Agenda Setting Theory

Want to dive deeper? The best resource for Agenda Setting Theory info is Setting the Agenda: Mass Media and Public Opinion by McCombs (amazon link)

Quick Overview of Agenda Setting:

Note: This page has been repurposed from my post: The Agenda-Setting Function of the Mass Media I’m working hard to update it so it contains far more information and detail.

Also known as The Agenda Setting Function of the Mass Media, it was first put forth by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in 1972 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.

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.