Let’s Talk About…Agenda Setting

The news is EVERYWHERE. It runs 24 hours a day on dedicated channels, it’s online and it’s on our phones curtesy of social media (i.e Twitter) and specialised news apps.


Having studied journalism, I like to follow the news pretty closely, watching it in the morning when I get up and checking newspaper websites throughout the day.

Also because of my degree, I’ve had to research the practices of journalists and their associated outlets – and it was during my research into the 2009 swine flu pandemic that I came across the theory of agenda setting.

What is agenda setting?

Sounds slightly sinister doesn’t it? Well, if used with ulterior motives, it can be. Put simply, agenda setting is the ability of news media to alter public perceptions of issues and even influence the public agenda. The more a topic is covered, the more important it will become to its readers and eventually, the wider public.


As this nifty picture shows, agenda setting can not only alter our opinions, but can alter how we see an opinion. Scary stuff right?

When it comes to health journalism (my area of expertise at uni), we all want to be aware of what could ‘hurt’ us and what could ‘save’ us – so agenda setting can be pretty easy.

Here in the UK, the newspapers are notoriously political and divided into tabloids and broadsheets, so they will obviously attempt to promote their particular interests within their readership. See what I meant when I mentioned ulterior motives?

Just about any topic imaginable can become an example of agenda setting if it’s reported enough. The obvious topics are of course, politicssocial issueshealth and economics and we have all, at some point, had our thoughts and opinions influenced by the media in some way.

Does agenda setting ever stop?

In the long run, no, agenda setting never stops as a whole. But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that when the news stops reporting on a certain issue, the public always follows suit. This is because sometimes agenda setting can backfire.

If a topic is over reported, people may actually grow tired it (loss of novelty) – and that’s when the agenda can no longer be set. To make up for this, the news may try to find a new angle to report on, or it will simply move on to the next topic. But, either way, the news will not stop setting the agenda, particularly when it is bias in certain issues.

Will social media play a role in agenda setting?

The theory of agenda setting has traditionally been studied in TV, radio and print media (newspapers and magazines), but with websites and social media are changing the way in which we get new information. Web links can be shared at the touch of a button, and traditional media are also nowadays picking up on popular online stories and converting them into their formats – so I think it’s fair to say that it can play a role in agenda setting.


What do you think about the news setting the public agenda? 



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