Last updated: February 10, 2010 - 9:31am
Frank Magid: 1931-2010.
One of television's original "news doctors," Frank Magid helped re-imagine television news as a form of entertainment. Magid, who died Friday at age 78, was a market researcher who started his career helping banks and breweries figure out how to better-serve their customers.
During the 1970s, Magid's Marion, Iowa-based consultancy was hired by hundreds of stations that subsequently introduced flashy, fast-paced local news read from teleprompters by coifed anchor teams who bantered with their fellow broadcasters. The era of the starchy solo white male newsreader with a paper script came to an abrupt end. Critics called the revamped product "happy talk." But for station managers across the U.S., "news you can use" became a byword for increased audiences and advertising revenue. Newscasts could become profit centers rivaling even prime-time programming.
Magid "saw that the mass American public was not enamored with the concept of news," said Craig Allen, an Arizona State University journalism professor. "He developed the research regimen and established things like consumer reporting, health and other segments that were never a part of the national news."
Frank N. Magid Associates was the largest of a handful of firms that did survey and focus-group research for local stations in the 1970s. The company's approach ignited controversy among old-school journalists, who resented being directed by consultants with a computer printout in one hand and a ratings list in the other.
Walter Cronkite, speaking at a 1976 CBS-TV affiliates conference, said, "Any real newsman knows that sort of stuff is balderdash. It's cosmetics, pretty packaging -- not substance."
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