Agenda Setting Theory

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Walter Lippmann first introduced the agenda-setting theory in 1922. He believed it bridged “The outside world and the pictures in our head.” This theory is still used today to analyze and study news media. The theory suggests that the media selects the topics and have the ability to influence the importance placed on these topics.

With everything that has been thrown our way in the year 2020, the agenda-setting theory is more prevalent than ever. News networks are incentivized by personal interests to make certain stories and topics appear more than others and at the same time have the power to censor anything they do not want the public to know about. How does this affect us as an audience? It causes us, the viewers, to think the issues and topics that are repeatedly presented in the news are the most important. The media does not dictate what we think of the stories but it does influence what we think about and what is most relevant in today's society. For example in the news today we are bombarded with news about protests around the nation, the election coming up, and the current virus outbreak known as Covid-19. Does this mean these are the only issues that matter right now? or those topics are more important than all these others? No of course not, but the media has the power of pushing these topics on us to get the public talking about these issues as if they are the most important in today's society. They decide topics that fit their agenda and push the stories out to the public, acting as the gatekeepers of stories.

According to PBS.org, there are five media conglomerates today that have ownership of 90 percent of the media. Before the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which consolidated media ownership, over 50 corporations made up the majority of ownership in America’s media. The article goes on to say that these corporations that are increasingly responsible for what information is shared are beginning to rapidly branch out internationally. These 5 media giants described as “cartels” wield enough power and influence to change U.S politics and define social values. With this immense amount of control on the line, these conglomerates are incentivized to keep growing their power. As viewers, we must take many considerations into effect when watching these networks. We have to look carefully at what these stations are showing and question why they are pushing certain topics onto us and if what they're claiming is trustworthy or biased.

A great example that came to mind when thinking of agenda-setting theory is the 1998 scandal of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The media exploded with top news headlines and covered the controversial situation for years. The media influenced the mindset of the public so much that it resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I’m not justifying the former president's actions at all but this example exhibits how the media uses its agenda-setting to push out news the top executives believe is most newsworthy. The media is not responsible for making information but is able to change the priority of the information in the public mindset. This was breaking news at the time but the length for which it was covered and the intensity of how the media treated Monica, a 21-year-old recent college graduate at the time, was completely unnecessary. Other pressing topics that should have had more attention were suppressed by the media, like the gay Wyoming student, that was fatally beaten and tortured in a hate crime. This topic should've caused more outcry in the public compared to Bill Clinton's sex scandal but instead was barely covered in the media, in return, Mathew Shepard's story was a lost cause by the end of the year while Bill’s story was continued to be covered for years to come. The power of the media is underestimated and we as viewers need to become more informed and educated on the effects the media has on us.