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The Agenda Setting Hypothesis: Studies and Perspectives

The agenda setting hypothesis is a kind of social effect of the media that embodies the selection, disposition, and incidence of news about the issues people will discuss and talk about. The present article presents a literature review and a critical analysis of the agenda setting hypothesis, starting with this concept and walking ways that take to a brief historical description of the studies and functioning of the agenda setting process. We hope to understand this concept as well as its characteristics and limitations.
Key words: agenda setting, media, effects of communication means

The study of the effects of the media is important for society, since it is understood how these media work in the formation of public opinion. The influence of the media in people's daily lives is undeniable, since we have a multitude of information that is disseminated through these channels. The agenda of interpersonal conversations is suggested by newspapers, television, radio and the internet, providing recipients with a hierarchy of subjects that should be thought / spoken. The social reality is now represented by a scenario built from the mass media.

The current of research that studies what and how issues should be thought about is the agenda setting hypothesis . With an American origin, the first study was developed by researchers Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in 1972, although its essence was indicated in 1922 by Walter Lippmann in his classic work Public Opinion .

Curiosity about the effects of the media on public opinion has produced a vast literature on the agenda setting. Most studies are applied during election campaign periods. It is understood that an election provides sufficient subsidies for an analysis of the influence of the media on public opinion, as much information is produced that will be assimilated by the public.

Inserted in this context, this article intends to present a theoretical review and a critical analysis of the agenda setting hypothesis , encompassing its concept, main studies and the functioning of the scheduling process. With this, it is expected to obtain an understanding of this concept as well as its characteristics and limitations.

The Agenda Setting Hypothesis
Within the context of studies on the effects of the media on society, research on the agenda setting hypothesis emerged in the 1970s . This line of research proposes a new stage of investigation on the effects of mass communication. In this way, there is a concept of the power that journalism [also reads that the media] exercises over public opinion. This concept refers to the agenda setting hypothesis, which in simple definition is "... a kind of social effect of the media. It is the hypothesis that the media, by the selection, disposition and incidence of its news, comes to determine the topics on which the public will speak and discuss" (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 169). The essence of the concept is not far from reality, as there is, constantly, a flood of information that is selected and arranged in a way that some news receive a greater emphasis, as is the case of the news that appears on the cover of newspapers, magazines, newscasts.

Researchers Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, pioneers in presenting the scheduling hypothesis, when dealing with this topic, confirm that the media has the ability to influence the projection of events in public opinion, establishing a pseudo-environment manufactured and assembled by the media. .

In a study carried out in 1979, Shaw reports that the agenda setting hypothesis , as a result of the action of the media, highlights or neglects specific elements of public settings. People tend to include or exclude from their own knowledge what the mass media include or exclude from your own content. In addition, the public tends to attribute what this content includes to an importance that closely reflects the emphasis given by the mass media to events, to problems, to people (Shaw, E. apud Wolf, 2001, p.144).

There is a convergence in the conceptualization of the authors on the agenda setting hypothesis. The media is presented as a modifying agent of social reality, pointing to the receiving public about what should be informed. In the authors' perspective, this construction is configured as a power that the media exercise over public opinion, society.
The pioneers in presenting the agenda setting hypothesis were Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in their article entitled The Agenda Setting Function of Mass Media (1972). This study had the purpose of investigating the media scheduling capacityin the 1968 presidential campaign in the United States, in addition to confronting what the voters of Chapel Hill (chosen site for the research) stated that the campaign's key issues are with the content expressed by the media (McCOMBS and SHAW, 1972 In: TRAQUINA , 2000, p. 49). The authors also intended to ascertain whether the ideas that voters judged to be the most relevant topics were shaped by the media coverage of the media (Weaver, 1996, p. 2).

To conduct the survey, a screening question was asked in order to identify voters who did not have their candidate defined. The choice of these voters is justified as being probably the most open or susceptible to electoral information. (McCOMBS and SHAW, 1972 In: TRAQUINA, 2000, p. 49).

In the sequence of the interview, the interviewees were asked to order the questions that they thought were most important. The question was posed as follows: "What is it that has worried you most these days? That is, without taking into account what the politicians say, what are the two or three questions on whose resolution you think the Government should be commit? " (McCOMBS and SHAW, 1972 In: TRAQUINA, 2000, p. 50).

In parallel to the interviews, a content analysis was carried out in the local, regional and national media. The analyzed material was coded between most important and least important. The least important items were news of a political nature, more limited in terms of space, time or dissemination. In coding the most important content, McCombs and Shaw (1972, pp. 50-51) classified as follows:
Television: any news of 45 seconds or more and / or one of the three opening stories.
Newspapers: any news item that appeared as a headline on the first page or on any page under a three-column heading in which at least one third of the news (at least five paragraphs) was dedicated to political coverage.
Informative magazines: any news item with more than one column or any item that appeared in the header at the beginning of the magazine's news section.
Coverage of the Editorial Page of newspapers and magazines: any item in the position of the main editorial (the upper left corner of the editorial page), plus all items in which one third (at least five paragraphs) of an editorial comment or columnist was dedicated political campaign coverage.

In this study, McCombs and Shaw (1972) concluded that

the political world is imperfectly reproduced by the various media. However, the evidence from this study, that voters tend to share the composite media definition of what is important, strongly suggests its scheduling function (McCombs and Shaw, 1972, In: Traquina, 2000, p.57).

Weaver (1996, p. 2) describes that McCombs and Shaw (1972) found a strong correlation between the hierarchy of themes established by the media and the thematic hierarchy expressed by voters. This conclusion suggests that the media have a good influence on voters or a sensitivity to voter concerns. If evaluated in this way, the media would have a direct influence on people's opinions, returning to hypodermic theory. But the essence of agenda settingit seeks to identify whether the themes that are exposed in the mainstream media become important for the recipients, as well as if they are the subject of daily conversations.

Although the agenda setting hypothesis was put forward by McCombs and Shaw (1972), many researchers were already studying the attention that the public was directing to the themes proposed by the press. In 1922, Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion , already highlighted the role of the press in framing the attention of readers towards themes imposed by it as "of greater collective interest".

In the opening chapter of Lippmann's book, he mentions how people come to know the outside world and their own existence, how they form images in their minds. The dissemination media (media) shape these images by selecting and organizing symbols from a real world (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 174).

Also anticipating the central idea of ​​the agenda setting hypothesis , Park (1925), in his work The City, emphasized that the media defined a certain order of thematic preferences. In 1958, in an article written by Long, the hypothesis of thematic scheduling was clearly stated: "the newspaper is the first driver of fixing the territorial agenda. It has a great participation in defining what most people will talk about, what people they will think it is the facts and how to deal with the problems "(Long apud Barros Filho, 2001, p. 175).

According to McCombs and Shaw (1972), the most succinct concept, prior to the first empirical study of the agenda setting, is formulated by Cohen in 1963: "although the press, for the most part, may not be successful in telling people how to think, it is amazingly effective in telling its readers what to think" (McCombs and Shaw, 1972 In: Traquina, 2000, p.49).

Within the historical perspective of pre-McCombs and Shaw studies on the agenda setting , Lang and Lang (1966) also denounced the thematic hierarchy of the media:

The mass media focus on certain issues. They build public images of political figures. They constantly present objects that suggest what we should think about, what we should know and what we should feel .... The materials that the media select can give us a resemblance to a 'knowledge' of the political world (Lang and Lang, 1966 In: Moragas, 1985, pp.89-90).

All of these studies already identified the coincidence of the themes of the media and the themes of interpersonal conversations, but they did not conceptualize as an agenda setting . Long before having the concept of agenda setting , the press already played its role of "structuring" perceptions and cognitions about the events of social reality. Nowadays the media also plays this role, such as in election coverage or an unusual fact, making frames ( frames ) of the subject, ie, emphasizing one or another angle.

The following section discusses the main study after the seminal research by McCombs and Shaw, as well as indications from more recent studies on the agenda setting .

Post-McCombs and Shaw Studies
McCombs and Shaw developed further research during the 1972 presidential election, which became known as the Charlotte Study . There were two differences from the previous study: the sample was more comprehensive and representative (people who already had the vote decided, as well as the undecided ones) and the respondents were interviewed in successive moments of the campaign (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 178).

The aim of this study was to note the changes in the public's agenda at different times and thereby prove that the media coverage precedes the themes in relation to the themes of interpersonal relationships. In this way, the same sample was heard three times: before party conventions, at the most intense moment of the campaign and during elections (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 178). Another point found in Charlotte's study is that interpersonal conversation also influences the choice of the candidate. The interpersonal agenda reinforces that of the media, because people end up talking about what is exposed by the media. In this study it was found that some people are more exposed than others to the media (Rodrigues, 1997, p. 3).

McCombs and Shaw's explanation has three components: interest in the content of the message, uncertainty about the object of the message, and an effort to understand it. The last two components were used by the agenda setting to explain what the authors call "need for guidance" (Rodrigues, 1997, p. 3).

Since the Chapel Hill study, McCombs and Shaw opened new lines of research that came to motivate the production of more than 350 articles and books in scheduling research. Similar works on determining the thematic repertoire of the media, using different methodologies, analysis periods, measurement instruments and data analysis techniques were carried out. These studies are found in Roessler, 1999; Golan and Wanta, 2001; Rössler and Schenk, 1999; Kiousis et al. 1999; McCombs et al., 1997; McCombs et al., 2000; Althaus and Tewksbury, 2002 among others.

In order to study the relations between the public and the press or just the movements of the press, the study of the agenda setting comprises a process that can be called the scheduling process. This process is described through a typology of studies, agendas and concepts for determining the agenda setting that will be described below.

Types of Studies and Types of Agenda
After the study by Charlotte (1977), McCombs established a typology of studies on the agenda setting that received the name "Typology of Acapulco", because it was presented at the congress of the International Communication Associationin Acapulco (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 179). This typology has two references: the number of themes analyzed and the number of people asked. According to Barros Filho (2001, p. 179), these two references, combined two by two, make four types of studies which are: a) the first, which involves several themes with a population of more than one individual ( Chapel Hill and Charlotte); b) the second, which involves several themes, but studied according to the agenda of a single individual; c) the third, in which a specific topic is chosen and its positioning in a group's agenda is analyzed and d) the fourth type, in which a single topic is classified in the agenda of a single individual.

Regarding the types of agendas, there is also a classification: a) individual or intrapersonal agenda - corresponds to concerns about public issues that each individual internalizes; b) interpersonal agenda - are the themes mentioned in interpersonal relationships, perceived by each subject and discussed in their relationships; c) media agenda - is the thematic list selected by the media; d) public agenda - it is the set of themes that society as a whole establishes as relevant and gives them attention and e) institutional agenda - are the thematic priorities of an institution (Barros Filho, 2001, p. 179).

The majority of studies related to the agenda setting are related to the relationship between the media agenda and the public agenda. It is a constant concern of researchers to analyze the effects of the media on public opinion.

Next, each of these agendas - media agenda and public agenda - will be explained for a greater understanding of the scheduling process.

The Media Agenda and the Public Agenda
The scheduling process can be described as an interactive process. The influence of the public agenda on the media agenda is a gradual process through which, in the long run, criteria of news are created, while the influence of the media agenda on the public agenda is direct and immediate, especially when it involves issues that audience does not have a direct experience. In this way, it is proposed that the problem of the scheduling effect be different according to the nature of the issue (Ebring et al. Apud Traquina, 2000, p. 33).

Ferreira (2000, p. 13) explains that the imposition of scheduling is formed through two biases: (1) the "theme proposed by the mass media ", known as the order of the day, which will be the subjects proposed by the media and that they will become the object of people's conversations, of the public agenda; (2) the thematic hierarchy, which are the themes highlighted in the media agenda and which will also be highlighted in the public agenda, as well as the topics with little relevance established by the mass media will have the same correspondence with the public.

Another key issue in the scheduling process concerns people. The media agenda has a greater effect on people who participate in conversations about issues raised by the media than on people who do not participate in these types of conversations (McLeod et al. Apud Traquina, 2000, p. 33). In addition to access to the media and interpersonal conversations, people have a need for guidance, which according to McCombs and Weaver (1977) is defined by: "a combination of two variables: high interest and a high level of uncertainty. the scheduling effect occurs with people who have a great need to obtain information on a subject; due to this 'need for guidance', these people are more exposed tonews media , causing greater scheduling effects "(McCombs and Weaver apud Traquina, 2000, p. 33-34).

In another study by Weaver et al. (1975, p. 67), the authors emphasize that the impact of the scheduling is not the same for everyone and depends on the need for guidance. for people with great need of guidance, the media do more than reinforce existing opinions, they can direct attention to specific issues and topics.

Another aspect in scheduling research is that the effect of the media agenda varies according to the nature of the subject, distinguishing betweeninvolving issues , that is, that people can mobilize their direct experience and non-involving issues , which are more distant from people, that they have no direct experience. This classification was established by Zucker (1978) in a study that proved the influence of the media on non-surrounding issues (Zucker apud Traquina, 2000, pp. 34-35).

Concepts of Determination of the Agenda Setting Hypothesis
In studies carried out by Brazilian authors (Golembiewski, 2001; Jahn, 2001; Hohlfeldt, 1997), some basic concepts are pointed out and used to determine the effect of the agenda setting . Based on previous studies, Hohlfeldt (1997, pp. 49-50) points out the following concepts:
Accumulation: the media's ability to give relevance to a given theme, detaching it from the immense set of daily events;
Consonance: despite their differences and specificities, the media have features in common and similarities in the way in which they act in transforming the report of an event that becomes news;
Omnipresence: an event that, transformed into news, goes beyond the spaces traditionally occupied by it. The police event can be addressed in other media outlets;
Relevance: when a given event is reported by all different media, regardless of the focus attributed to it;
Temporal Frame : the data collection period of the two or more agendas (that is, the media agenda and the public agenda, for example);
Time-lag : it is the interval between the period when the media agenda is raised and the public agenda, that is, how the existence and effect of the media on the public is assumed;
Centrality: the ability of the media to place a given subject as something important;
Thematization: it is implicitly linked to centrality, as it is the ability to give the necessary prominence (its formulation, the way in which the subject is exposed), in order to attract attention. One of the consequences of this item is the suite of a story, that is, multiple approaches that the information is receiving to keep the attention of the receiver;
Salience: individual valuation given by the recipient to a given news subject;
Focusing: it is the way in which the media approaches a certain subject, using a certain language, publishing resources.

Eyal et al. (1981) establish another concept within the temporal parameters of the agenda setting effect: duration of the optimal effect . This concept addresses the period in which the maximum association is established between the summit of themes, by the media, and its enhancement in the public's knowledge (Eyal et al. Apud Wolf, 2000, p.170).

Methodological Limitations of the Agenda Setting Hypothesis
The methodological basis of the studies on the agenda setting is based on two procedures: the content analysis of the media and the opinion poll. Between these two aspects, many variables are defined, which probably causes discussion regarding the determinants of the effects of the agenda setting.

According to Barros Filho (2001, p. 180), the first variable of agenda setting researchit concerns the period of effectiveness, or as previously defined, duration of the optimal effect. There is no harmony in the definition of deadlines for the verification of the effects. Many authors are limited to the analysis of short deadlines, although the agenda setting is among the long-term effects.

Another point that causes disagreements about the hypothesis is the lack of rigor in the use of terms. As Barros Filho (2001, pp.180-181) points out,

we observed that this lack of rigor usually starts with the very notion of scheduling. What is agenda setting ? Is it about making the recipient known (who, if it weren't for the means, wouldn't know about the fact)? Or is it a thematic hierarchy (when the media determine what importance to attach to this or that fact)? Or even to impose a specific approach to the fact, focusing the theme in this or that way?

The last criticism that Barros Filho (2001, p. 181) makes to the agenda setting hypothesis is the little diversity of themes studied by supporting research. Researchers have a great fascination for studies involving electoral campaigns, neglecting other topics, such as sports, economics, varieties.

Another discussion that is necessary and opportune is regarding the definition of hypothesis or theory. For Hohlfeldt (1997, p.43),

Theory is a closed paradigm, a 'finished' mode, and in this sense not open to complementations or conjugations, by which we 'translate' a certain reality according to a certain 'model'. A hypothesis, on the contrary, is an open system, always unfinished, unfounded by the concept of 'error' characteristic of a theory.

For the author, the hypothesis is always an experience, a way to be proven and that if it doesn't 'work' in a specific situation, it does not invalidate the theoretical perspective. According to Trumbo (1995), the agenda setting cannot be considered a theory, as it is still on the path of investigation and discovery (Trumbo apud Rodrigues, 1997, p. 2). For this reason, the term hypothesis is used in this article to the term theory.

The choice of the political field as preferred for investigations reveals the potential that this theme has. Since the coverage of an electoral campaign comprises six months or more, the researchers have enough material to apply the methodological schemes in the search for proof of the scheduling hypothesis. During the election period, many elements can emerge from news coverage and reflect on the opinion of the recipients. It is at this point that candidates and parties are most vulnerable to the judgment of the press and society.

Another justification for the fascination with the theme, mainly the elections, is due to the nature of the subject. The elections have a democratic character, mobilizing the population of a country, state or municipality. More than an ideological event, it can be said that elections function as an affective event, that is, people can identify with a candidate by his way of being or by his ideas.

The purpose of this article was to present a theoretical review and a critical analysis of the elements that make up the notion of agenda setting . This was possible through paths taken through the concept, presentation of the main studies in the area and the scheduling process, as well as its limitations. With this, it is expected to stimulate research in this line of investigation, so that the relations established between the public and the press can be unveiled.

Summarizing the ideas exposed, it appears that the concept of scheduling is much more comprehensive and complex than the one initially proposed. The seminal article by McCombs and Shaw (1972) provided several lines of investigation around the hypothesis. In this perspective, according to science philosopher James Conant (1951), "the hallmark of a successful theory is its ability to continually generate new questions and identify new paths for academic research" (McCombs and Shaw, 1993 In: Traquina, 2000, p.126).

In this sense, it is observed that the agenda setting hypothesis becomes relevant in communication studies. Although it is not the only line of investigation that studies the relations of the media with society, it is relevant and pertinent to deepen its characteristics. The list of investigations on the media-society relationship currently includes Reception Studies, which have ethnographic research as a distinctive mark. This type of research is based on methodologies that use in-depth interviews and participant observation, which aim to understand the production of meaning performed by the recipients when assisting a media product. it is assumed that the receiver is active and that it interacts with the message transmitted by the media. With this well-defined principle, from the 1980s, groups of researchers from Latin America decided to take an approach that surpassed the traditional model of communication. That is, to overcome once and for all the thought of direct and immediate effects on the recipient (Gomes and Cogo, 1998, p. 17).

In this way, the study of the agenda setting hypothesis is just a way of looking at media-society relations. As society and the media change, new perspectives for understanding this relationship emerge. Thus, reception studies can complement the agenda setting studies , as well as the reverse.
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