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Agenda-Setting Theory: The Media and Salience (Research Paper Sample)


literature review on Agenda-Setting Theory: The Media and Salience


Agenda-Setting Theory 
Institutional affiliation
Agenda-Setting Theory: The Media and Salience
Since the origin of mass media, the concept of agenda-setting and bias has always been discussed on numerous occasions. These cries have intensified in recent decades as more and more researchers weigh in on the issue. Since communication is a process that takes a linear form, the same applies to the mass media. A complicated relationship exists between the media and the public of whom may not be aware of the bias. It led to some researchers digging deeper into the content to come up with evidence to support their claims.
Literature Review
In 1963, Cohen was one of the first researchers to notice that the media outlets were directly influencing the public's thought process through the information they disseminated. This signature research has for decades guided many studies of media bias (Cohen, 1963). This research offered empirical evidence on the influence the media had on the masses. This research refuted the research by Lazarsfeld and Hovland in the 1940s through to the 1960s. That research had outlined that the media had limited effects on influencing the masses' opinions. McCombs and Shaw’s research on the political process of North Carolina’s voters who were undecided on the president they wanted to vote for between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. They discovered that there was a close correlation between the issues the media was making most salient and the issues the public deemed important. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). The discovery of agenda-setting theory has delivered an unappalled groundwork for quantitative and qualitative research of media bias. It can be observed in all media fields; print, voice, and electronic media.
Guided by this research by Siune and Borre, which was the first major study on the impact of media on the political process. The study was done starting from the campaigning period to the final election (Siune and Borre, 1975). They began by observing, recording, and comparing the news aspects publicized on the Danish media on the Election campaigns. As a result of this research, they noticed that the issues publicized were similar to the public's interest and the emerging political issues at the time. Siune and Borre discovered that the contents of the economy, politics, and tax were parallel to the content the media was communicating. They also discovered that some issues of public interest received low media attention. Issues related to social problems, culture, environmental conservation, race, and education are mostly ignored (Siune and Borre, 1975). The works of Siune and Borre strengthened the validity of agenda-setting theory, and in the recent past, more and more research has been put into this theory in numerous scholarly works of literature (2009). This literature review will evaluate the three main types of agenda-setting in today’s society. They include salience, Entman’s definition of bias, and applications of agenda-setting theory.
Three components of Agenda-setting
Dearing and Rogers (1996) described agenda-setting in three components; media, public, and policy. Media agenda-setting focuses on mass and electronic media. The public agenda-setting focuses on topics that affect the public, and policy agenda-setting is a collection of media and public agenda (Dearing & Rogers, 1996). Tan and Weaver (2007) conducted longitudinal research providing more evidence that increased the credibility and supported McCombs and Shaw's argument that media agenda-setting can influence policy. In their paper titled "Agenda-Setting Effects among the Media, the Public, and Congress, 1946-2004” published in the Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly they concluded that the media could influence the decision of Congress and the public to some degree (Tan & Weaver, 2007).
Salience. At any given time issues, are being discussed by the media, for example, issues like abortion, gun rights, privacy rights, and many more are given more airplay in various media outlets in print, television, and online. These issues are often discussed within the populations around areas that affect them the most. However, some important issues are being neglected, implying that some content is more important than others. This further influences the policymakers as they do not like bad publicity, especially when elections are involved. According to Doris Graber, most people relate the content affecting society to the content they see more often on media sources (2002).
The advent of electronic media and the internet has reduced this trend and brought to light most of the issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed due to media bias. It has reduced the media influence to some degree but the credibility of the information is still questionable, and hence a majority of the population still prefers the mainstream media as a credible source of information. However small the impact is today, it is still increasing as more information is easily assessable electronically. In the long run, some of these small news outlets operating online may have an increased impact on public opinion (Graber, 2002).
Entman’s bias definitions. Agenda-setting theory was strengthened further by Ethman when he raised the issue of journalistic bias. The issues surrounding the motivations and mindsets of journalists towards the selection of media content (2007). Firstly, the bias in the journalists in presenting some content more and ignoring others creates the idea that some issues are more salient than others. It is a form of conscious bias as the producers and journalists decide the type of information shared with the public. Secondly, in addition to this bias caused by journalists, there is also a distortion bias. The distortion bias is the type of bias that distorts or misrepresents reality (Ethman, 2007). Due to the existing media moral ethics, this type of bias is rarely used because of the potential repercussion to the media houses if this is realized (Morris, 2007). Finally, the third type of bias is focused on the content these media houses present to the public. According to Ethman (2007), content bias does not give the complete picture of the content but focuses on one aspect of those issues instead of presenting the comprehensive account of both sides of a story.
Applying Agenda-Setting Theory to three types of bias. After an in-depth observation of the types of bias used in agenda-setting, it is evident how each form of bias can influence public opinion. With this knowledge, one can analyze specific media stories and make conclusions on the types of bias used. Moreover, the knowledge gained on how media bias can be applied to assess news stories confirming whether conscious bias exists. In a nutshell, these three forms of bias are not exhaustive and more areas could potentially be created. This dynamism demonstrates how agenda-setting theory can evolve and infiltrate numerous media outlets without even being detected.
Priming and Framing. The research on agenda-setting theory is incomplete without looking at its relationship with 'priming' and framing. Most researchers consider 'priming' and framing to be synonymous with agenda-setting theory. Moreover, 'Priming' is even considered by some as an extension of agenda-setting theory. According to Scheufele and Tewksbury (2007), the main reason why 'priming' is associated with agenda-setting theory is that some media houses advise the public to use specific issues as benchmarks for credibility and evaluation of the information given to them. It reduces their ability to make independent decisions since they are programmed to think in a certain way. This use of a memory-based model of evaluating information may make some people oblivious of some important issues affecting them and focus on the things presented to them through the media (Scheufele and Tewksbury, 2007). On the other hand, framing is concerned with the public thought of some issue of the story. The main distinction between agenda-setting and framing is that framing does not disclose some aspects of an issue while agenda-setting hardly presents them as a whole and in some instances omits them altogether.
Case Study
The literature review discussed three types of agenda-setting theory bias; editorial bias, distortion bias, and content bias. Distortion bias is hardly used because of the potential repercussions if identified. In the case study part, we will focus on the main two types of bias and assess their impact on public policy and decision using real-life cases.
Editorial or Journalistic Bias. James N. Druckman and Michael Parkin, both from recognized universities in the United States of America, researched to establish the effects of the content of editorial bias in media's agenda-setting process. In their findings titled 'The Impact of Media Bias: How Editorial Slant Affects Voters’ published in The Journal of Politics in November of 2005, they detail the extent to which their bias influenced voter decisions. The research on the Minnesota State senatorial campaigns. They were covered in both, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspapers. The subsequent campaigns were dominated by the Republican and the democratic political parties. The Republican candidate was Rod Grams, and the Democratic candidate was Mark Dayton. Rod Grams, who was considered the most vulnerable incumbent candidate was defending his senatorial seat while Dayton sought to replace him (Druckman & Parkin, 2005).
Druckman and Parkin scrutinized the reader demographics and market reach on both newspapers before st...

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