Saturday, February 13, 2010

RIP: The Baron of TV News Banter

You may not have noted the death of Frank Magid earlier this month. He’s responsible for what passes for news on local TV ­— and hence your distorted perception (and that of your neighbors) of what’s going on around us.

I’ve known of Magid for years, ever since I became fascinated by the potential of broadcast news in graduate school. Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow’s producer (see “Good Night and Good Luck”), was my professor and inspired my belief in the high calling of broadcast journalism.

Murrow and Friendly, of course, famously lived up to that calling.

Not long after I graduated, Magid came along and took a wrecking ball to journalism on local TV news. As a high-paid, itinerant TV consultant, Magid was the nemesis of responsible journalism. He advised profit-fixated station owners that the news should be entertainment pandering to the lowest common denominator and the largest possible audiences ratings, ad revenues and profits.

His Dickensonian name seemed made to order for his contribution to our collective awareness.

Magid came up with the ubiquitous “Action News” format with its “happy talk” between “news teams” of affable, young “personalities.” Local broadcast news, which has always been highly competitive, became know for show not substance.

The Magid formula was, and is, heavy on fear and frivolity. The news is defined by noir accident scenes, baby giraffes and orangutans, muggers and molesters, ominous weather fronts on animated maps, goofy home videos, whiz-bang gadget reports and mindless banter between carefully-coiffed Ken-and-Barbie anchors.

Civic news about schools, government, political campaigns, taxes and the environment gets short shrift.

Audiences have been subjected to and shaped by Magid’s innovations for 35 years. In fairness, they worked. Media executives credit Magid’s recommended dramatics and phony chatter with “saving” local news — and generating massive profits.

“Action News” also made Magid, a former sociology professor, into a rich man. The New York Times obituary noted that when he died at age 78, he owned homes in Santa Barbara, Cedar Rapids and Montana.

The unhappy talk is that in departing this world, he left his largess behind.

What he left us was TV tabloid twaddle without end. Just flick through the local TV news to witness his legacy.

For the majority of the public, which, alas, still relies on television to learn about the world outside the front door, the Magid-esque perception is as pervasive as it is perverse.

Life gives us one shot at making this world a better place. Frank, you blew it.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting through

Wouldn’t you know that gremlins still haunt the data transferred from my old computer to my new iMac.

Some, it would seem, reside within this very blog program.

When I went to post “Reconnecting” last night, the Blogger program wouldn’t allow me to — you guessed it — reconnect. Instead I got a series of ominous warnings about Meta Tag coding that was standing between me and you.

I got rid of the tags and eventually got through to you. I find that not panicking helps in these transitional times.

This little post is mostly a test to see whether the problem is going to arise each time I try to post.

Thanks for your patience. This too shall pass . . . .

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I recently bought a new iMac, which immediately mangled strategic imported data from my old computer.

Glitch City.

Among the issues was the failure of the new computer to download my e-mail from Earthlink, my e-mail service provider.

While trying to correct the problem, I came to know several Earthlink tech support folks better than either they or I wanted to. Typing messages back and forth over Earthlink’s chat support line, they gave advice and I followed their directions well into the middle of the night — when I am decidedly not at my best.

Well, actually, it was noon to them as one revealed in a moment of candor while we waited to see if our latest fix would work.

They were typing their advice from Lahore or some place on the other side of the globe. We never got down to exchanging news of the weather or the kids.

They’d always introduce themselves as Barry S., David L. or Michael P. as if they lived down the street and around the corner.

We knew it was a lie. I should have countered that my name was “Sri” or “Ravi” and that I played cricket in my free time.

Deceit is not a good way to start a complex relationship, but such is the world of outsourcing and globalization. Besides, we had serious work to do. What's a name when you can't get your e-mail?

So any misgivings dissipated when they’d type those welcome words, “How can I help you?”

Well, where to begin, I’d think, before feverishly typing my epic tale of computer woe.

I wore down six of these guys and never did solve the problem. I confess it was everything I could do to contain my testiness.

Exhausted and glad to be rid of me, they’d always end by blaming the problem on the Earthlink system’s “web server,” which was reportedly causing problems. They seemed to consider it a handy deus ex machina that had Earthlink and my e-mail in its grip.

With nothing more they could do, they’d advise me to wait a few hours and try again, when the server had been at last subdued and, presumably, they had gone home for nan, curry and an IPA.

Finally, through my keen deductive reasoning, I figured out that Earthlink wasn’t the problem at all. The settings were exactly what they should be, as I had been told repeatedly by Barry, David and Michael. I had become as familiar with the computer e-mail protocols as I am with my computer password, my user names, my social security number, my faculty ID code, my cellphone number, my land-line phone number, my address, my car license plate number and my date of birth. For instance, I will probably go to my grave knowing my port settings should be 110 and 587.

No, the answer to the problem resided within the silver, slim body of my new Apple.

Mercifully, Apple tech support involves talking on the telephone. We Mac devotees pay more for Macs in order to talk to people who can, in turn, afford to live down the street and around the corner. One said he was in Austin, which is close enough.

I still managed to I work my way through a couple of befuddled Apple techies until I was turned over a supervisor in charge of e-mail program problems, one Justin Lewis.

I assume that is his real name, but I have no proof.

After doggedly but calmly eliminating this and that problem for at least an hour, Justin decided to probe the inner sanctum of the new computer’s hard drive. And there, hidden away in an obscure folder (at least to me), he found the culprit, which he summarily ordered me to trash.

E-mail that had backed up from the beginning of the year was suddenly unleashed and came flooding into my new computer. I was awash in long-lost data.

It had taken hours, but it was worth it. I was reconnected.

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