Agenda Setting Theory
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. In the research done in 1968 they focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating 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. In 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.”
Source: McQuail & Windahl (1993)
Content-analysis of media, interviews of audiences.
Scope and Application
Just as McCombs and Shaw...
Cited: Littlejohn, Stephen W. Theories of Human Communication. Seventh Edition.Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wadsworth, 2002.
McCombs, Maxwell E, and Donald L. Shaw. The Emergence of American Political Issues. New York. West Publishing Co, 1977.
Wilson,James R., and Roy S.Wilson. Mass Media, Mass Culture, Fifth Edition.Boston.Mc Graw Hill, 2001.
In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues—that is, the media may set the “agenda” of the campaign.
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