By now most people who study mass communication have heard of agenda setting theory. It was first put forth by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in Public Opinion Quarterly (you can download the full article here). They originally suggested that the media sets the public agenda, in the sense that they may not exactly tell you what to think, but they may tell you what to think about. In their first article where they brought this theory to light their abstract states:
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.
McCombs and Shaw went on to write on agenda setting at great length, the have produced many articles and research on the various facets of the theory. Since their introduction of this theory there has been a plethora of research regarding its uses, and their now exists an extension of the theory called Second Level Agenda Setting. Of all mass comm theories, this one is one of the most beaten to death.
This theory is intended to apply to the news media, although in certain cases it has been applied to other areas of the media and messages which they transmit to audiences. For some further enlightenment check out a few of these sources:
- McCombs, M. (2003). The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Media in the Shaping of Public Opinion
The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Mediain the Shaping of Public Opinion.
- Scheufele, D. (2000). Agenda setting, priming, and framing revisited: Another look at cognitive effects of political communication. Mass Communication & Society. 3(2-3), 297-316.
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