Let Opinion Leaders Set Your Agenda

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Let Opinion Leaders Set Your Agenda


Byline: By RUSSELL LAWSON

We often hear the phrase bandied about, to 'set the agenda' for certain issues. These are usually issues that you want to be debated, a debate which, as an authority figure, you can lead.

If you can be seen as an authority figure on certain issues, then the ability to set an agenda can be a powerful business tool.

The term 'agenda-setting' was first used in a study of undecided voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and asked them what issues they were most concerned about in the coming (1968) election.

It found an almost perfect correlation between the types of stories that were covered most often and the voters' concern for the same issues.

Generally, subsequent studies seem to confirm that agenda- setting does in fact take place, and that media attention toward stories is the most important factor involved in shaping the public's view of the stories' relative importance. In fact, the mere number of times a story is repeated in the news will affect peoples' perception of the story's importance, regardless of what is said about the topic.

There are three types of agenda: the media agenda (print and broadcast), the public agenda (what the 'word on the street' is), and the policy agenda (usually to do with government policies).

Each one tends to affect the other, but the media agenda undoubtedly wields the most power when trying to drum up a debate.

But if you think agenda-setting is achieved simply by getting stories in the media, then I'm afraid you'll have to think again, and this is due in no small part to the US presidential election of 1940. This is when academics conducted the first full-scale investigation of the effects of political mass communication.

Their research was originally based on the simplistic 'hypodermic needle' model of media influence, where it was assumed that a message would be transmitted from the mass media to a 'mass audience', who would absorb the message, like an arm would absorb whatever was pumped into it by a hypodermic needle. …

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