Agenda Setting Theory

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  1. AGENDA-SETTING THEORY McCombs and Shaw
  2. BASIC THESIS
    • News agenda determines the public agenda
    • We look to news media to cue us as to where we should focus attention
    • Media don’t tell us what to think , they tell us what to think about
  3. SIGNIFICANCE
    • Agenda-setting theory countered the “limited effects” school of thought
    • (“Limited effects” = selective exposure, attention, retention)
    • Showed that the media ARE powerful, yet also recognizing that public was free to choose
  4. FOCUS OF THEORY
    • Election campaigns
    • Establishing cause-effect relationship between media agenda and public agenda
    • Quantitative research techniques
  5. MEASUREMENT ISSUES
    • Media agenda revealed by POSITION and LENGTH of story
    • Stories had to be about SUBSTANTIVE issues
    • Public agenda was revealed by what (undecided) voters said were key issues of the campaign, regardless of what the candidates were saying
  6. SHOWING CAUSE
    • Strong correlations b’n media + public agendas are insufficient proof
    • Public agenda has to TRAIL media agenda (shown to be the case, by 4-6 weeks)
    • Historical research demonstrates media and public agendas don’t simply mirror real-world events (no “third party” cause)
    • Experimental studies demonstrated causal media effect in lab
  7. WHO SETS THE AGENDA FOR MEDIA?
    • Media “gatekeepers”
    • The candidates themselves
    • Public relations / “spin” professionals and interest groups
    • Compelling news events
  8. WHO IS MOST EFFECTED BY MEDIA AGENDAS?
    • People with “high need for orientation” as determined by the perceived RELEVANCE of stories to their interests, their feelings of UNCERTAINTY about those stories, and the particular ASPECTS of the stories that media deal with.
  9. FRAMING
    • Media not only influence what we think about, they influence they WAY we think about them
    • They do this by “framing” : i.e. through selection , emphasis , exclusion and elaboration .
    • These determine the salience of particular attributes of a story of issue
  10. FRAMING NOT AN OPTION
    • Framing promotes a particular:
    • problem definition
    • causal interpretation
    • moral evaluation and/or
    • treatment recommendation
  11. ILLUSTRATION
    • In one piece of research:
      • Public concern about crime increased
      • Yet actual crime levels were falling
      • Because media were intensifying their focus on crime, in particular framing crime as
      • “something that can happen to anyone” and
      • “something most fearsome when local”
  12. New Statement of Agenda-Setting
    • Media may not only tell us what to think about , they may also tell us how and what to think about it, and perhaps even what to do about it
    • Media may also affect behavior, for example, influencing sentiment about the economy, about travel etc.
  13. CRITIQUE
    • Can only show that media agendas affect some people, on some issues, some of the time
    • Has cognitive rather than affective focus
    • Does not deal much with presentational factors
    • Does not deal with competing agendas