Is Agenda-setting a Magic Bullet?

“…the mass media set the agenda for each political campaign, influencing the salience of attitudes toward the political issues.”
McCombs & Shaw, 1972

According to a research conducted by McCombs and Shaw (1972), media emphasis on different campaign issues tended to affect voters’ judgment of the salience of various campaign issues, which manifested agenda-setting function of news media.

Agenda setting refers to media practice that distinguishes between major issues and minor issues by distributes its resources (e.g. the amount of imformation, staff, headlines) differently to various events and topics. The selection and arrangement is based on certain news value criteria, which derive from daily practice and the knowledge of audiences’ appetite.

Daily briefing is a common form of agenda setting practice in news media. Here is an example from CNN’s official Twitter account:

CNN listed 5 events that their editors believed were of the greatest importance. Political activities (and other events related to elite persons), international (sport) events and natural disasters (and other negative news) are commonly acknowledged as newsworthy. Although in some cases news media is severely biased, they have basic consensus on news value. (McCombs & Shaw, 1972)

Another example is from @Reuters:

Despite the news events, this news agency also attached importance to information and story about their sponsor brand, Amazon, which indicates that agenda setting process does not merely depend on news value.

However, McCombs and Shaw’s study (1972) also proved that audiences had composite understanding about media contents. That is to say, agenda-setting practice has limited influence on audiences. It reminds politicians who utilize the agenda-setting function of the significance of monitoring and analyzing audiences’ media use, as knowledge about their real preference helps seize potential supporters.



McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. (1972). The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176.

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Set Your Own Agenda

The media has an impact on people’s understanding of society. In Agenda-setting theory, the mass media can influence people’s attention to events through the information the mass media provide and the topics they organize (University of Twente, 2018). Of course, more and more clever audiences will not be completely dominated by the mass media. The […]

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Politicians – Drop the name calling and tell us what you stand for

  Today’s political world and media world are locked in constant battle debating what’s “fake news” and what isn’t. Instead of spending time reading the news for information about a politician’s platform, the public is now spending time trying to decipher who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody […]

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Media Richness & Advice to the New Administration

When considering media richness, it’s important to consider the chart published in the 1983 publication of the paper “Information Richness. A New Approach to Managerial Behavior and and Organizational Design” that depicts the Information Medium and its level of Information Richness. At the time of publication, social media did not exist, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a specific information medium as listed at the time. If given its own medium, it would likely be above “numeric formal,” but below “written, formal documents.” However, we must consider that the mediums of social media can be both personal or broad in their breadth.

The paper states that it’s premise is “that organizational success is based on the organization’s ability to process information of appropriate richness &, reduce uncertainty and clarify ambiguity.”

While “low variety languages” were considered by Daft and Wiginton to be those used to communicate “effectively about well-understood, unambiguous topics,” it seems that the Trump administration’s use of twitter both during the campaign and since taking office have relied on low variety languages to communicate with their millions of followers. This method seems to have hit a successful note with his die-hard fans, but in order to win over the rest of Washington and the nation, he’s going to need to produce a lot more quality content than simply posting defensive tweets every time someone is critical of him. Examples:

If I were advising his team on social media based on the media richness theory, I would suggest letting the President’s actions speak for themselves through his behavior and acts, if he truly wants to “Make America Great Again.” Documenting these, and starting conversations over the real underlying issues is what will give us media rich content that is not confusing and misleading to the public.

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