Agenda setting effects in the digital age : uses and effects of online media
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Lippmann argued the function of mass media was to bridge the world outside with the pictures in our heads (1922/1965). His idea has been floating the surface of real world and academic journalism throughout much of its history. Since Lippmann, many attempts have been made to understand, explain and theorize such communication phenomena (McQuail, 2000; Power et al., 2002; Severin & Tankard, 2001). Among those efforts, the agenda setting theory is believed to be one of the most important milestones in formalizing the mass communication process (DeFleur, 1998). The current dissertation explores agenda setting effects in the digital age to determine whether the theory, which was built upon the conventional media environment, functions in the new media settings. Three sets of experiments examine four phases of the agenda setting theory: (1) first level agenda setting effects, (2) need for orientation, (3) second level agenda setting effects, and (4) the priming aspect of the agenda setting effects. In order to inspect the different research questions, individual experiments separately adopted corresponding approaches including the methodology of Iyengar and Kinder’s (1987) classic agenda-setting experiments, consumer behavior research (e.g., Celsi & Olson, 1988; Greenwald & Leavitt, 1984; Zaichkowsky, 1985), attribute agenda setting (Kiousis et al., 1999) and priming research (Kim et al., 2002). The results of the experiments indicate that the agenda setting theory also describes and explains the digital media environment. The issue salience of the online newspapers used in the first level agenda setting experiment was transferred successfully to subjects’ issue salience. At the same time, the three sub-dimensions of the need for orientation – personal involvement, knowledge and effort required to attend to the message – played significant roles in the agenda-setting process. In the second level agenda setting experiment, online newspapers were proved to effectively transfer the attribute salience of an issue to the public. Specifically, the attributes with emotional direction play a significant role in agenda setting effects. Finally, the priming experiment with three different sets of online newspapers supports the idea that the media set the audience’s evaluative dimension relevant to some issues. Moreover, the experiment attested to the high degree of association between the second level agenda setting effects and the priming effects.