In this lesson, we will explore agenda setting and discover how the media shapes and influences issues of importance. Agenda setting will be defined, its functions and processes will be presented, and examples of agenda setting will be provided.
What Is Agenda Setting?
What issues are important to you? Why are these issues of importance? Media coverage not only directs what we think but also shapes how we think.
This influence provides media with a powerful tool to influence government and the way people view it.Agenda setting is the idea that what the public thinks about is set by the media. The agenda setting theory was first introduced by Dr. Maxwell McCombs and Dr. Donald Shaw in 1972. This theory states that the news plays an integral part in the shaping of political realities. The amount of time spent on an issue and the information relayed in a news story, along with the story’s position, determines how much a reader learns and the amount of importance placed on the issue.
The agenda setting theory of McCombs and Shaw states that when the media reflect on the views of a candidate during a campaign, they are also shaping and determining the issues of importance. This can ultimately set the agenda for a political campaign.When analyzing agenda setting, there are two basic assumptions to be considered:
- Media and the press filter and shape reality rather than reflect it.
- When media focuses on just a few issues and subjects, the public tends to perceive those issues as more important.
Technology and Agenda Setting
Advances in technology provide many new avenues for influencing the masses. At the onset of the agenda setting theory, communication was conducted primarily via print and radio, followed by film and television. Today, communication sources are nearly unlimited, allowing for greater public engagement and setting the trend for increased attention on agenda setting.To demonstrate the effect of technology on agenda setting, let’s explore the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Occupy Wall Street movement consisted of a diverse group of gender, color, and political viewpoints that opposed social and economic inequity. The movement emerged in July of 2011 with presence via a website, Facebook, and Twitter. The goal was to gather a group of 20,000 on September 17, 2011, on Wall Street in New York City’s financial district. The movement was left largely uncovered by mainstream media until late September of 2011, when YouTube footage of an activist being pepper sprayed by a New York police officer was aired. Following this social media coverage, the movement began to gain a significant presence across the country. By utilizing social media, activists have an effective platform for setting agenda in society.
In 1972, The Washington Post set the national agenda by reporting on the details of the Democratic National Headquarters break-in; this set off an influx of public interest and focus on Richard Nixon and Watergate. Likewise, in 1997, an online report by the Drudge Report brought major public attention to the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton sex scandal. While coverage may not directly cause change, it does serve as a catalyst for determining positions and attitudes.
The Effects on Audiences
The beliefs and values of the audience should be considered when examining the influence of media in regards to agenda setting.
If an audience is already highly involved or sensitive to a particular issue, increased news exposure to that issue can have an enhancing effect. The level of effect on an audience is also influenced by obtrusive issues, which are issues that affect all or most of the population. Personal experience with an issue naturally increases its level of importance. For example, grocery and gas prices would be considered an obtrusive issue because it affects such a large percentage of society.
Let’s review. What we think about, how we think about it, and the importance we place on an issue is closely tied to media and the theory of agenda setting. The agenda setting theory, which was proposed in 1972 by McCombs and Shaw gave insights into the power that media may have in influencing what we consider important topics and issues. Agenda setting continues today, with greater influence and reach due to technology. How society views media and various issues is largely dependent on agenda setting.
This theory takes into account the audience’s beliefs, values, and level of exposure to issues.
The Agenda-Setting Process
- Agenda Setting: Idea that public opinion is set by the media through over- or under-coverage
- McCombs ; Shaw: Developers of the Agenda Setting Theory
- Obtrusive Issues: Issues that may affect all or a large portion of the population
- Technology ; Agenda Setting: Involves the use of social media and the Internet to drive public opinion
Objectives of this lesson on agenda setting include preparing you to:
- Recall the development of the agenda setting theory
- Highlight two basic assumptions that must be considered
- Recognize the role of technology in agenda setting
- Cite examples of agenda setting by the media or on social media
- Analyze the effects of agenda setting on audiences