Agenda-Setting Media

Identify how media help set local, national and global political, social and cultural agendas

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How does news travel? How does a story that is picked up by one news outlet get passed on to other news outlets? Some major media outlets seem to set the agenda for news--the agenda of politicians, the agenda of businesses, even the agenda of teen-agers. Everyone talks about what stories those news outlets cover and what opinions those news outlets express. What makes a news outlet agenda-setting?

  • Class discussion: What makes a news outlet so "important" that everyone seems to pay attention to it? What makes a news outlet influential in setting policy--why do lawmakers pay more attention to certain news outlet than others? What makes a media outlet influential in setting cultural interests--why do young people listen to the opinions from one outlet more than others? Are the elements that make a news outlet influential politically the same elements that make a media outlet influential culturally?
    • Follow-up discussion: Do you think the most influential news media are those that best adhere to the best standards of journalism, such as accuracy and fairness?
  • Student exercise: Chose 3 major media outlets in your region--they can be newspapers, television stations or radio stations (or any of those). Read the front page of the newspaper or watch or listen to the major news program of the day for the 3 outlets you pick. For each outlet make a list of all the stories that are covered on the front page or in that news program. Then write up a comparison of how the media covered the news on that same day. You will want to consider such questions as:
    • How many of the stories from each outlet are local, how many are national, how many are international?
    • Which stories are covered by all three outlets?
    • Which stories are unique to one outlet?
    • Which stories do you think will get people talking?
  • Student exercise/research: Consider how influential certain musicians are in your region. Do you think the musicians who get the most attention on the radio or on television or via other media are the "best" musicians? What role does money play in bringing those musicians to everyone's attention?
    • Select a major musician or musical group in your area and research how that musician or group makes its money. Is the musician supported by a major record label or other corporation? Are there any business links between the musician, the recording company and the media outlets?