Bernard in selecting the issues to be read

Bernard Cohen
(1963) is generally credited with refining Lipmann’s ideas into the theory
Agenda Setting as he argues that media is, most of the times, successful in
telling people what to think about. He writes:

“The press is
significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion … It may not be successful
much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly
successful in telling its readers what to think about. And it follows from this
that the world looks different to different people, depending not only on their
personal interests, but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers,
editors, and publishers of the papers they read” (p. 13).

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From here, we can
argue that the media plays a significant role in deciding for us the prominence
of the issues and dominant events that take place as it can significantly affect
the choices we make in selecting the issues to be read or scrutinized. Reporters,
editors, writers, and publishers of the newspapers talk and write about the facts
and figures which they think are important, consequently determining the news for
all readers which will be most talked about and to which people will respond.

Norton Long (1958)
wrote:

“In a sense, the
newspaper is the prime mover in setting the territorial agenda, it has a great
part in determining what most people will be talking about, what most people will
think the facts are and what most people will regard as the way problems are to
be dealt with.” 

In 1959, Kurt and
Lang wrote that the mass media force attention to certain issues. They build up
public images of political figures.  They
are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individual in the mass should
think about, know about, and have feelings about. The role of the mass media in
building the agenda is that the media first highlights some events, activities,
groups, personalities, and so forth to make them stand out. Different kinds of
issues require different amount and kinds of coverage to gain attention, which
will focus the attention of the people to what to think about. Media can play up
or down a situation or an event in order to call for attention and focus (priming).
While framing is next level of agenda setting where the object and the focus of
attention is framed according to the meanings and frames (implicit and explicit)
media attaches to the situation, problem or concern which is now already in the
centre of attention or focus among the public (Lang, 1959).

These early
writings became the basis of the modern-day Agenda Setting Theory, laid out
empirically in 1972 by Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald Shaw in their research, in
what came to be known as Chapel Hill Study. Their interpretation goes in great
detail in explaining how agenda setting function is carried out by the media and
it is closely related to the political landscape around the world. They argue
that in choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters
play an important role in constructing and shaping political reality for readers.
By the amount of the information and its position in a news story, readers not
only learn about a given issue, but they also learn how much importance they can
and should attach to that issue, hence prioritizing some issues while leaving
out other kinds and amounts of information. Thus, important issues are well determined
by the mass media—that is, the media sets the ‘agenda’ of the campaign (McCombs
& Shaw, 1972). In their study, they found out an incredibly strong
correlation between the issues identified by the public as most important to
the agenda on part of the news media.  They
named this ‘transfer of salience’ of issues from the media to the public “the
agenda setting influence of mass communication”. This was an intriguing and straightforward
study in the history of Agenda Setting Theory, which presented both the strengths
and limitations of agenda setting as a theory of media effects. McCombs and Shaw
had been successful in pointing out the important relationship between media
reports and public issues, but on the negative side, the logic of agenda setting
seemed well suited for the news and campaigns, but what about other kinds of content
and other kinds of effects. Their study lacked the question of the actual
nature of the relationship between news and its audience. Maybe the public sets
the media’s agenda and then the media reinforce it. The McCombs and Shaw
analysis, like most early agenda-setting research, implies a direction of
influence from media to audience —that is, it implies causality. But the
argument that the media are simply responding to their audiences can be easily
made. Few journalists have not uttered at least once in their careers, “We only
give the people what they want.” McCombs (1981) himself acknowledged these
limitations.

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