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In the days of old, setting the National Agenda was a rather straight-forward thing. Newsroom gate-keepers, in consultation with Administration gate-keepers, would pick which "topics" to "inform the people about" ... and which "topics" to "put on the back-burner."  Simple.  Easy. Lemon-squeezey.

These are the "important matters" of the day. These are what you really should ponder and learn more about. These things are the "urgent business" of the people.  And the Government is here to "do the people's business."

And the Newsroom gate-keepers were very good at their jobs ... back in the days of old.

Agenda-setting theory

Agenda-setting theory describes the "ability {of the news media} to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda."[1] That is, if a news item is covered frequently and prominently the audience will regard the issue as more important.

[1] Iyengar, S; Kinder, D (1987). News that mattes: Television and American opinion. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

sa·lience  noun      ˈsā-lyən(t)s, -lē-ən(t)s     pronounce it  

1: the quality or state of being salient

2: a striking point or feature: highlight

sa·lient  adjective  ˈsā-lyənt, -lē-ənt      pronounce it  

1: moving by leaps or springs: jumping

2: jetting upward  {a salient fountain}

  a: projecting beyond a line, surface, or level

  b: standing out conspicuously: prominent;

Agenda Setting Research

[...] Shaw and McCombs found that the main effect of news media was agenda-setting, i.e. telling people not what to think, but what to think about. Agenda setting is usually referred to as a function of mass media and not a theory (McCombs & Shaw, 1972).

The theory explains the correlation between the rate at which media cover a story and the extent to which people think that this story is important. This correlation has been shown to occur repeatedly.

Agenda-setting is believed to occur because the press must be selective in reporting the news. News outlets act as gatekeepers of information and make choices about what to report and what not. What the public know and care about at any given time is mostly a by-product of media-gatekeeping.

They may not tell us "exactly what to think" -- but they damn-well sure will tell us "what to think about."

That's Agenda-Setting 101.

Here's a classic example (there are 100's of them) of how this Media Agenda-setting theory/function works, even still in the modern media age:

"ACORN ... this is the source of all deplorable things Liberal," or so we were repeatably told, by some Newsroom gatekeepers, for years upon end.  Their efforts were not without its results:

36 compelling survey results from 2012

by The Week Editorial Staff, -- Dec 31, 2012

What's bugging us?

49% of Republicans think ACORN stole the election, even though the community-organizing group closed in 2010 (Public Policy Polling).

Those same ACORN-fearing-gatekeepers choose to ignore even worse irregularities in voter registrations, when it originated from their own philosophical/political side. As a result, this was an Agenda-item that was not widely considered, by at least 49% of Republicans:

Why Isn't Fox News Covering Florida "Voter Fraud" Story?  Hint: It Involves The GOP

by Eric Boehlert,    September 28, 2012

Four years ago Fox News helped turn ACORN into a dirty word among conservatives by leading an often-hysterical right-wing crusade against the community activist group, charging it time and again with "voter fraud" on behalf of candidate Obama. In order to bolster its flimsy "voter fraud" attacks, the network repeatedly harped on reports that ACORN canvassers had submitted questionable voter registration forms.

Yet this week Fox has shown little interest in covering the unfolding story out of Florida, where the state's Republican Party has cut ties with a consulting firm accused of handing in more than 100 dubious voter registration forms.

Nevermind the fact that ACORN folded in 2010.  FOX-gatekeepers can filter that factoid out.

Nowhere in this Mass Communication theory, does it say that the Agenda being set by the Newsroom-gatekeepers actually has to be True and Factual.

It just has to have that mysterious ingredient, known as "Salience."

Relevance, Poignancy, of general Human Interest -- are also good stand-in ingredients.

For an Agenda to take root and flourish, the main thing is that -- most people (in your target audience) have to care about it.  Or at minimum, capable of being persuaded to care, at some point soon.

Back in the days of old, Media-gatekeepers had a general flow chart to follow, if you were worth your Agenda-setting cred:

[ Applied Agenda Setting Research -- ]

That process chart is from the seventies -- about 2 generations ago.  Someone really needs to add some new "input/interaction bubbles" for the burgeoning roles of Social Media [and Corporate Lobbyists], to reflect the common ways National Agendas sometimes can take root and grow these days, across the now widely-scattered news-creation ground.

Remember Sandra Fluke;  remember Flush Rush;  remember Papa Johns;  

Remember the downfalls of Karl Rove, Dick Morris, and Grover Norquist?

-- Would any of these National Agenda-morphing events have taken place without the serious buzz-generating clout of bloggers, like us?

Without the personally-repeatable communication channels, like Twitter and Facebook.  I think not.

Today, the "Topical News" gate-keeping function has become somewhat democratized. Welcome to Agenda-Setting -- 2013 style.

Now here's some visual food for thought.  Here are some serious factual study-data, from an old-school Journalist group, that I still respect. They still take the old-school-type news with all the seriousness, that it used to once commonly possess.  Back when the press was routinely called the "Fourth Estate;" when the press was seen an essentially and noble public service in a democracy, and not just another "profit center" -- to be squeezed for all its worth.

And they, this ethical Journalist group, have been "detecting" some subtle shifts in the Major Media Trendlines, regarding how "most Americans" consume their News these days, in the hotly-wired days of now.  In the modern age of 'Just Google it.'

State of the News Media 2012 -- An Annual Report on American Journalism

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

If you read the scholarly text behind the convenient pictures (below), it seems that Agenda-setting is just not as "simple" as it use to be, in this modern Social Media age -- go figure?

Maybe the people raised on American ideals, really do value our free speech, our own opinions, our own personal day-to-day agendas -- like surviving. Like learning. Like thriving in the world as it is.  And endeavoring to re-create the world as-it-should-be.

Maybe the people don't like being spoon-fed, just what to think about on a weekly basis?

State of the News Media 2012

by Amy Mitchell  and Tom Rosenstiel of PEJ -- Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

Major Trends

News viewership on television grew in unexpected venues.  At the three traditional broadcast television networks, news audiences grew 4.5%, the first uptick in a decade. At the local level, audiences grew in both morning and late evening, the first growth in five years. There were more gains from the stations adding news at 4:30 a.m. Cable news audiences also grew, by 1%, after falling the year before. But for the first time since we began these reports, the growth came at CNN (16% growth in median prime-time viewership) and to a lesser extent MSNBC (3% growth). By contrast, Fox News, though still by far the ratings leader, had a second year of decline. Much of the growth may be short-lived, a function of big, visually oriented news stories rather than change in habits.

Social media are important but not overwhelming drivers of news, at least not yet. Some 133 million Americans, or 54% of the online U.S. population, are now active users on Facebook (out of 850 million monthly active users globally).[2] They also spend an average of seven hours there a month, 14 times the amount of time people spend on average on the most popular news sites.[3] And the number of Twitter users grew 32% last year to around 24 million active users in the U.S. (500 million total accounts worldwide), the company reports. But the notion that large percentages of Americans now get their news mainly from recommendations from friends does not hold up, according to survey data released here. No more than 10% of digital news consumers follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter “very often,” the new survey finds. And almost all of those who do are still using other ways like going directly to the news website or app as well.

So what say you?

Who do you think is the more "salient" when it comes to picking the "next topic of the town-square discussion" -- the National News, Cable News, or that sprawling network, loosely call the Social Media?   Or maybe the NRA, the AARP, the Tea Party, or the Association of American Educators?  Or how about the Union of Concerned Scientists -- where do their priority "Agenda-items" rate, and why?

Has Social Media finally become a driver of the Mainstream Media Agenda?   At least on some occasions?

Or do we simply follow the "parade markers" the Traditional Media sets?  and we simply switch those markers from one side of the street to the other. All the while main parade route is still carved in stone, by the One Percent powers-that-be. [consider:  Afghanistan withdraw date, and its sudden acceleration/postponement etc.]

Or is there a "give and take" between the Social Media and the Traditional Media -- sort an "arms race of ideas" to see who can find the most clever/snarky/out-of-the-box idea first?

Because it all about advertizing eyeballs (or Recommends) after each day's "news consumption" is said and done.


Now, take a few moments for one final Agenda-setting example;  something both current and topical as of just this last week: the "Trillion Dollar Coin" topic.  Has that noteworthy topic-balloon about run its rhetorical course?

Would the Traditional Media have even covered it, at least in passing -- if it hadn't been FIRST made a topic of national discussion, by the "Social Media" bloggers/commentators/journalists, just in the last few weeks?

How it is then, that the Traditional Media (in this case, This Week) becomes the "final arbitrator" what is serious and worthy of further attention, and what is just 'fun to talk about' -- but not worthy being taken seriously, by the 'adults in the room.'

Watch where the "Trillion Dollar Coin" idea goes this week;  And then ask yourself how/who/why was this National Agenda idea has just been re-set?  (as in, shelved for now.)

Krugman perhaps put it best ... but did Krugman also put the idea to rest?

This Week -- Jan 13, 2012

PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: OK. The thing you have to understand is that the debt ceiling is a fundamentally stupid, but dangerous thing. We have congress that tells the president how much he must spend, tells him how much he's allowed to collect in taxes. He says OK, there's a difference there, I've got to borrow it. And they say, no, you can't borrow them.

So the whole debt ceiling thing itself is a crazy thing. It actually forces the president to do something illegal, either to defy congress on what it told him to spend or to defy congress and borrow when it told him not to. And then we have this weird loophole, which everyone agrees is crazy, but it happens to be there -- but is a loophole -- that says that the Secretary of the Treasury can mint a coin for any amount which is supposed to be for commemorative pieces, but it does avoid -- it does offer a way to bypass this.

But This Week's Villagers went on to try to re-set the Grand-Rosey-Scenario "topics of the day" for us to get used to ... the ones we need to learn to care about as they start to loom-large in our collective crash-the-economy futures:

This Week -- Jan 13, 2012


STEPHANOPOULOS: The Democrats in the senate want the president to examine all kinds of ways around facing this question head on, but it appears that the president has ruled all or most of them out.

NOONAN: Yeah, nobody actually knows what's going to happen. This is about the third -- this is the second debt ceiling crisis we've had in the past few years. We just got through the fiscal cliff thing. It is very strange to live in a great sophisticated wealthy modern democracy and have this herky-jerky crisis cliffhanger thing that is going on and that has been for awhile.

Look, I am always hopeful for something like a grand bargain but I think that won't happen now. I think we have more loggerheads, more brinksmanship ahead of us.

KRUGMAN: The White House position, which is right, is that there should be no bargaining over this. If the Republican majority in the House wants to cut spending, let them propose legislation that cuts spending and pass it, not hold America hostage. And -- I've got calls, you know, -- saying we -- this rejecting...

STEPHANOPOULOS: From the White House.

KRUGMAN: Was a sign of strength, not weakness, that we are not bargaining, we are not going to give in. We just want to make sure that the onus for this rests firmly on the Republicans. And they think they mean it, whether they actually mean it we'll find out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to find out in about month.


DAVID WALKER, FRM. U.S. COMPTROLLER:  Look, the Republicans need to wake up and get real. We're the only country on earth that has a debt ceiling limit. Ultimately as part of a grand bargain we ought to get rid of it. We ought to substitute statutory budget controls and a constitutional credit card limit, debt to GDP. But in the interim, if the Republicans want to use leverage, they ought to use it on the sequester and the continuing resolution.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which is right on the heels...

WALKER: Correct.

KRUGMAN: We should not allow this to become thought of as a legitimate or normal budget strategy. This is hostage taking. This is saying walk into a room saying I've got a bomb give me what I want or I'll blow up this room. This is not something -- this has never happened before and should not be allowed to happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But doesn't that mean, then, that it's very likely to happen now for the first time given the positions that each side has taken and what -- let me ask you, Paul Krugman, what are the economic consequences of that?

KRUGMAN: It's incredibly scary. This is much scarier than the fiscal cliff, much scarier than any of the other things out there because we don't know what it does. But we do know is that U.S. government debt is the global safe asset. It is what every financial transaction relies on as the ultimate. This is what value consists of and better than gold, better than anything. U.S. Treasury bills are the thing. And if they are no longer, if they're called into question, nobody knows what happens.

The idea table has been set once again.  The tentative agenda proposed.  What really unfolds in the next few months ... is in no small measure, kind of up to us.  The news creating/consuming public ... how much and whether, we will ultimately "care about it."

What will WE choose to echo and amplify, and repeat to our friends.  And which "extra helping" of "brussels sprouts" on the menu, we will choose to ignore.

Because one or two smart villagers at the Sunday Morning debate free-for-all table -- does not a National Agenda make ...

at least not yet.   In the age where "relevance" is often measured in hours, or even minutes (and the speed of Recent Lists and Twitter feeds).

Those are some of the "big picture ideas" on my day's agenda ... have at it. Assuming you made it this far.

The Social Media Agenda-setting floor is yours ...

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