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A discussion of agenda-setting theory & practical application of AST to Public Relations

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Stephanie P.
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  1. Introduction.
    1. The agenda-setting theory (AST).
    2. The media influencing the public's awareness of events.
    3. Richard K. Fox - editor of the National Police Gazette.
  2. The publication of 'Public Opinion.'
    1. Motion pictures and unacceptable behavior.
    2. The strong effects model (SEM).
    3. The limited effects model (LEM).
  3. The work of McCombs and Shaw.
  4. Study by Hugel (1989) - four conditions that affect the success of media agenda-setting.
    1. Need for orientation.
    2. Interpersonal communication.
    3. Real-world cues.
    4. Issue sensitivity and quality.
  5. The agenda-setting theory.
  6. Conclusion.

The agenda-setting theory (AST) alludes to the ability of the mass media to transfer the salience of items on their news agendas to the public agenda. AST is a dynamic and complicated phenomenon that was first hypothesized and measured by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw during the 1968 presidential election. But, the formation of the theory is built upon the history of the correlation between the media and public ordering of priorities and the mass communications theories that preceded it. In order to fully understand AST, the intellectual journey that was partaken by McCombs and Shaw (along with extensions and criticisms of the theory), it is necessary to recognize what came before AST. To quote Aristotle, ?if you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.?

[...] (1989) Structural Equation Models for the Analysis of the Agenda-setting Process. European Journal of Communication Sage: London. Kamieniecki, Sheldon. (2000). Testing Alternative Theories of Agenda Setting: Forest Policy Change in British Columbia, Canada. Policy Studies Journal pp.176-89. Lippmann, Walter. (1922) Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan. Loka, S. (1994). Issue Definitions, Agenda Building, and Policymaking. Policy Currents pp.13-39. Maher, T. Michael. (1977). Media Framing and Public Perception of Environmental Causality. Southwestern Mass Communication Journal pp.61- 73. McCombs, M. E., & Ghanem, S. [...]


[...] Two basic assumptions are at the heart of AST; the media does not reflect reality, they filter and shape it; and media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues. The agenda-setting function of the media can be seen as the media setting the dinner table for dinner guests (the public); presenting certain dishes in a way that makes the guests place more importance on consumption of those items (such as a huge turkey with all the fixings on an expensive platter) and less importance on consumption or rejection of food items that are not presented in the same manner ( for example, grandma's fruitcake wrapped in tin foil and hidden behind the mashed potatoes). [...]


[...] As these examples show, for as long as there has been a mass media, there has existed the possibility of the mass media not only reporting the news, but telling the public what to think about the issues that are being reported. McCombs and Shaw were also not the first to recognize and write of the influential power of the media. In 1922, Pulitzer-prize winner Walter Lippmann published Public Opinion, with a chapter titled World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads.? Lippmann's thesis is that the news media are a primary source of the pictures in our heads about the vast external world of public affairs that is of reach, out of sight, out of mind? (Lippmann p. [...]

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