Public Opinion, the Press, and Public Policy

By J. David Kennamer | Go to book overview

5
Who Sets the Media Agenda? The Ability of Policymakers to Determine News Decisions

Dan Berkowitz

Who sets the media agenda? Nobody really. Most literally, the news agenda is not "set" in the same way that the agenda-setting tradition considers the transferral of a set of issue priorities from the mass media to the public mind. Instead, the creation of a news agenda is the result of a process that depends on much more than a loosely linked transferral of one group's priorities to another. A more useful question then becomes, "How does the news agenda take shape?," which is followed by the question, "What is the ability of policymakers to influence news decisions?"

When considering the impact of policymakers on the news agenda, the focus is actually on a portion of a larger group called news sources, who supply news items and story information to journalists. Put most simply, news sources exert a stronger influence over the news agenda than do journalists. Over and over, studies have found that sourceoriginated stories comprise the majority of a newspaper's or television station's news mix. Further, policymakers have been found to be even more influential than the overall group of news sources.

The journalistic tenet of objectivity is largely responsible for this source influence, because it requires a journalist to attribute information to a legitimated source before it can pass muster as "objective" ( Entman, 1989; Schudson, 1978; Tuchman, 1978). Objective journalists, then, cannot work from their own priorities for what should be news. Instead,

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