Walter Lippmann, a prominent American journalist and scholar from Harvard University was the first to analyze the impact of the media on people's perceptions. In 1922, Lippmann described in 'Public Opinion' that people did not respond directly to events in the real world but instead lived in a pseudo-environment composed of "the pictures in our heads". The media would play an important part in the furnishing of these pictures and shaping of this pseudo-environment.
According to the agenda-setting theory, first developed by Prof. Maxwell McCombs and Prof. Donald Shaw in their Chapel Hill study (1968), mass media set the agenda for public opinion by highlighting certain issues. Studying the way political campaigns were covered in the media, Shaw and McCombs found that the main effect of news media was agenda-setting, i.e. telling people not what to think, but what to think about. Agenda setting is usually referred to as a function of mass media and not a theory (McCombs & Shaw, 1972).
The theory explains the correlation between the rate at which media cover a story and the extent to which people think that this story is important. This correlation has been shown to occur repeateadly.
Agenda-setting is believed to occur because the press must be selective in reporting the news. News outlets act as gatekeepers of information and make choices about what to report and what not. What the public know and care about at any given time is mostly a by-product of media-gatekeeping.
The agenda-setting function is a 3 part-process:
1. Media Agenda - issues discussed in the media
2. Public Agenda - issues discussed and personally relevant to the public
3. Policy Agenda - issues that policy makers consider important
One of the debates between researchers is the questions of causality: does the media agenda cause the public agenda, or vice-versa? Iyengar and Kinder established causality with an experimental study where they identified that priming, vividness of presentation and position were all determinants of the importance given to a news story. However, the question of whether there is influence bv the public agenda upon the media agenda is open to question.
"Here may lie the most important effect of mass communication, its ability to mentally order and organize our world for us. In short, the mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about."
-Shaw & McCombs, 1977
Both Prof. Maxwell McCombs and Prof. Donald Shaw are members of Media Tenor's Advisory Board and continue to contribute to the development of applied agenda setting research.
|There was a perceptible difference between the coverage on the tsunami that hit South-East Asia in December 2004 and the earthquake that hit Pakistan in October 2005. The tsunami received far more extensive coverage in all countries analyzed in both television and print media which in turn affected people's behaviour in terms of private donations. Public were not aware of the need for help in the earthquake effected region of Pakistan. In Germany, for example, the tsunami received 666 reports in the three TV channels in comparison to 66 on the earthquake. These 666 reports contributed to private donations amounting to $USD178 million while only $USD8 million has been collected for the earthquake so far.|
|Agenda Setting effect allows prediction of the Consumer Confidence Index. Media Tenor's latest findings underline a direct correlation between consumer confidence and media coverage of the economy. An on-going comparative study by the Media Tenor Research Institute of these two economic indicators shows that in the US, trends in the Consumer Confidence Index trail behind media ratings of the economy by approximately one month. In its analysis, Media Tenor monitored media coverage of the economy on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX evening news. Applying a scientific and verifiable methodology, Media Tenor's research took into account all statements, forecasts and prognoses of the US economy, including assessments of business sentiments, investment and employment prospects. Media Tenor's on-going research on the correlation between the way in which leading media frame the economic situation and consumer confidence began in Germany and has subsequently expanded to include analysis of the economies in the US, UK, South Africa and the Czech Republic.|
|In the winter 2000/01, a surge of BSE stories on German TV news triggered a dramatic increase in public concern about this topic.|
After 3 months, just before summer (the „grill season“), media coverage died down. Public awareness subsequently declined at a similar rate.
|TV coverage of BSE did not only affect public awareness, but also consumer behavior: Beef consumption went down 71% in the wake of the intensive TV reporting.|
Even after the amount of negative reports diminished, the effects of the coverage about BSE lasted. After 9 months, beef sales finally began to recover.
|Media Tenor research institute compared the rating of the overall economic development in the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news with the Consumer Confidence Index. Confidence Index tends to follow the rating of the economic development with the lag of about one month. Before the U.S. elections, the three major networks pointed to the woes related to the further development of the U.S. economy. Consumers reduced expectations and consumer confidence dropped accordingly. However, beginning with August, the presentation started to be more positive and consumer confidence subsequently followed the TV rating.|
|Tourism is a key industry for Egypt and Media Tenor analysis show that negative reporting on Luxor incident (1997), in German media had a negative effect on this industry. Tourist from Germany to Egypt decline by 38 percent in the next year and as long the media stopped to report on this issue the number of tourist suddenly recover.|
|35 % of the people questioned by the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen stated in August 2000 that right wing extremism was the most important issue in Germany. This result followed a multitude of reports especially concerning a commuter train attack in Düsseldorf at the beginning of August, where right wing extremist motives were initially suspected.|