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HONORS: COMMUNICATION CAPSTONE

SPRING 2001 THEORY WORKBOOK


Mass Communication Context
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Agenda Setting Theory
Explanation of Theory:
The Agenda-Setting Theory says the media (mainly the news media) arent always successful at
telling us what to think, but they are quite successful at telling us what to think about.

Theorist: Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw
Date: 1972/1973
Primary Article:
McCombs, M., & Shaw, D.L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of the mass media. Public
Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-185.
Individual Interpretation:
This theory is good at explaining why people with similar media exposure place importance on
the same issues. Although different people may feel differently about the issue at hand, most
people feel the same issues are important.
Critique:
The Agenda-Setting Theory comes from a scientific perspective, because it predicts that if
people are exposed to the same media, they will place importance on the same issues.
According to Chaffee & Bergers 1997 criteria for scientific theories, Agenda-Setting is a good
theory.
It has explanitory power because it explains why most people prioritize the same issues
as important.
It has predictive power because it predicts that if people are exposed to the same
media, they will feel the same issues are important.
It is parsimonious because it isnt complex, and it is easy to understand.
It can be proven false. If people arent exposed to the same media, they wont feel the
same issues are important.
Its meta-theoretical assumptions are balanced on the scientific side
It is a springboard for further research
It has organizing power because it helps organize existing knowledge of media effects.
Example:
Actions surrounding the O.J. case and the Clinton Scandal are both excellent examples of
Agenda-Setting in action. During these historic events, the media was ever-present. The
placement of full page, color articles and top stories on news programming made it clear that
Americans should place these events as important issues. Some people believed O.J. was
guilty, and others believed he was innocent. Some believed Clinton should have been
impeached, and others thought otherwise. Therefore, the media wasnt extremely successful in
telling us what to think on these issues, but most Americans did believe these were both
important issues for a long period of time.
More Research on Agenda Setting:
Brosius, H., & Kepplinger, H. M. (1990). The agenda-setting function of television news:
Static and dynamic views. Communication Research, 17, 183-211.
Kosicki, G. (1993). Problems and opportunities in agenda-setting research. Journal of
Communication, 43(2), 100-127.
Winter, J.P., & Eyal, C.H. (1981). Agenda-setting for the civil rights issue. Public Opinion
Quarterly, 45, 376-383.
Agenda-Setting in Texts:
Infante, D. A., Rancer, A.S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd
ed.). Prospect, Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, Inc., 365-367, 453-454.
Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill,
337, 375, 376-386, 476, 484, 496.
Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill, 309,
349, 476, 360 372, 375.
Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to
theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martins Press, 252.
Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed.). Albuquerque, NM:
Wadsworth Publishing, 345-348.
Cragan, J.F., & Shields, D. C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The
communicative forces of human action. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 10, 264,-265,
281, 313.