Agenda Setting

Agenda-Setting is a political communication theory. The basic assumption lies that the media cannot tell the audience what to think, but they can tell the audience what to think about. People can still think in their own ways for the best interests for themselves, but the media can set the topics of thinking. Journalism professors Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw find in many political events, like Watergate, Vietnam War and presidential elections, the media bring up the topics, focus on the events first, then the audience talk and become concerned on these same topics and event second. They reach the conclusion that media have the function of setting up public agenda. In their own word: “The mass media have the ability to transfer the salience of issues on their news agenda to the public agenda.” McCombs and Shaw found in many elections that the topics the media talk about and the voters’ concerns are identical during political campaigns. Media talk about unemployment, pollution, economy, and the most voters would also think these topics are important. But what causes what? Media cause voters to think this way, or voters think this way, and media report voters’ thinking. Researchers found from historical events that media report peaks of topics come before the public interests on the topics. For example: The media reports of the Vietnam War peaked in 1966, the number of American troops in Vietnam increased until 1968. Who is most affected by the media agenda? The two extremes on the political spectrum are not easily affected. Trump’s supporters or opponents are not affected because they both have predetermined their views and positions. People willing to let the media shape their thinking have a high need for orientation. They have relevance in the topics, but they are uncertain about them. Framing: The central organizing idea for news content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration.” The media have the ability to choose facts, make them bigger or smaller through emphasis and elaboration, or exclusion. Who sets the agenda? The researchers found that a small number of media conglomerates set the agenda. They include CNN, ABC, Fox, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and a few more. Today people may add social media like Facebook and Twitter…… Some politicians set the agenda. In presidential elections, candidates campaign and debate on issues and topics. What they say are reported in the media. Public relations professionals may set the agenda. They work for government, cooperation, and special interests groups for their agendas. Interest aggregations can create news: anti-abortion, antiwar, antipollution, black life matters. The recent protest across the country because of the death of Floyd is one example. Special events drive the media agenda. They are so important and so big that media cannot ignore them. For example: 9/11, gulf war, Vietnam War, Pearl Harbor, presidential elections, ……. Discussion questions: 1. Will you please discuss Agenda Setting, your understanding of the theory? 2. Do you think the theory still works in social media age? Do media still set the agenda for the people to think about it, or the trend is changing to a different pattern?

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