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Agenda Setting Theory Personal Application

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Jshon Twine
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Personal Application
Agenda Setting Theory

On your way to class in the morning you over hear a group of people talking about some eventful news that has taken place over the last couple weeks following the recent presidential election. The group seems to have strong views towards the particular subject so this draws you in to the conversation. After being briefed on what the topic of discussion is you also begin to voice your opinion on the subject because you also feel as if it is an important topic. You later find out that this was headline news in the newspaper and will continue coverage throughout the week on the particular story. This emphasized importance of the story can be explained by what is known as agenda-setting theory a theory created by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw. Much of our media has had the same effect on our society.
A particular story receives large amounts of coverage or is simply elaborated to a point where the importance of the story seems increased compared to others. This in turn shapes the public’s opinion and reflects what is presented by the news providing “not what to think…but what to think about”(Cohen 1963 as cited in M. Dainton and E. Zelley). This paper will give the basic overview; listing assumptions and concepts, of the theory along with recent additions. It will also provide personal and actual examples of where the theory has applied.
Agenda-Setting theory, in its original state, contains two main assumptions and a concept that explain how exactly the media gatekeepers decides on what the important news is. First, in this theory McCombs and Shaw state, that the media has an agenda that is somewhat limited. McCombs and Shaw argue that the agenda that is set for the public by media tell the audience what news to perceive as important. This part of the theory has received additional concepts and expansions that are included in agenda-setting scholarship. With the idea of perceived importance agenda-setting scholarship argues a connection between the media tells us to think and think about (Agenda-setting theory, 2009). Telling us that the perceived salience, or state of importance give to issue, is related to the evaluation of the audience.
This expansion of the theory includes the concepts of priming and framing.
The priming concept of the expansion states that with the continuous feed of “vital” information that is seen as important to the audience the attitudes about the topics are shaped. The idea of framing in the original theory states that the media organize, define, and structure a story deciding what to include, exclude, and elaborate on while determining the emphasis that should be given. Within framing the media also decides how to present a certain issue. For example the coverage of the election done by FOX news, this particular news station tended to focus on what the poll number outcome would be, based on republican opinion. Once more continuous feed of information like that done by FOX can shape the opinion of the viewer. “The media can influence the attitudes of the audience by telling them what is important to consider when making up their minds” (Sei-Hill, Miejeong, Doo-Hun & Jeong-Nam, 2012).
A study done in the International Communication Gazette found results that support the fact that the media has a large role in what makes a particular issue more or less salient to the viewer. This study was done on an issue in South Korea that dealt with the relocation of the administrative capital. After a content analysis and telephone surveys were conducted the research was finalized with the results that issues that are perceived as or important in the media are prominent standards when it comes to the audience evaluation. Many of the viewers found the balanced development of the project greatly significant, which can be explained by the repeated priming, and exposure of the issue within their media (Sei-Hill, Miejeong, Doo-Hun & Jeong-Nam, 2012).
Similar to that of regular broadcast stations many high schools and higher learning institutions also have their own networks, in which the same type of priming and framing aspects are done. During my time in high school I was a member of our morning announcement team, which broadcasted daily to the entire school over television and PA system. Before the taping of the show began we were given a list of topics that would be discussed over the announcements, each topic having its inclusions and exclusions of what would be talked about and highlighted. For example, during the last few months of my senior year a lot of the topics were based around Senior week and the festivities that would be going on leading up to our prom. Just like that of the South Korean media these issues were continuously announced and discussed to the student and faculty audience to the point where the weeks leading up the events and prom literally nothing but those issues were the topic of discussion throughout the hallways of the school. Although this would most likely be on the minds of many students and faculty of the school without the announcements relating to it the framing and priming of these attributes creates an emphasized importance. This emphasized importance than shapes the opinions of the audience through continuous exposure.
Another media outlet (uncontrolled) where this can take place is within newspapers. The gatekeepers that were mentioned earlier have the same job here in deciding what will be the breaking news and main stories in the news for a specific issue or printing day. Similar to any other newspaper La Salle University and its weekly printing of the campus newspaper The Collegian seemingly do the same thing. For the section that I am assigned to in the paper I am required to go around the campus asking for responses for the question of the week. This question usually deals with an issue that has been headlined or has perceived importance within national or local news (politics, sports, business, etc.). Sometimes the question will even pertain to an important topic on the campus, for example the latest issue deals with what students are doing to prepare for finals that are approaching in the next two weeks. This particular issue has emphasized importance mainly because the audience of the paper who tend to be students and faculty of the school. When these media gatekeepers put emphasis on aspects of the use they can also evoke emotion and make certain ideas memorable in the audience mind.
In a study conducted by Andrea Miller and Shearon Roberts at Louisiana State University, students were given a qualitative survey six weeks after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The research questions were based around what images were most memorable to the participants, the emotions that were evoked from them, and if those emotions were in correlation to the degree of which the respondents were affected by the tragedy. The results that came from this study were of no surprise to me because they were similar to what was most memorable to myself and had the same emotions as well.
The top three images that were memorable the participants were that containing rooftop rescues, areas where the participants lived, and the Superdome (home of the New Orleans Saints). Again with no surprise the top emotion evoked from the participants was that of a negative or sad emotion, with 33% saying that the image they choose evoked these emotions. For me this tragedy, although not as directly affected, evoked the same emotions and made similar images memorable too. The way the media decided to emphasize the issues that dealt with human drama explains why the same images and emotions were remembered and felt.
In all the media uses these concepts to present an audience with an agenda, within this agenda they include, exclude, emphasize, and elaborate on certain issues in turn giving the audience a perceived importance. According to Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life, 75% of stories that come across a news desk are never even printed or broadcasted. This is yet another example of the inclusion and exclusion that takes place behind the scenes, leaving one to wonder if so much news is left out, what are we left in the dark about?


1. Sung-Yeon, P., Xiaoqun, Z., & Holody, K. J. (2012). Race in Media Coverage of School Shootings: A Parallel Application of Framing Theory and Attribute Agenda Setting. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 89(3), 478-494.

2. Zhang, G., Shao, G., & Bowman, N. (2012). What Is Most Important for My Country Is Not Most Important for Me: Agenda-Setting Effects in China. Communication Research, 39(5), 662-678.

3. Kim, S., Han, M., Choi, D., & Kim, J. (2012). Attribute agenda setting, priming and the media’s influence on how to think about a controversial issue. International Communication Gazette, 74(1), 43-59.

4. Miller, A., & Roberts, S. (2010). Visual Agenda-Setting & Proximity after Hurricane Katrina: A Study of Those Closest to the Event. Visual Communication Quarterly, 17(1), 31-46.

5. "Agenda-Setting Theory." Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2009. Credo Reference. 9 July 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2012.…...

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