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Texts: Framing, Agenda Setting

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Module name/ title: Texts: Framing, Agenda Setting

Paper: Communications Research

Component I: Personal Details

Role Name Affiliation

Principal Investigator Prof. Biswajit Das Centre for Culture, Media
& Governance,
JamiaMilliaIslamia, Delhi
Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Durgesh Tripathi University School of Mass
Communication, Guru
Gobind Singh
Indraprastha University,
Paper Coordinator (if Dr. Sunitha Chitrapu Social Communications
any) Media Department
(SCMSophia), Sophia-
Smt. Manorama Devi
Somani College, Mumbai
400 026
Content Writer/ Huma Parveen Department of Mass
Author(s) Communication, Aligarh
Muslim University, Aligarh
Content Reviewer Prof. Biswajit Das Centre for Culture, Media
& Governance, Jamia
Millia Islamia, Delhi
Language Editor Mr. P K Satapathy Department of English,
School of Open Learning,
University of Delhi

Component II: Description of the Module

Items Description of Module

Subject Name Communication Studies
Paper Name Communications Research
Module Name/Title Texts: Framing, Agenda Setting
Module ID P2M09
Keywords Text, agenda setting, framing, frame

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Module 09: Texts: Framing, Agenda-setting

1. Learning Outcome

In this module, the students will learn about two text based theories of media effects.
The presentation of text has a strong bearing on the meanings and interpretations that
the readers make from it. The effect of the messages is not a result of the variation in
content. Rather, it is a function of the difference in mode and approach of
presentation. The module focuses on the role of media in making some issues more
salient than others by reporting them more frequently, and also on how they present
certain aspects of issues to the public and lead them intentionally to think in a
specified way.


2.1 Introduction

There has been enough research to estimate and establish the power that the news
media wields to influence its consumers. The primary importance of its role in setting
a nation’s agenda and also to draw the public’s attention to specific issues of concern
remains undisputable. The way news media presents an issue to the public indicates
the prominence of that issue (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). For example, if a newspaper
publishes a story on top of front page, then that story is automatically considered to be
the most important piece of news for that particular day. If a newspaper publishes a
small story on some back page of the paper, it indicates that the newspaper does not
attach much importance to the issue.
If there are two big stories unfolding simultaneously, say for instance, there is a bomb
explosion in the busy streets of a city killing many, and on the other hand, some film
star is getting married. Out of the two happenings, the one the media chooses to spend
more space and time on assumes more weight with respect to the consumers (readers
and viewers). They also begin to consider that particular issue to be more significant
than the other.

2.2 Theory
The theory of agenda-setting describes the “ability of the news media to influence the
salience of topics on the public agenda” (McCombs & Reynolds, 2002). It predicts

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that any news item that is covered repeatedly and prominently, ultimately leads that
particular topic or issue to acquire more salience in the minds of the public. The
people who are exposed to those repeated messages through the mass media tend to
believe that those issues are more significant than others.

This theory underscores the immense power and clout that the mass media holds. It is
considered to be the primary weapon to shape public opinion on any issue.

2.3 Assumptions
A lot of studies used survey method to ascertain the influence of frequent media
coverage on the minds of the people exposed to it.
According to Dearing & Rogers (1988), most of the research conducted on agenda-
setting has outlined two basic assumptions:
1. The news media are not mirrors of reality. They ‘filter and shape’ the reality to
be believed by the public.
2. The attention given by media to certain events and issues makes the public
also perceive those issues to carry more importance and weight than others.

2.4 Origin of the Theory

The basic idea of agenda setting was first outlined by Walter Lippmann in his 1922
book “Public Opinion” which has sometimes been considered as the “founding book
of modern journalism”. The first chapter in the book titled “The World Outside and
the Pictures in Our Heads", argues that the news media are the primary link between
events happening in the world and the related images in the minds of public.
Lippmann draws attention to the fact that the news media are the carriers of
information to the people, who are largely “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind”. It
is through the reception of this information from the news media, that these people get
an impression of the “larger world of public affairs”. Therefore, the power rests with
the media, as to what information they want to feed to the citizens through the stories
they choose to tell. To be precise, the news media provide a worldview that has been
moulded according to the priorities of the media. This leads the items that are
prominent according to the media agenda to become important in the public mind as
well (Lippmann, 1922).

Taking a cue from Lippmann, it was Bernard Cohen in 1963, who pointed out that
“the press is significantly more than a purveyor information and opinion. It may not
be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly
successful in telling people what to think about”. He argued that different people will
have a different picture of the world, based on the sketch that is “drawn for them by
writers, editors and publishers of the paper they read” (Cohen, 1963).

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The theory was formally conceptualised by Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L.

Shaw through their “Chapel Hill Study”. During the 1968 United States presidential
election, they executed the research on 100 residents of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
They aimed to test Lippmann’s idea of ‘pictures in our heads’ by making a
comparison between the issues that ran high on media’s agenda and those that were
important according to the undecided voters.
The results of the study revealed that there was a strong correlation between the two.
The issues deemed to be important by the residents of Chapel Hill were same as those
reported as the most significant issues by the local and national media (McCombs &
Shaw, 1972)

McCombs and Shaw used survey method for the study. They asked the voters to tell
what they thought to be the most important issue of the day. The responses given by
them were recorded and then compared to the content of news media for the past
month, which the voters were reading, listening and viewing. It was found that the
answers of the respondents were very much in sync with the information provided by
the news media as depicted through a strong correlation coefficient (r > 0.9). The
study helped McCombs and Shaw to be able to understand ‘the degree to which the
media determines public opinion’ (Dearing & Rogers, 1988; Rogers, 1993).

Though the idea had already been conceived and discussed by other researchers, yet it
was McCombs and Shaw who gave the first empirical evidence to establish the power
of news media in setting the public’s agenda. The theory, being supported by strong
empirical data, became well acknowledged in the realm of social sciences.

2.5 Three Components of Agenda-Setting

James W. Dearing and Everett M. Rogers, in their 1996 book “Agenda-Setting” laid
out the main components of agenda setting through the following figure:

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Figure 1

The three main components of agenda setting process: The media agenda, public agenda, and policy
agenda. Reprinted from Agenda-Setting(p. 5), by James W. Dearing and Everett M. Rogers, 1996,
Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. Copyright 1996 by Sage Publications.

Figure 1 shows that there are three main components of agenda-setting process: media
agenda, public agenda and policy agenda. According to Dearing and Rogers (1993),
the three components differ from each other from the perspective of research
conducted. The three types of agendas involve different dependent variables:
1. Public agenda, where the public’s agenda is the dependent variable
2. Media agenda, where the media’s agenda is the dependent variable
3. Policy agenda, where the policy makers’ agenda is the dependent variable
Dearing and Rogers point out that most of the research has focussed on public and
media agenda setting, while the policy makers’ agenda has been largely ignored. They
propose that there should be more emphasis on “how the media and public agendas
might influence elite policy maker’s agendas”(Walgrave & Van Aelst, 2006). They
suggest that researchers should explore what are the sources of news for the‘President
or members of the U.S. Congress’, i.e. those who are the elite policy makers, and also
examine how it influences the policies they make.


3.1 Introduction
Another crucial theory of media effects is ‘framing’. The concept of framing is an
extension of agenda-setting. While agenda setting is concerned with the prioritising of
an issue by reporting it frequently, framing is deals with ‘how’ the media present an

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issue within a specific context. This careful placing of the topic in a certain field of
meaning has a strong effect on the decision making pattern of the public. News stories
in the media appear to be “systematised, based on narrative conventions that offer an
explanation about who is doing what, and with what purpose” (Ardèvol-Abreu, 2015).
According to Tuchman (1978) news is “a window whose frame limits the perception
of reality, by limiting the perception of different realities and focusing on a specific
piece of it. As a result of these processes, some aspects of the reality perceived
through the news will be more prominent than others”.

3.2 Theory
Entman (1993) defines framing as the process of deliberately choosing certain aspects
of reality and then laying more stress on them. This defines the problem, identifies its
causes, proposes moral judgements and also suggests suitable solutions.

Frames are a vital element of news reporting, in that they highlight certain aspects of
reality, while diminishing others. By using a specific frame in a news report, the
journalist projects an event or an issue through a desired lens. The frame is reflected
in the news story thus built up, reaching the reader whose opinion is influenced based
on that report.

Framing is considered to be very effective, as it is a self-learning shortcut. Fiske and

Taylor (1991) mention that human beings are ‘cognitive misers’ by nature, which
means that they tend to do as little thinking as possible. They prefer to have a quick
way of processing information easily. This is done by ‘frames’ which help them
understand the received messages. This makes frames a potent tool to influence the
interpretation of messages by the receivers. The senders of the messages who have
control over the building of these frames, thus become all the more powerful.

3.3 Origin of the Theory

The roots of the concept of framinglie in interpretive sociology. The sociological

perspective holds that people perceive and interpret their reality and transactions of
day-to-day life based on their interaction with others and meanings assigned to
situations. The situations are defined through mediated intersubjective processes.
Therefore, how people see and understand reality is determined by other people’s
contributions. (Ardèvol-Abreu, 2015).

Initially, it was Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist, who first referred to the concept
of framing in his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind in 1972. He defined a frame as “a
spatial and temporal bounding of a set of interactive messages” (Bateson, 1972).

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It was Gitlin (1980)who explored how the news media tried to demean the student
New Left movement in the decade of 1960s. Media frames were examined from a
sociological perspective for the first time. Gitlin posited that frames refer to the
persistent design of choosing and stressing certain aspects of reality, evident through
cognition, understanding, and presentation. Frames are generally unspoken and
unacknowledged, and they play a key role in organizing the world for both journalists
and the readers of their news reports.

During its initial development stage in the 1970s, framing was conceived as a part of
research on cognitive psychology. However, it was Erving Goffman’s 1974 study
titled “Frame Analysis” that applied the concept of framing to sociology. This idea
was further applied to communication studies, which established the concept and
theory of framing in communication. Goffman defines a frame as “a social framework
and as a mental schema that allows users to organise experiences” (Ardèvol-Abreu,

Goffman explained the idea of frame by comparing it to a picture frame. He

expounded that framing works in the same way as a person makes use of a structure
(a frame) to showcase his picture. The picture is a representation of the ‘content’ of
what is going on in the person’s life, while the outer structure represents the ‘frame’.
Together, they organise the social experience of his life (Trevino, 2003).

Jim A Kuypers, a researcher in communication studies, used frame analysis to make

rhetorical analysis in political communication. He analysed texts and looked for the
themes that were persistent through time. He further scrutinised these themes to find
out they were framed. He wrote three books that formed a trilogy on framing analysis.
He argued that the work of news media begins with the gatekeepers, as they decide
which story will be told to the audiences. They further decide how much salience they
want to provide to that particular story, which accounts for agenda-setting. Finally,
they decide ‘how’ they want to present the story, which accounts for the frame they
use (Kuypers, 2009).

3.4 Difference from Agenda-setting

As stated earlier, the idea of framing is closely similar to agenda-setting. Indeed,
some scholars, including Maxwell McCombs, even contend that ‘framing is
equivalent to the second level of the agenda-setting theory, and have proposed the
integration of both models’ (McCombs, Llamas, López-Escobar & Rey, 1997). In
thefirst level of agenda-setting, emphasis is laid on media’s role in telling the people
“what to think about”, while in second level, focus is shifted to media’s function of
telling them“how to think about”. The second level of agendasetting, also referred to
as framing, takes into account how public opinion is affected by the agenda of
attributes (Balmas & Sheafer, 2010).

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Weaver (2007) compares agenda-setting and framing theories on the basis of their
similarities and differences. The similarities are:
• The focus of both theories lies with ‘how’ various issues and topics are presented by
the media. They do not consider ‘which’ are given more or less representation.
• The theories deal with the most important aspects of an issue.
• Both the theories emphasise on ways of thinking, not considering the objects of
The difference is:
• While agenda-setting only deals with the salience of an object’s attributes, framing
takes into account a broader range of cognitive processes. It goes a step further in
establishing the problem, making moral judgements, and even suggesting probable

4 Summary
The module outlines the two major theories used for analysing texts, agenda-setting
and framing. Though the theories are closely inter-related, the basic differences
between the two have been explicated. Agenda-setting deals with the things that are
high on media agenda, tend to acquire more significance with the public. Framing,
going one step further, is concerned with how the issues are presented to the public, to
organise their social experience.
The module also presents an overview of the course of development of the two

1. Ardèvol-Abreu,A. (2015). Framing theory in communication research in Spain.
Origins, development and current situation. Revista Latina de Comunicación
Social, 70, 423-450.
2. Balmas, M., & Sheafer, T. (June 2010). Candidate Imagein Election
Campaigns: Attribute Agenda Setting, Affective Priming, and Voting
Intentions. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 22 (2), 204–
3. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. NewYork: Ballantine Books.
4. Cohen, B. (1963). The press and foreign policy. NewYork: Harcourt.
5. Dearing, J. W., & Rogers, E. M. (1996). Agenda-Setting.Thousand Oaks,
California: Sage Publications.
6. Dearing, J., & Rogers, E. (1988). Agenda-setting research: Where has it been,
where is it going?CommunicationYearbook, 11, 555–594.

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7. Entman, R. (1993). Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.

Journal of Communication 43, 51-58.
8. Entman, R. (1993). Tree Beard, Framing: Toward Clarificationof a Fractured
Paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51.
9. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nded.). New York:
10. Gitlin, T. (1980). The Whole World is Watching: MassMedia in the Making
and Unmaking of the New Left.Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
11. Goffman, E. (1974). Frame Analysis: An essay on the organization of
experience. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
12. Kuypers, J. A. (2009). Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action. Plymouth,
UK: Lexington Books.
13. Lippmann, W. (1922). Public opinion. New York: Harcourt.
14. McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-settingfunction of mass
media. Public Opinion Quarterly,36(2), 176.
15. McCombs, M. E., Llamas, J. P., López-Escobar, E. & Rey, F. (1997).
Candidate images in Spanish elections: second level agenda-setting effects.
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 74 (4), 703-717.
16. McCombs, M., & Reynolds, A (2002). News influence onour pictures of the
world. In Jennings Bryant & Dolf Zillman (Eds.), Media effects: Advances
intheory and research (1-18). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum
17. Rogers, E. (1993). The anatomy of agenda-setting research. Journal of
Communication,43(2), 68–84.
18. Rogers, E. (1993). The anatomy of agenda-setting research. Journal of
Communication, 43(2), 68–84.
19. Trevino, A. J. (2003). Goffman's Legacy. Lanham, Maryland:Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers.
20. Tuchman, G. (1978). Making news. New York: Free Press.
21. Walgrave, S., & Van Aelst, P. (2006). The contingency of the mass media’s
political agenda setting power: Toward a preliminary theory. Journal of
Communication, 56, 88–109.
22. Weaver, D. H. (2007). Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming.
Journal of Communication, 57(1), 142-147.

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