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Unformatted text preview: RESEARCH REVIEW A Look at Agenda-setting: past, present and future MAXWELL McCOMBS University of Texas at Austin, USA Introduction Ten US presidential elections ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the agenda of issues that a small group of undecided voters regarded as the most important ones of the day was compared with the news coverage of public issues in the news media these voters used to follow the campaign (McCombs and Shaw, 1972). Since that election, the principal finding in Chapel Hill * / those aspects of public affairs that are prominent in the news become prominent among the pub- lic * / has been replicated in hundreds of studies worldwide. These replications include both election and non-election settings for a broad range of public issues and other aspects of political communication and extend beyond the United States to Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia. Recently, as the news media have expanded to include online newspapers avail- able on the Web, agenda-setting effects have been documented for these new media. All in all, this research has grown far beyond its original domain * / the transfer of salience from the media agenda to the public agenda * / and now encompasses five distinct stages of theore- tical attention. Until very recently, the ideas and findings that detail these five stages of agenda-setting theory have been scattered in a wide variety of research journals, book chapters and books published in many different countries. As a result, knowl- edge of agenda setting has been very unevenly distributed. Scholars designing new studies often had incomplete knowledge of previous research, and graduate students entering the field of mass communication had difficulty learning in detail what we know about the agenda-setting role of the mass media. This situation was my incentive to write Setting the Agenda: the mass media and public opinion, which was published in England in late 2004 and in the United States early in 2005. My primary goal was to gather the principal ideas and empirical findings about agenda setting in one place. John Pavlik has described this integrated presenta- tion as the Gray’s Anatomy of agenda setting (McCombs, 2004, p. xii). Shortly after the US publication of Setting the Agenda , I received an invitation from Journalism Studies to prepare an overview of agenda setting. The timing was wonderfully fortuitous because a book-length presentation of what we have learned in the years since Chapel Hill could be coupled with a detailed discussion in a major journal of current trends and future likely directions in agenda-setting research. Journals are the best venue for advancing the step- by-step accretion of knowledge because they typically reach larger audiences than books, generate more widespread discussion and offer more space for the focused presentation of a particular aspect of a research area. Books can then periodically distill this knowledge....
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