Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw – Agenda Setting
Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw – Agenda Setting
Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw first used the term “agenda-setting” during a study in 1972. In the study, the researchers interviewed 100 undecided voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and asked them what issues they were most interested about in the up coming election. Throughout a study the researchers found out that, there was a relationship between the media agenda and the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw came up with the concept that the press did indeed have the power, but the individual was free to choose. However, the concept that society is looking for guidance in establishing current events was not new. According to Bernard Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about”. The agenda setting theory evolved among communication researchers.

Agenda setting is a relational concept that specifies a transfer of significance from the media to the consumers. Agenda setting research has shown that there is a link between what the media deems important and public perception of current events. Agenda setting is a scientific theory because it depends on quantitative ways of research such as experiments and survey research. While humanistic theories depend on qualitative tools and are inductive. The agenda setting theory comes from a scientific perspective, because it hypothesizes that if people are exposed to the same media, they will place importance on the same issues.

A good example of agenda setting presently is the story of Natalee Holloway, the teenage girl who disappeared while on a school trip in Aruba. This story has been a hot topic in current news. There have been full-page color articles and top stories on news programs. It has been made clear that society should place this event as an important issue. While this event is of course a tragedy, many children are abducted throughout the world each day. Why is this girls story making headlines and not the others? Some people suggest it may be because she is an attractive Caucasian girl from Middle America. The media has had the public believing that the disappearance of this girl is extremely important and society as a whole should be concerned.

Agenda Setting has two levels. The first level enacts the common subjects that are most important, and the second level decides what parts of the subject are important. These two levels of agenda setting lead into what is the function of this concept. This concept is process that is divided into three parts according to Rogers and Dearing(1993). The first part of the process is the importance of the issues that are going to be discussed in the media. Second, the issues discussed in the media have an impact over the way the public thinks, this is referred as public agenda. In the end, the public agenda influences the policy agenda.

Agenda-setting theory makes a good objective theory because it does a good job of predicting future events. The back-to-the-basics approach to mass communication hypothesis predicts a cause-and-effect relationship between media content and voter perception. Agenda setting theory does well in explaining how the media affects the way people perceive events.

Researchers can predict how the public is going to react to the medias news by how they have reacted in the past. Although many studies explore the conditions under which the media priorities are most influential, the theory succeeds or fails on its ability to show a match between the medias agenda and the publics agenda later on. The media depends on the public to react to their stories and think about the news that they reveal to the public. If the media predicts that a story is not going to concern the public, then they are not going to cover that story.

Agenda setting is a simple theory to understand. Simplicity is important in determining if the theory is useful. The theory states that whatever the public is concerned about, the media has an effect on what they think about it.

Hypothesis made in agenda setting can be tested. The hypothesis that McCombs and Shaw have come up with is that people would give attention only to news and views that did not threaten their established beliefs. Agenda setting emphasizes the power of the press while still maintaining that individuals have free will. This theory is tested everyday when people watch the news, listen to the radio or pick up a newspaper. Every time the public reacts to a story that the media gives them, the media knows what types of stories the public likes to hear.

The people that are most affected by this theory are the people that are willing to let the media shape their thinking and have a high need for orientation. Agenda setting explains

Get Your Essay

Cite this page

Agenda-Setting And Media Agenda. (April 2, 2021). Retrieved from