The Public and the National Agenda: How People Learn about Important Issues

The Public and the National Agenda: How People Learn about Important Issues

The Public and the National Agenda: How People Learn about Important Issues

The Public and the National Agenda: How People Learn about Important Issues


graduate level journalism, public opinion, poli sci, sociology. Goes with the McCombs agenda-setting books; especially intended as companion to Communication and Democracy.


More than a decade ago (actually, the year was 1985), I was first introduced to the concept of agenda setting in a graduate-level mass communication theory course taught by Professor James Tankard, Jr. at the University of Texas. It was here that I first heard the hypothesis that, through their coverage of issues, mass media give the public salience cues regarding the relative importance of these issues.

My initial reaction was: No kidding. As a former newspaper copy editor and page designer, I was often in charge of deciding which issues were deserving of prominent display and which issues were to be ignored. It was our job as journalists to tell the public what was important. We had a different term than agenda setting for this notion, however. We called it news judgment. Nonetheless, I found the concept of agenda setting intriguing, logical and important.

To my good fortune, Maxwell McCombs joined the University of Texas faculty less than a year later. Under his mentoring, I learned that agenda setting was a much more complex process than a simple, linear relationship between an information producer and an information consumer.

The years have passed, and the learning process continues. This book is the culmination of my research up to the present. It details several studies that attempted to examine agenda setting from the news consumers'standpoint.

The following pages detail what I think is very practical research. Indeed, agenda setting has always been a very practical area of research to me, ever since my first reaction linking it to journalistic news judgment.

In general, the research here supports the notion that individuals are active processors of mass media messages, a conclusion that will be repeated throughout the book. Again, this conclusion seems very logical and practical. Individuals decide how and why they use the news media. Thus, individuals determine, to a large degree, the magnitude of agenda-setting effects that they will display based on their backgrounds, attitudes, and actions.

The research here, then, combines agenda setting with uses and gratifications research. These two areas form a natural link. This book looks at the mental processing of issue salience cues at several stages. The first two chapters form the theoretical background for the agendasetting projects from which the data were gathered. Chapter 1 provides a look at the historical circumstances from which agenda setting emerged. Chapter 2 details the methodology employed, including an explanation of the survey sites and the agenda-setting susceptibility measure that forms the basis of the subsequent analyses.

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