Agenda-Setting Theory a.k.a. the media’s to-do list

I’m quite confident all of us have experienced the agenda-setting theory, whether we realize it or not. This is a tactic used by the media to raise the awareness and perceived importance of an issue in the minds of viewers. Through repeated news coverage on tv, radio, and now social media, this is entirely possible. This does not translate to the media telling us HOW to feel about an issue, but WHAT issues to think about.

It’s unclear how much of an impact the news’ framing has on an individual in relation to the agenda-setting theory. For example, most news stations are focusing on the political election and many of those stations have a reputation for “leaning” toward a political party in its sentiment. If someone from the opposite party watches a segment, it does not mean they’ll be swayed by the messaging, but they will be influenced in what topics should be deciding factors for us as voters, according to the agenda-setting theory.

I sat down to watch my local news station and the agenda-setting theory in action. Turns out, I got really lucky. On this same day, Trump was scheduled to arrive just 30 minutes away from me for a “Make America Great Again” rally in Ocala, Florida. The station gave the facts of the rally and how it’s affecting traffic. It showed B-roll of individuals crowding around the area and an interview by someone who supports Trump. The station then contrasted this coverage with a segment about Biden and his tour activities in Florida. Both segments touched on COVID-19 precautions and how each candidate is “counting down the days.” The station did a great job of remaining unbiased and showcasing both parties, however, it emphasized the importance of COVID-19 precautions, as many large stations are doing as well. You could argue since Trump’s campaign has the reputation for disregarding COVID-19 precautions it was leaning one way, but in the tangible words and footage the station utilized, it was not biased.

Another issue covered was placing a halt on new land development in historically black communities. City commissioners are asking for more time, despite land development pressure from the University of Florida, to analyze new data they’ve received. This comes after a presentation given that included statistics of a steady population rise in the areas. They need to see more proof that displacement is taking place because of the development of student housing before continuing. The station highlighted the importance of this specific issue and displacement in general.

The newscast also featured the arrest of an international UF Ph.D. student on child pornography charges. There isn’t much (if any) debate that this arrest is deserved, but the station simply focused on the facts. Out of all the arrests recently made, it decided to focus on this one and set the agenda to raise awareness of the issue of child pornography.

These are all examples of how the media has the power to influence our priorities and assign importance levels to issues in society. This consequentially has an influence on what issues are solved with policy and how long-term change is sustained.

Modernized Mobile Marketing Director | UF CJC Master’s Student