Exploring the press' power in agenda-setting theory
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Agenda-setting theory has well documented the news media's influence on public opinion and public life. The few key topics the press select to focus the public's attention on become the public agenda, with the press telling the public not just what to think about but how to think about those topics. Public opinion is a powerful force and provides for informal rule in a democracy. But seldom have scholars considered journalists' understanding of agenda-setting theory and if agenda-setting findings may have moral implications for the press' use of power to shape the media agenda that influences public opinion. This case study explores what journalists at one large American newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, understand about the press' influence on public opinion. This exploratory study found that journalists believed the press significantly affects public opinion. Some journalists knew in general terms that agenda setting meant the press' influence on public opinion while others journalists did not. None of the journalists knew that research has found that the press have a measurable and sizeable impact on public opinion. Express-News journalists also believed their newspaper did a good job fulfilling press responsibility but the news media in general did not. This study suggests that journalists at one major American newspaper may have little understanding of agenda-setting theory. It also may suggest that the news media's power to shape the media agenda that influences public opinion may have moral implications for the press that perhaps should be examined.