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Agenda-Setting: Studying the Process

Source: Agenda-Setting, James W. Dearing, Everett M. Rogers (1996) Student: Irina Tacu, 389490 Making News, ZUR350

1. This chapter
critiques past research on the agendasetting process; suggests directions for future works; identifies ways of combining research methods to increase the reliability of observations and to allow the study of new aspects of the agenda-setting process.

2. Agenda-Setting: the Concept

It explains: why information about only certain issues is available to the public, how public opinion is shaped in a democracy. It is a result of a dynamic interplay (different issues rise and fall in importance over time) => the study of agenda-setting is the study of social change and of social stability.

3. Comparisons Among AgendaSetting Approaches

Agenda-setting has attracted a huge amount of research attention; it is an improved approach to understanding media effects. Cross-sectional hierarchy designs VS Longitudinal research designs

4. Cross-Sectional Hierarchy
One-point-in-time correlational comparisons between: the media content and the aggregated responses from the respondents surveyed about issue salience*
*salience = the state of being noticeable, visible, important.

5. Longitudinal Research
Over-time participant observation in media organizations; Analysis of quantitative variables (real-world indicators); Depth interviews with elites, surveys of public leaders; Analyses of congressional voting behaviour.

6. Advantages of Longitudinal over Cross-Sectional Research

It can determine the direction of influence of the agenda-setting process: whether media coverage precedes and influences the public opinion or viceversa. It can determine the strength of influence for different issues in media. It can distinguish between periods of time with either strong or weak media effects. Therefore, it enables the analysis of media effects at different points in the history of a certain issue.

7. Generalizations about Agenda-Setting

1) Over a certain period of time, different media place a similar salience on a set of issues it is not important what the media say about an issue, but how much they say about it. 2) Real-world indicators are relatively unimportant in setting the media agenda what seems to count more is the attention that organized networks of people can gather related to their framing of a problem, rather than the severity of it.

3) The agenda-setting process is one of social construction; clues from the media and the environment are interpreted in order to determine the salience of the issue agenda-setting is sometimes an emotional reaction to certain trigger events (tragic event, personal tragedy). 4) The White House, the New York Times and spectacular trigger events play a dominant role in putting an issue on the US media agenda nevertheless, these are not always sufficient.

Tragic events triggering further media pieces

5) Scientific research results do not play an important role in the agenda-setting process. 6) The position of an issue on the media agenda importantly determines the issues salience on the public agenda 60% of the 112 empirical studies of the agendasetting process reviewed by this book confirm this relationship, but only in this direction; there is less strong research evidence on the vice-versa link: does the public agenda influence the policy agenda?

7. Toward Disaggregation in Agenda-Setting Research

The term aggregation refers to the existence of a single approach to a central research problem. A powerful paradigm in any scientific specialty can be dangerous, leading to the over-standardization of the specialty and keeping it away from development.

In the case of agenda-setting research, it may have become overly stereotyped around the McCombs and Shaw paradigm, according to which the public opinion and policy are manufactured in a linear, onedimensional, assembly-line way. Criticism of this paradigm: it just tells people what data to collect without explaining their importance.

An important move toward disaggregation: the Erbring et al. study (1980): The researchers gathered personal interview data from a national sample of respondents (public agenda) and correlated it with the media agenda, which was content-analyzed. The respondents had actually read the concerned 94 newspapers. The researchers measured crime and unemployment rates in the communities of the respondents; no nationwide real-world indicators were used. The tendency to disaggregate consists in bringing the personal characteristics of the respondents to the analysis.

8. Research Questions for Future Study

Who else puts an issue on the national agenda? (influence between nations) What keeps an issue on the national agenda over a lengthy period of time? (Why does and issue drop down the agenda and disappear?) What is the nature of the private process of agenda-setting that often may occur prior to the public process that scholars typically observe? (tre use of case studies, participant observation, depth interviews etc.)

What is the role of an issue proponent in the agendasetting process? (charisma, celebrity) Do the proponents responsible for the policy agendasetting of one issue learn from prior experiences with the agenda-setting process for other issues? How is an issue framed, by whom, and with what regularity? To what degree is the agenda-setting process for an issue in the local community similar to what happens on a national scale for the same issue?

What is the end of the agenda-setting process? (Usually, a goal of the agenda-setting process is individual-level behaviour change: smoking cessation, recycling etc.) Why are some issues not resolved? (homelessness in the US) How does one issue compete for salience with another issue? Is the media agenda-setting process limited to news issues? (maybe entertainment and advertising should be given a role) How is the agenda-setting process in other nations different from the one in the US?

9. Multimethod Research Designs

systematic inquiries that combine several different data-gathering methods. Complementary multimethod approach: each method provides data about different but related research questions; Focused multimethod approach: each method provides different data in a strong test of the same hypothesis or research question.