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A0EN0A 3ETTlN0 TlE0RY

the creation of what the public thinks is important


History and Orientation
Agenda setting describes a very powerful influence of the media the ability to tell us what issues are
important. As far back as 1922, the newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned that the
media had the power to present images to the public. McCombs and Shaw investigated presidential
campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976. n the research done in 1968 they focused on two elements:
awareness and information. nvestigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they
attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important
issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and
Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be
the major issues of the campaign.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: Agenda-setting is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news
media. Two basis assumptions underlie most research on agenda-setting: (1) the press and the
media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it; (2) media concentration on a few issues and
subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues. One of the
most critical aspects in the concept of an agenda-setting role of mass communication is the time
frame for this phenomenon. n addition, different media have different agenda-setting potential.
Agenda-setting theory seems quite appropriate to help us understand the pervasive role of the media
(for example on political communication systems).
Statement: Bernard Cohen (1963) stated: "The press may not be successful much of the time in
telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.

ConceptuaI ModeI

Agenda-setting
Source: McQuail & Windahl (1993)

Favorite Methods
Content-analysis of media, interviews of audiences.

Scope and AppIication
Just as McCombs and Shaw expanded their focus, other researchers have extended investigations of
agenda setting to issues including history, advertising, foreign, and medical news.

ExampIe
McCombs and Shaw focused on the two elements: awareness and information. nvestigating the
agenda-setting function of the mass media in the 1968 presidential campaign, they attempted to
assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the
actual content of media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that
the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of
the campaign.

The agenda-setting theory is the theory that the mass-news media have a large influence on
audiences by their choice of what stories to consider newsworthy and how much prominence and
space to give them.
[1]
Agenda-setting theory's main postulate is salience transfer. Salience transfer is
the ability of the mass media to transfer issues of importance from their mass media agendas to
public agendas.
Foundation
The media agenda is the set of issues addressed by media sources and the public agenda which are
issues the public consider important.
[2]
Agenda-setting theory was introduced in 1972 by Maxwell
McCombs and Donald Shaw in their ground breaking study of the role of the media in 1968
presidential campaign in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
[3]
The theory explains the correlation between
the rate at which media cover a story and the extent that people think that this story is important. This
correlation has been shown to occur repeatedly.
n the dissatisfaction of the magic bullet theory, McCombs and Shaw introduced agenda-setting
theory in the Public Opinion Quarterly.
[3]
The theory was derived from their study that took place in
Chapel Hill, NC, where the researchers surveyed 100 undecided voters during the 1968 presidential
campaign on what they thought were key issues and measured that against the actual media
content.
[3]
The ranking of issues was almost identical, and the conclusions matched their hypothesis
that the mass media positioned the agenda for public opinion by emphasizing specific
topics.
[4]
Subsequent research on agenda-setting theory provided evidence for the cause-and-effect
chain of influence being debated by critics in the field.
One particular study made leaps to prove the cause-effect relationship. The study was conducted by
Yale researchers, Shanto yengar, Mark Peters, and Donald Kinder. The researchers had three
groups of subjects fill out questionnaires about their own concerns and then each group watched
different evening news programs, each of which emphasized a different issue. After watching the
news for four days, the subjects again filled out questionnaires and the issues that they rated as most
important matched the issues they viewed on the evening news.
[5]
The study demonstrated a cause-
and-effect relationship between media agenda and public agenda. Since the theory's conception,
more than 350 studies have been performed to test the theory. The theory has evolved beyond the
media's influence on the public's perceptions of issue salience to political candidates and corporate
reputation
Functions
The agenda-setting function has multiple components:
Media agenda are issues discussed in the media, such as newspapers, television, and radio.
Public agenda are issues discussed and personally about members of the public.
Policy agenda are issues that policy makers consider important, such as legislators.
Corporate agenda are issues that big business and corporations consider important, including
corporations.
These four agendas are interrelated. The two basic assumptions underlie most research on agenda-
setting are that the press and the media do not reflect reality, they filter and shape it, and the media
concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more
important than other issues.

Diffusion
The media uses diffusion to spread ideas and aid in its agenda setting. Opinion Leaders and
boundary spanners are very important to the media at using their networks to pass on the flow of
information.
An opinion leader is often someone who is thought of by others to know a significant amount of
information on a topic or is an "expert". This could be anyone from a specialist in a certain field, a
politician who is the head of a specific congressional committee, or a mom who is very active in the
PTA. They are often at the center of a social network, more attentive to outside information and
capable of influence. Since the opinion leaders are those in a social network who are most likely to
watch the news or pay attention to the media, they are an extremely important tool at spreading
information to the masses.
Boundary Spanners are those in a social network who can span across various social networks. They
can be essential to the flow of novel information. Boundary spanners can be used by the media in
setting its agenda by getting information and ideas to a variety of social networks, rather than just
one.
A study showing the effects of diffusion was Project Revere. Sociologists at the University of
Washington from 1951 to 1953 would drop leaflets from an airplane onto a town. They then would see
how long it would take for the information to pass by word of mouth to those who did not get a leaflet.
Their findings showed that children are very effective in the diffusion process, thus proving how easy
it is for a child to be affected by the media.
Levels of agenda setting
%he first-IeveI agenda setting is most traditionaIIy studied by researchers. In this IeveI the
media uses objects or issues to infIuence the pubIic. In this IeveI the media suggest what the
pubIic shouId think about (amount of coverage). In second-IeveI agenda setting, the media
focuses on the characteristics of the objects or issues. In this IeveI the media suggest how the
peopIe shouId think about the issue. %here are two types of attributes: cognitive (subtantative,
or topics) and affective (evaIuative, or positive, negative, neutraI). Intermedia agenda setting
invoIves saIience transfer among the media.CoIeman and Banning 2006; Lee 2005; Shoemaker
& Ree
Usage
The theory is used in political advertising, political campaigns and debates, business news and
corporate reputation,
[6]
business influence on federal policy,
[7]
legal systems, trials,
[8]
role of groups,
audience control, public opinion, and public relations.
se, 1996
Strengths and weaknesses of theory
t has explanatory power because it explains why most people prioritize the same issues as important.
t also has predictive power because it predicts that if people are exposed to the same media, they
will feel the same issues are important. ts meta-theoretical assumptions are balanced on the
scientific side and it lays groundwork for further research. Furthermore, it has organizing power
because it helps organize existing knowledge of media effects.
There are also limitations, such as media users may not be as ideal as the theory assumes. People
may not be well-informed, deeply engaged in public affairs, thoughtful and skeptical. nstead, they
may pay only casual and intermittent attention to public affairs and remain ignorant of the details. For
people who have made up their minds, the effect is weakened. News media cannot create or conceal
problems, they may only alter the awareness, priorities and salience people attached to a set of
problems.
[citation needed]
Research has largely been inconclusive in establishing a causal relationship
between public salience and media coverage.