Agenda Setting Theory
I. The original agenda: not what to think, but what to think about. A. Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw regard Watergate (American political scandal – 1970’s. It ended in President Nixon resigning from office) as a perfect example of the agenda-setting function of the mass media. B. They believe that the mass media have the ability to transfer the salience (importance) of items on their news agendas to the public agenda. II. A theory whose time had come.
A. Agenda-setting theory contrasted with the prevailing selective exposure hypothesis, reaffirming the power of the press while maintaining individual freedom. Agenda-setting theory set to prove that we don’t have as much control over our beliefs as we would like to think. (selective exposure: says people know what they are interested in, and what they believe/find important. They choose to expose themselves to media sources that provide them with information that matches their interests and confirms their existing beliefs) B. The hypothesis predicts a cause-and-effect relationship between media content and voter perception, particularly a match between the media’s agenda and the public’s agenda later on. (causal relationships are different than correlational relationships – note how the findings change between studies). III. Media agenda and public agenda: a close match.
A. In their groundbreaking study, McCombs and Shaw first measured the media agenda. B. They established the position and length of story as the primary criteria of prominence (i.e. where it was in paper – front page – and how long of an article it was – more writing equals more important (discourse makes meaning)) C. The remaining stories were divided into five major issues and ranked in order of importance. D. Rankings provided by uncommitted voters (uncommitted = undecided; these are people who have not made up their minds yet) matched closely with...
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