The Agenda -setting theory concludes a function of mass media is to influence the relative importance of our attitudes on issues (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997). The perceived importance of issues is related to the attention given to those issues by the media. Furthermore, the agenda-setting paradigm examines the ability of media publics to communicate what issues are significant, and, most importantly, what audiences should think about (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997).
For years, communication scholars have actively challenged the agenda setting paradigm. Early studies suggested that the media had the power to present images to the public, whereas the public, in turn, would generate their own need for information and forge a dependence on the media to describe events that could not be witnessed first hand (Lippman, 1922). Accordingly, Lippman (1922) theorized that people with a high need for orientation from the media will more likely be influenced by agenda setting.
However, McCombs and Shaw’s (1972) research on agenda-settings influence on voting attitude and behavior has been described as some of the most important research done on the theory (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997). Their studies in North Carolina “concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign” (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997, p. 366). In hindsight, they concluded that agenda-setting creates the prominent issues and images in the minds of the public (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Furthermore, they contend that media outlets “act as gatekeepers of information, make choices about what to report and how to report it. What the public knows about any state of affairs at any given time is largely a product of gatekeeping” (Littlejohn, 1996, p. 341). However, media not only bring matters and issues to public awareness, “they can also doom people and events to obscurity by inattention” (Graber, 1980, p. 5).
Similarly, Graber (1980) examined the agenda-setting influence on voter’s judgements about the importance of current issues. Accordingly, the list of issues derived from the sample corresponded to topics in their local news sources, however, agenda-setting varied in potency, whereas the “audience followed media guidance, but not slavishly” (Graber, 1980, p. 134). Most importantly, Graber noted that, “ prominent media coverage does assure that an issue will be noticed, but it does not guarantee that the audience will assign it the same relative rank of importance which media play has indicated” (Graber, 1980, p. 134).
Moreover, McCombs (1997) has been one scholar who has provided extensive research on the significance of agenda-setting. In 1997, he examined how the news media builds consensus through its agenda-setting role. He stated that, “the news media can influence how a community regards itself, including priorities and the factors that guide its views on particular issues. Against this background, all news organizations must give close attention to their role in building community consensus” (McCombs, 1997). These ideas can be directly coupled to the effects the public affairs office has on its internal community, and how we build consensus about issues among the ranks.
In addition, Littlejohn (1996) states that agenda-setting is a three-part linear process. First, that the importance of issues will be set by the media, creating media agenda, then the media agenda will influence or interact on what the public thinks, creating public agenda, and finally this public agenda influences with what policymakers decide are critical issues, thus influencing policy agenda (Littlejohn, 1996). Similarly, we can observe the employment of this linear process in addressing the role of public affairs to servicemembers and leaders. Public affairs offices develop and channel messages about the mission of PA to our internal public (our servicemembers and leaders), who then in turn correctly employ public affairs practitioners in the operational planning.
Accordingly, Hays and Glick (1997) examined the role of agenda-setting in policy innovation by using agenda setting variables to account for policy adoption (Hays & Glick, 1997). Their study focused on the link of agenda-setting to the diffusion of policy innovations through the context of state living-will law adoption (Hays & Glick, 1997). Their hypothesis stated that “policy innovation is most often facilitated by the combination of agenda-setting forces that stimulate public interest in an issue and internally state characteristics that are conducive to adoption” (Hays & Glick, 1997, p. 499). Their results indicate that when agenda-setting influences are convincing and conditions within a state are conducive, policy adoption has a strong probability of occurring. “That is, even if a state’s conditions are conducive to the adoption of a particular innovation, they will not automatically do so until outside agenda-setting factors force them to act” (Hays & Glick, 1997, p. 511).
uses Agenda-setting theory as a medium to communicate the role and mission
of public affairs practitioners to the command leadership, PA community,
and servicemembers. The PAO’s resources to apply agenda-setting include:
Command Access Channel, base paper, and electronic marquee signs.
Because the military makes strict use of its chain of command, Diffusion
of Innovations was another theory guiding this research.