- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Agenda Setting

Essay by review  •  February 27, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,880 Words (8 Pages)  •  863 Views

Essay Preview: Agenda Setting

Report this essay
Page 1 of 8

Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw first used the term "agenda-setting" during a study in 1972. In the study, the researchers interviewed 100 undecided voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and asked them what issues they were most interested about in the up coming election. Throughout a study the researchers found out that, there was a relationship between the media agenda and the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw came up with the concept that the press did indeed have the power, but the individual was free to choose. However, the concept that society is looking for guidance in establishing current events was not new. According to Bernard Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, "The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about". The agenda setting theory evolved among communication researchers.

Agenda setting is a relational concept that specifies a transfer of significance from the media to the consumers. Agenda setting research has shown that there is a link between what the media deems important and public perception of current events. Agenda setting is a scientific theory because it depends on quantitative ways of research such as experiments and survey research. While humanistic theories depend on qualitative tools and are inductive. The agenda setting theory comes from a scientific perspective, because it hypothesizes that if people are exposed to the same media, they will place importance on the same issues.

A good example of agenda setting presently is the story of Natalee Holloway, the teenage girl who disappeared while on a school trip in Aruba. This story has been a hot topic in current news. There have been full-page color articles and top stories on news programs. It has been made clear that society should place this event as an important issue. While this event is of course a tragedy, many children are abducted throughout the world each day. Why is this girl's story making headlines and not the others'? Some people suggest it may be because she is an attractive Caucasian girl from Middle America. The media has had the public believing that the disappearance of this girl is extremely important and society as a whole should be concerned.

Agenda Setting has two levels. The first level enacts the common subjects that are most important, and the second level decides what parts of the subject are important. These two levels of agenda setting lead into what is the function of this concept. This concept is process that is divided into three parts according to Rogers and Dearing(1993). The first part of the process is the importance of the issues that are going to be discussed in the media. Second, the issues discussed in the media have an impact over the way the public thinks, this is referred as public agenda. In the end, the public agenda influences the policy agenda.

Agenda-setting theory makes a good objective theory because it does a good job of predicting future events. The back-to-the-basics approach to mass communication hypothesis predicts a cause-and-effect relationship between media content and voter perception. Agenda setting theory does well in explaining how the media affects the way people perceive events.

Researchers can predict how the public is going to react to the media's news by how they have reacted in the past. Although many studies explore the conditions under which the media priorities are most influential, the theory succeeds or fails on its ability to show a match between the media's agenda and the public's agenda later on. The media depends on the public to react to their stories and think about the news that they reveal to the public. If the media predicts that a story is not going to concern the public, then they are not going to cover that story.

Agenda setting is a simple theory to understand. Simplicity is important in determining if the theory is useful. The theory states that whatever the public is concerned about, the media has an effect on what they think about it.

Hypothesis made in agenda setting can be tested. The hypothesis that McCombs and Shaw have come up with is that people would give attention only to news and views that did not threaten their established beliefs. Agenda setting emphasizes the power of the press while still maintaining that individuals have free will. This theory is tested everyday when people watch the news, listen to the radio or pick up a newspaper. Every time the public reacts to a story that the media gives them, the media knows what types of stories the public likes to hear.

The people that are most affected by this theory are the people that are willing to let the media shape their thinking and have a high need for orientation. Agenda setting explains why people believe what they believe. People are influenced by the media because the media has the ability to get stories and events out to mass amounts of societies. Agenda setting describes a very influential use of the media the ability to tell us what issues are important. Thinking about the affects the media has on us certainly would lead to a change in attitudes or behaviors. Agenda setting may not be useful to everyone, but it does a good job of explaining why people believe the things that they believe.

In conclusion, agenda-setting theory, which was developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, explains the influence that the media has on people who are willing to be influenced by what the media informs the public is important.

There are some simple criteria to follow when evaluating a theory. The Humanistic and the Scientific are the two approach options in analyzing a theory. Agenda setting does a good job in explaining how people perceive events in the world. Researchers in agenda setting can see how people will react by examining experiences. Agenda setting is not a complex process. The theory is simple to understand. The process of agenda setting can be tested. Therefore, the theory is testable. Agenda setting is useful in explaining how the media affects the ways in which people perceive what is going on in the world. For these reasons, I feel that agenda setting makes a good objective theory.


Ghanem, S.,& Wanta, W. (2001). Agenda-Setting and Spanish Cable News. Journal of

Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 45 (2), 277-288.

The Spanish speaking population in the United States has been rapidly increasing in recent years. While Hispanic is



Download as:   txt (10.8 Kb)   pdf (128.4 Kb)   docx (13.1 Kb)  
Continue for 7 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2011, 02). Agenda Setting. Retrieved 02, 2011, from

"Agenda Setting" 02 2011. 2011. 02 2011 <>.

"Agenda Setting.", 02 2011. Web. 02 2011. <>.

"Agenda Setting." 02, 2011. Accessed 02, 2011.