There’s an old adage that warns against speaking ill of the dead, but in the case of Frank Magid I will make an exception.
Magid died last Friday, after a long career in marketing. He is credited with transforming television news from journalism into entertainment. In 1970, he was hired by a Philadelphia TV station to boost ratings of their local news program, and he developed the concept of changing the news to a combination of light features and gossipy reports, all delivered by a heavily coiffed and made-up crew of readers instead of trained journalists, who seemed to spend more time joking among themselves than reporting the issues of the day.
Naturally, it was a hit with viewers, and the style was copied not only by television stations across the country, but also, eventually, by many newspapers and magazines. As corporate interests took over journalism outlets, the bottom line became not investigating to determine the truth, but ratings. Magid, I’m sure, was proud of that. He is reported to have said, “I am only giving the people what they want.” Hey Frank, how about giving the people what they need?
Never mind that the ubiquity of such faux news makes finding real, in-depth journalism a challenge for those who seek honest information. The real tragedy is that so many people believe what’s broadcast on these shows is what they need to know to make decisions in their lives, or at the ballot box. And the insult is that this junk is marketed as “news.”
So next time you tune in to your local broadcast and the lead story is the latest celebrity scandal instead of the economy, or the war in Afghanistan, or the proposed health care bill, or the Supreme Court’s latest decision, or … you get the idea … blame old Frankie Magid. If there is a hell, perhaps he’s there now, being forced to watch a never-ending local news program, filled with reports about the dangers of brushing your teeth improperly, or which movie is number one at the box office, or yet another Michael Jackson remembrance …