The networked political blogsphere and mass media: understanding how agendas are formed, framed, and transferred in the emerging new media environment

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Meraz, Sharon

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This dissertation applied mass communication theory and the interdisciplinary theory of social network analysis to the networked political blogosphere and its relationship to mass media. Utilizing such mass communication theories as agenda setting, the two-step flow, and gatekeeping, this study examined eighteen political blogs across the political spectrum (left-leaning, right-leaning, and moderate blogs), two elite mass media outlets (the New York Times and the Washington Post), and two elite mass media blogs (political blogs from the New York Times and the Washington Post), using both hyperlink analysis as well as textual content analysis. Hyperlinking provided information on gatekeeping and the social network connections between blogs and mass media and among the different ideological political blog networks. Content analysis conducted at the issue and the issue attribute level provided a second layer of evidence to analyze how agendas are formed, framed, and transferred in the emerging new media environment. All the both levels of textual content analysis and hyperlink analysis, this dissertation found solid support for the operation of both mass media agenda setting and social network influence at both the issue and the attribute level. Though the agenda setting function of the press is still a tenable assumption, blogs from all ideological spectrums were able to set the mass media's agenda. The issue agendas of blogs of shared partisan perspective, particularly the agenda of the left-leaning blogosphere, provided strong evidence of homogenous issue adoption by blogs of the same partisan network neighborhood or social network. At the attribute level, strong correlations between the agendas of blogs and media, and among the agendas of blogs that share ideological perspectives, highlight the need for deeper analysis at causation to determine whether the media or blogs set each other's agenda. This dissertation contributes to mass communication studies and political communication through its identification of political social networks as a complementary and competitive agenda setting force in the context of the US political blogosphere. These findings call for a revision of the relationship between agenda setting and the twostep flow theory towards an acknowledgement of how they work in both complementary and competitive ways to redefine the role of the press and social influence in networked political environments. These findings also highlight the significance of social network analysis as a methodology to explain how agendas are formed and framed in the emerging new media environment.