Agenda-Setting Theory in Mass Media


In 1963, Bernard Cohen took a look at foreign policy and the mass media in his book, The Press and Mass Media. Cohen contended that the media “may not be successful much of the time telling people what to think, but is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. And it follows from this that the world looks different to people, depending on not only personal interest, but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers, editors, and publishers of the papers they read” (cited in Miller, 2002).

A few years later in North Carolina two professors mirrored the same views of Cohen and conducted a study entitle The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). To this day the study conducted here is considered to be the most accredited study on the agenda setting function of the mass media. This study took a look at the 1968 presidential election and the media coverage that came with it.

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They took in consideration the amount of time the media gave particular issues in which the candidates faced such issues as civil rights and welfare.

McCombs and Shaw (1972) conducted the study by asking 100 undecided voters which issues they thought were important. Seeing what the public agenda was the study found very strong correlations with the public agenda and the mass media agenda. The candidates did do their usual finger pointing, but what the public thought was important was they issues they read or heard about through the different channels of the mass media (1972).

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The Artifact In the fall of 1988, I started elementary school. My life strongly revolved around my family, traditions, and my native language.

During this time these were indeed important to me. To this day I still hold true too some of those beliefs instilled in me at a young age. Starting school was my first contact with the world in which I am familiar with today. In fact the first year of elementary school was an extreme culture shock due to the amount of diversity I was introduced to. However, I did manage to adapt and some of the new ideas and methods of living I learned during this period have become instilled in my daily life. It was the summer of 1991 in which I first started to pay attention to the media.

One particular day a friend of mine somehow smuggled a copy of the latest Rolling Stone magazine in class. The article was my first real introduction to the world of Hip-hop. I wanted to know more, I thought since it was in a magazine such as Rolling Stone it must be pretty important. This music was rather addicting to me as well as other members of my family who were about the same age. We all took up this culture immensely fast. One of the reasons we were able to immerse ourselves in this culture is because it is all we saw and read.

Due to the violent nature of the music it was always talked about in the news, and since it was so popular in the culture of that day, it was shown around the clock on MTV. It wasn’t to long before we even started to dress and talk like the people we saw and heard. Since this was the only culture we saw and heard by the mass media, we all began to abandon our own cultures and beliefs, for we felt that this was more important, since we lived it every day. None of us really took heed to it, but the media was indeed showing and telling us what and how to think.

Since we weren’t bombarded with our culture anymore, we fed off the media and found another. Analysis of Artifact To start with, there are many reasons why Native American culture hasn’t been a part of the mass media’s agenda. One of these was written about by Mary Weston in her book, Native Americans in the News: Images in the Twentieth Century Press. The number of Native Americans in the newsrooms are very slim, in fact almost nothing at all. For this reason there in hardly any mention of these people in the main stream media (1996).

This makes it easier for native people to start to stray from the ways in which they were taught and also makes it easier for their beliefs to be changed. Many times the only things printed about Native Americans is either negative or deal with the numerous stereotypes that are common. This makes a great deal of Native Americans not care about what is written about them. Some tribes have seen the decline of their culture because of the mass media and have decided to do something about it.

According the thesis of Ellen Nelson-Dufrey, A study of Indian use in Modern Mass Media, One tribe decided to change the way mass media portrayed them by getting involved. In the early 1970’s the Pueblo Tribe of New Mexico received a grant for the funding of a radio station. The programming was educational based on the tribe’s culture. Although this station didn’t succeed and eventually went off the air, it was a milestone for native tribes everywhere. Since then many tribes have taken the initiative to the use the mass media to get their views expressed (1983).

Many tribes have started up their own newspapers containing cultural and political information, which are circulated throughout the tribes. Many of these papers have had some success in preserving the culture of the tribes, but the more dominant mass media is continuing to take its toll. Conclusion This paper viewed the Agenda Setting theory and how the media decides what we think about. Most of the research today is accredited to the Study of Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, which showed correlation between issues printed and what voters thought.

This paper also took a look at how this theory can be attributed to the current decline of Native American culture of this theory by the mass media. Although some tribes have taken on the initiative to use the mass media for their benefit, cultures such as these will continue to decline until readers and listeners of the numerous channels of the mainstream mass media see them as important.

References Cohen, B. C. (1963). The press and Foreign Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Lippman, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt Brace. 13. McCombs, M. Shaw, D. L. (1972).The Agenda Setting Function of the Mass Media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-185. Miller, Katherine. (2002) Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts. Boston: McGraw Hill. 257-264. Nelson-Dufrey, Ellen. (1983).

A study of American Indian Use of Mass Media. M. L. S. thesis. University of Oklahoma. 42. Rogers, E. M. , Dearing, J. W. , & Bregman, D. (1993) The anatomy of agenda-setting research. Journal of Communication, 43, 68-84. Weston, Mary Ann. (1996). Native Americans in the News: Images of Indians in the Twentieth Century Press. London: Greenwood Press. 153-166.

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Agenda-Setting Theory in Mass Media. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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