, said that “there are plenty of people that would say that research and the consultation has taken stations down paths where trying to turn ratings for the quarter hour that you’re in is more important than some of the big important stories, the policy stories, the significant stories in the community.”

But he added that his station was at times a Magid client and “I didn’t feel like I was advised to do anything that rubbed me the wrong way or sent me down a path that I didn’t want to go down, so I was a happy customer,” he said.

Brent Magid said that in recent conversations his father was sad about the current depressed state of local TV, with its focus on cost-cutting and a reluctance to invest in innovation, as technology changes viewers’ lives.

“As my father used to say: ‘Nobody takes your business away. You give it away.’” Brent Magid said. “Anytime in any business in which you fail to innovate beyond just superficial items — changing the set, changing the lighting, ‘Oh, we went to HD’ — and unless you get to the real meatiness of understanding what business you’re really in and how you’re doing it better than anybody else, you’re going to find yourself in trouble.”

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for your visiting this http://www.watchau.com online store.

  2. Great blog, appreciate the effort put into this post! Thanks! :D

  3. Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

  4. Nice!! Great Ifo. Great People. Great Blog. Thank you for all the great sharing that is being done here.

  5. I love the expression. Everyone needs to express there own opinion and feel free to hear others. Keep it up :)

  6. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. :)

  7. Amazing freakin blog here. I almost cried while reading it!

  8. I really like the colors here on your blog. did you design this yourself or did you outsource it to a professional?

  9. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy.

  10. By far essentially the most succinct and also up-to-date data I learned about this topic matter. Sure pleased that I stumbled upon your write-up by likelihood. I will probably be signing up in your rss feed so as I will receive the newest posts. Recognize every thing here.

  11. Have you considered including some differing opinions for the article? I think it will seriously enhance viewers’ geting a grasp on.

  12. I would like to start my own blog one day. This was a really nice blog that you made here. Keep up the success :P

  13. I love the expression. Everyone needs to express there own opinion and feel free to hear others. Keep it up :)

  14. Great blog!! You should start many more. I love all the info provided. I will stay tuned :)

  15. I am not in truth sure if best tactics include emerged nearly stuff similar to that, except I am sure that your big work is obviously discovered. I was questioning if you offer some subscription to your RSS feeds because I would be very concerned.

  16. Dreamin. I love blogging. You all express your feelings the right way, because they are your feeling, focus on your blog it is great.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)