Agenda-setting theory describes the "ability [of the news media] to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda." Essentially, the theory states that the more salient a news issue is — in terms of frequency and prominence of coverage — the more important news audiences will regard the issue to be.
Noelle states that on a Controversial Issue, people form impressions about the distribution of public opinion. They try to determine whether they are in the majority, and then they try to determine whether public opinion is changing to agree with them.
Mihaela Vorvoreanu introduced me to another theory: intermedia agenda-setting, the process of one medium influencing the importance of issues within another medium, for example there is research that demonstrates the press is being influenced by blogs, and research that blogs being influenced by the press. A lot of research has been conducted to find correlations between political campaign news releases, political advertising and blogs.
We have seen that news coverage of the Ethyl controversy in the leading newspapers of New York city -- the Times , the World\, the Herald Tribune, the Journal and the the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, presented both the industry and the public health side of the story. Yale professor Yandell Henderson, recognized as an expert by industry scientists and public health scientists, had seen a potential danger to the public. For the news media to ignore his views and print nothing in the "public interest" (as a Standard Oil spokesman requested) would have been unthinkable and irresponsible. Certainly, all industry spokesmen had a chance to present their side of the story, and in all but the World newspaper, they successfully obtained the largest portion of the copy.
The term agenda implies a plan for action and an actor implementing that plan. An agenda suggests a willful subject, the actor engaged in the agenda, and objects, those activities meant to be done. There is something which must be done by some agent, whether a person, a group, or an organization. We speak of a national agenda. In the field of public policy, legislative bodies, which make policy, and executive departments, which implement policy, all have agenda. So somebody is planning to act on something. Agenda are concrete and dynamic, not mere abstractions. Agenda are actively constructed commitments.
Another weakness of agenda-setting research has been its traditional bias toward aggregate-level analyses of public opinion. As Iyengar (1988) pointed out, individuals are not passive consumers of media messages, but they interpret, elaborate on, and evaluate information within an existing network of knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and personal experiences.
The agenda-setting theory says that because of newspapers, television, and other news media, people are aware or not aware, pay attention to or neglect, play up or downgrade specific features of the public scene.
People tend to include or exclude from their cognitions what the media include or exclude from their content. People also tend to assign an importance to what they include that closely resembles the emphasis
given to events, issues, and persons by the mass media.
The evidence from scores of such public agenda-setting studies is mixed. But on the whole it tends to support a positive correlation —and often a causal relationship — between media agendas and public agendas at the aggregate (or group) level. This is especially true for relatively unobtrusive issues that do not directly impact the lives of most people, such as foreign policy and government scandal.
Who is most susceptible to media agenda-setting influence? The question has important implications for both scholarly research and the democratic process...sophisticated segments of the audience.
Agenda setting claims that audiences obtain this salience of the issues from the news media, incorporating similar sets of priorities into their own agendas. Agenda setting describes the transmission of these saliencies as one of the most important aspects of mass communication. The news media not only inform us about the world at large, giving us the major elements for our pictures of the world, they also influence the prominence of those elements in these pictures.
The media tends to follow trends and thus “surfs” on the wave of topics originally mentioned in the opinion-leading media. Tracking all of the articles in opinion-media thus enables prediction of the stories that are going to be covered by the media in general in the near future, as well as prediction of the stories that are dying out. The Agenda Surfing effect can help you to place the right stories in the right media at the right time.