Communication and Democracy: Exploring the Intellectual Frontiers in Agenda-Setting Theory

By Maxwell McCombs; Donald L. Shaw et al. | Go to book overview

1
Filling in the Tapestry:
The Second Level
of Agenda Setting

Salma Ghanem

More than two decades have passed since the original agenda-setting hypothesis was stated by McCombs and Shaw ( 1972), and scholars have published more than 200 articles weaving agenda-setting research into a rich theory ( Rogers, Dearing, & Bregman, 1993). Over these years this research has detailed the patterns in the transfer of issue salience from the media to the public, the contingent conditions for agenda setting, and influences on the media agenda. The underlying assumption for all three areas is that what is covered in the media affects what the public thinks about.

Agenda setting is now detailing a second level of effects that examines how media coverage affects both what the public thinks about and how the public thinks about it. This second level of agenda setting deals with the specific attributes of a topic and how this agenda of attributes also influences public opinion ( McCombs & Evatt, 1995).

In the abstract, every agenda consists of a set of objects. In turn, each of these objects possesses a set of attributes. For example, the agenda of issues examined in the original Chapel Hill study--and in numerous subsequent studies--is, in the abstract, a set of objects. In contrast, Benton and Frazier's ( 1976) examination of one object on the issue agenda, the economy, probed two sets of attributes: the specific problems, causes, and proposed solutions associated with this general issue; and the pro and con rationales for economic policies. Agenda setting is about more than issue or object salience.

This shift in emphasis does not negate the basic agenda-setting hypothesis, but rather builds on what already exists. It is one highway linking up with another

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