|This article is written like a personal reflection or essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (June 2012)|
 HistoryThe theory of agenda-setting can be traced to the first chapter of Walter Lippmann’s 1922 classic, Public Opinion. In that chapter, called "the world outside and the pictures in our heads," Lippmann argues that the mass media are the principal connection between events in the world and the images of these events in the citizens' minds. Thus, without using the term "agenda-setting," Walter Lippmann was actually writing about what today we would call "agenda-setting." Following Lippmann, in 1963, Bernard Cohen observed that the press "may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. The world will look different to different people," Cohen continues, "depending on the map that is drawn for them by writers, editors, and publishers of the paper they read."  Clearly, as early as the 1960s, Cohen had expressed the metaphor that led to formalization of agenda-setting by McCombs and Shaw.
In fact, while on the faculty at UCLA, Maxwell McCombs picked up Cohen’s book containing this quote at a local bookstore. McCombs had already been interested in the idea, but it was Cohen’s work that heavily influenced McCombs, and later Shaw. The concept of agenda setting is launched by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw during the 1968 presidential election in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They examined Lippmann’s idea of construction of the pictures in our heads by comparing the rank-order issues on the media agenda with the key issues of the day on the undecided voters’ agenda. They found the evidence of agenda setting by identifying that salience of the news agenda is highly correlated to that of the voter’s agenda. Critically, it also developed a method – content analysis compared with survey results – that scholars could use to explore agenda-setting. This method would spawn hundreds of agenda-setting studies in the following 40 years.
For instance, as a follow-up to the Chapel Hill study, during the summer and fall of the 1972 presidential election, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw (1977) studied agenda-setting effects among a representative sample of all voters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The researchers interviewed voters in three very different cities - Lebanon, New Hampshire; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Evanston, Illinois - nine times between February and December and content analyzed election coverage by the three major network television news channels and local newspapers in the three cities at the same time. They found that both television and newspapers affected the salience of all seven issues on the public agenda, replicating the initial agenda-setting findings in new contexts. McCombs and Shaw would go on to conduct dozens of agenda-setting studies over the next 40 years and receive lion's share of credit for establishing one of the most influential theories of mass communication effects.
However, it should also be mentioned that a relatively unknown scholar named G. Ray Funkhouser performed a study highly similar to McCombs and Shaw’s around exactly the same time the authors were formalizing the theory. All three scholars - McCombs, Shaw, and Funkhouser - even presented their findings at the same academic conference. Funkhouser’s article was published later than McCombs and Shaw’s, but we have to ask why Funkhouser doesn’t receive as much credit as McCombs and Shaw for discovering agenda setting? According to Everett Rogers, there are two main reasons Funkhouser doesn't receive as much credit. First, Funkhouser didn’t formally name the theory. Second, Funkhouser didn’t pursue his research much past the initial article. Rogers also suggests that Funkhouser was geographically isolated at Stanford, cut off from interested researchers, whereas McCombs had Shaw and got other people interested in agenda setting research. For all of these reasons, Funkhouser does not get as much credit as McCombs and Shaw. McCombs and Shaw have heavily pursued agenda-setting theory, establishing an "invisible college" of researchers around the theory.
 The Cognitive Accessibility MechanismAccessibility is the cognitive process through which agenda setting is said to occur. Basically, accessibility implies that the more frequently and prominently the news media cover an issue, the more instances of that issue become accessible in audience's memories. When surveyors then ask what the most important problem facing the country is, respondents answer with the most accessible news issue in memory, which is typically the issue the news media focus on the most.
 Obtrusive vs. Unobtrusive IssuesAnother factor that causes variations in the correlation between the media and public agenda is whether an issue is "obtrusive" or "unobtrusive." Obtrusive issues are generally issues with which we can have some kind of personal experience, (e.g., city-wide crime or inflation at the gas pump). Unobtrusive issues are issues we cannot directly observe (e.g., national unity). To learn about unobtrusive issues we can't directly observe, we must turn to news media. As such, there tends to be a higher correlation between the salience of unobtrusive issues presented in the news media and audience's perceptions of these issues as important problems.
Research performed by Zucker in 1978 suggested that an issue is obtrusive if most members of the public have had direct contact with it, and less obtrusive if audience members have not had direct experience. This means that agenda setting results should be strongest for unobtrusive issues because audience members must rely on media for information on these topics.
 Framing or Second-Level Agenda-Setting?As agenda setting theory has been developed, scholars pointed out attributes that describe the object. Each of the objects on an agenda has a lot of attributes containing cognitive component such as information that describes characteristics of the object, and an affective component including tones(positive, negative, neutral) of the characteristics on agenda.
McCombs et al. (1998) demonstrated that agenda-setting research at the second level deals with the influence of ‘attribute’ salience, whereas the first level agenda-setting illustrates the influence of ‘issue’ salience. Balmas and Sheafer (2010) argued that the focus at the first level agenda-setting which emphasizes media’s role in telling us "what to think about" is shifted to media’s function of telling us "how to think about" at the second level agenda-setting. The second level of agenda-setting considers how the agenda of attributes affects public opinion (McCombs & Evatt, 1995). Furthermore, Ghanem(1997) demonstrated that the certain attributes agendas in the news with low psychological distance, drove compelling arguments for the salience of public agenda. The second level agenda setting differs from traditional agenda setting in that it focus on attribute salience, and public’s attribute agenda is regarded as one of the important variables.
There is a debate over whether framing theory should be subsumed within agenda-setting as "second-level agenda-setting." McCombs, Shaw, Weaver and colleagues generally argue that framing is a part of agenda-setting that operates as a "second-level" or secondary effect. Dietram Schefuele has argued the opposite. Scheufele argues that framing and agenda-setting possess distinct theoretical boundaries, operate via distinct cognitive processes (accessibility vs. attribution), and relate to different outcomes (perceptions of issue importance vs. interpretation of news issue).
According to Weaver, framing and second-level agenda setting have the following characteristics:
- Both are more concerned with how issues or other objects are depicted in the media than with which issues or objects are more or less prominently reported.
- Both focus on most salient or prominent aspects of themes or descriptions of the objects of interest.
- Both are concerned with ways of thinking rather than objects of thinking
- Framing does seem to include a broader range of cognitive processes – moral evaluations, causal reasoning, appeals to principle, and recommendations for treatment of problems – than does second-level agenda setting (the salience of attributes of an object)
Based on these shared characteristics, McCombs and colleagues recently argued that framing effects should be seen as the extension of agenda setting. In other words, according to them, the premise that framing is about selecting "a restricted number of thematically related attributes"  for media representation can be understood as the process of transferring the salience of issue attributes (i.e., second-level agenda setting). That is, according to McCombs and colleagues’ arguments, framing falls under the umbrella of agenda setting.
According to Price and Tewksbury, however, agenda setting and framing are built on different theoretical premises: agenda setting is based on accessibility, while framing is concerned with applicability (i.e., the relevance between message features and one’s stored ideas or knowledge). Accessibility-based explanation of agenda setting is also applied to second-level agenda setting. That is, transferring the salience of issue attributes (i.e., second-level agenda setting) is a function of accessibility.
For framing effects, empirical evidence shows that the impact of frames on public perceptions is mainly determined by perceived importance of specific frames rather than by the quickness of retrieving frames. argues that, because accessibility and applicability vary in their functions of media effects, "the distinction between accessibility and applicability effects has obvious benefits for understanding and predicting the effects of dynamic information environments." That is, the way framing effects transpires is different from the way second-level agenda setting is supposed to take place (i.e., accessibility). On a related note, Scheufele and Tewksbury
Taken together, it can be concluded that the integration of framing into agenda setting is either impossible because they are based on different theoretical premises or imprudent because merging the two concepts would result in the loss of our capabilities to explain various media effects.
 Agenda setting vs. FramingScheufele and Tewksbury argue that "framing differs significantly from these accessibility-based models [i.e., agenda setting and priming]. It is based on the assumption that how an issue is characterized in news reports can have an influence on how it is understood by audiences;" the difference between whether we think about an issue and how we think about it. Framing and agenda setting differs in their functions in the process of news production, information processing and media effects.
(a) News production: Although "both frame building and agenda building refer to macroscopic mechanisms that deal with message construction rather than media effects," frame building is more concerned with the news production process than agenda building. In other words, "how forces and groups in society try to shape public discourse about an issue by establishing predominant labels is of far greater interest from a framing perspective than from a traditional agenda-setting one."
(b) News processing: For framing and agenda setting, different conditions seem to be needed in processing messages to produce respective effects. Framing effect is more concerned with audience attention to news messages, while agenda setting is more with repeated exposure to messages.
(c) Locus of effect: Agenda-setting effects are determined by the ease with which people can retrieve from their memory issues recently covered by mass media, while framing is the extent to which media messages fit ideas or knowledge people have in their knowledge store.
 Agenda setting vs. Reversed Agenda-SettingWith the advent of the Internet, Netizens who use the Internet for a specific purpose appeared. Some people simply search for certain information they want through various media channels, while others post their own opinion or discuss a certain issue on their internet homepages or internet communities. Thus, increase in the role of citizens in agenda setting sheds light on a new direction in the traditional agenda-setting research.
Kim and Lee (2006) noted that the agenda-setting research on internet differs from traditional agenda-setting research in that the Internet functions alternative media which is in competition with traditional media, the Internet has enormous capacity for contents, and users’ interactivity has been stressed on the Internet. Lee, Lancendorfer and Lee (2005) argued that "various opinions about public issues are posted on the Internet bulletin boards or the Usenet newsgroup by Netizens, and the opinions then form an agenda in which other Netizens can perceive the salient issue". The researchers also stated that the Internet plays a role in a medium for forming Internet user’s opinion as well as the public space.
Kim and Lee (2006) studied the pattern of internet mediated agenda-setting by conducting a case study on 10 cases which have a great ripple effect in Korea for 5 years (from 2000 until 2005). From the result, researchers found that a person’s opinion could be disseminated through various online channels and arouse public opinion which influences on news coverage. Their study suggests ‘reversed agenda effects’ that public agenda could set media agenda. Maxwell McCombs (2004) also mentioned "reverse agenda-setting" in his recent textbook as a situation where public concern sets the media agenda.
According to Kim and Lee (2006), agenda-setting and agenda-building through the Internet take the following three steps: 1) Internet-mediated agenda-rippling: an anonymous netizen’s opinion spreads to the important agenda on the Internet through online main rippling channels such as blogs, personal homepages, and internet bulletin boards. 2) agenda diffusion on the Internet: Online news or portal sites report the important agenda on the Internet, which leads to spread the agenda to more online publics. 3) Internet-mediated reversed agenda-setting: traditional media report the online agenda to the public so that the agenda spread to both offline and online publics. However, the researchers said that internet mediated agenda-setting or agenda-building processes not always occur in consecutive order. For example, the agenda which was reported by traditional media has come to the fore again through the online discussion, or the three steps occur at the same time in a short time.
 Need for OrientationAgenda-setting studies typically show variability in the correlation between media and public agenda. To explain differences in the correlation, McCombs and colleagues created the concept of "need for orientation," which "describes individual differences in the desire for orienting cues and background information."
Two concepts: relevance and uncertainty, define an individual's need for orientation. Relevance suggests that an individual will not seek news media information if an issue is not personally relevant. Hence, if relevance is low, people will feel the need for less orientation. There are many issues in our country that are just not relevant to people, because they do not affect us. Many news organizations attempt to frame issues in a way that attempts to make them relevant to its audiences. This is their way of keeping their viewership/readership high. "Level of uncertainty is the second defining condition of need for orientation. Frequently, individuals already have all the information that they desire about a topic. Their degree of uncertainty is low." When issues are of high personal relevance and uncertainty low, the need to monitor any changes in those issues will be present and there will be a moderate the need for orientation. If at any point in time viewers/readers have high relevance and high uncertainty about any type of issue/event/election campaign there was a high need for orientation.
David Weaver(1977) adapted the concept of ‘individual’s need for orientation’ defined regarding relevance and uncertainty. Research done by Weaver in 1977 suggested that individuals vary on their need for orientation. Need for orientation is a combination of the individual’s interest in the topic and uncertainty about the issue. The higher levels of interest and uncertainty produce higher levels of need for orientation. So the individual would be considerably likely to be influenced by the media stories (psychological aspect of theory). Schonbach and Weaver(1985) ’s study with a focus on need for orientation showed the strongest agenda setting effects at a moderate need for orientation(under conditions of low interest and high uncertainty).
 Three Types of Agenda-SettingRogers and Dearing identify three types of agenda setting:
1) public agenda setting, in which the public's agenda is the dependent variable (the traditional hypothesis)
2) media agenda setting, in which the media's agenda is treated as the dependent variable (aka agenda building)
3) policy agenda setting, in which elite policy makers' agendas are treated as the dependent variable (aka political agenda setting)
Mass communication research, Rogers and Dearing argue, has focused a great deal on public agenda setting - e.g., McCombs and Shaw, 1972 - and media agenda setting, but has largely ignored policy agenda setting, which is studied primarily by political scientists. As such, the authors suggest mass communication scholars pay more attention to how the media and public agendas might influence elite policy maker's agendas (i.e., scholars should ask where the President or members of the U.S. Congress get their news from and how this affects their policies). Writing in 2006, Walgrave and Van Aelst took up Rogers and Dearing's suggestions, creating a preliminary theory of political agenda setting, which examines factors that might influence elite policy makers' agendas.
 Non-Political ApplicationMcCombs and Shaw originally established agenda-setting within the context of a presidential election. Many subsequent studies have looked at agenda-setting in the context of an election or in otherwise political contexts. Many subsequent studies have looked at agenda setting in the context of an election or in otherwise political contexts. However, more recently scholars have been studying agenda setting in the context of brand community. A brand is defined as what resides in the minds of individuals about a product or service. Brand community is described as a "specialized, non-geographically bound community based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand." Under these definitions more than just material products can qualify as a brand, political candidates or even celebrities could be viewed as a brand as well. The theory can also be applied to commercial advertising, business news and corporate reputation, business influence on federal policy, legal systems, trials, roles of social groups, audience control, public opinion, and public relations.
 ContributionsSince the Chapel Hill study, a great deal of research has been carried out to discover the agenda setting influence of the news media. The theory has not been limited to elections, and many scholars constantly explored the agenda setting effect in a variety of communication situations. This explains that agenda setting has a theoretical value which is able to synthesize social phenomenon and to build new research questions.
Another contribution of agenda setting is to show the power of media. Since the study of 1940 US presidential election in Erie County, Ohio by Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues, little evidence of mass communication effects has been found over the next twenty years. In 1960, Joseph Klapper’s The Effects of Mass Communication also declared the limited effect of media. Agenda setting caused a paradigm shift in the study of media effects from persuasion to informing by connecting media content and its effects on the public.
 Future of Agenda-Setting TheoryAs a result in the changes in technology, there have been major changes in the ways in which people receive their news. Newspapers, broadcast television, and terrestrial radio are all examples of "vertical media" which is rapidly declining. Now the more common form of media is "horizontal media." The main differences are that it is more specialized and people pay premiums for this type of media. Horizontal media includes cable television and satellite radio as well as other media that is paid for. Horizontal and vertical media intersect in virtual brand communities, or the Internet. This is because the Internet is free like vertical media but serves specialized interest groups like horizontal media. Now people seek news in different ways, the media and its agenda have had to adapt. Although the major tenets of agenda setting theory have maintained their importance with the changes of new media, an aspect of agenda setting theory has changed. This change is known as Agenda Melding which focuses "on the personal agendas of individuals vis-à-vis their community and group affiliations  ". This means that individuals join groups and blend their agendas with the agendas of the group. Then groups and communities represent a "collected agenda of issues" and "one joins a group by adopting an agenda." On the other hand, agenda setting defines groups as "collections of people based on some shared values, attitudes, or opinions" that individuals join. This is different from traditional agenda setting because according to Shaw et al. individuals join groups in order to avoid social dissonance and isolation that is also known as "need for orientation ". Therefore in the past in order to belong people would learn and adopt the agenda of the group. Now with the ease of access to media, people form their own agendas and then find groups that have similar agendas that they agree with. The advances in technology have made agenda melding easy for people to develop because there is a wide range of groups and individual agendas. The Internet makes it possible for people all around the globe to find others with similar agendas and collaborate with them. In the past agenda setting was limited to general topics and it was geographically bound because travel was limited.
 Criticisms1) Agenda setting is an inherently causal theory, but few studies establish the hypothesized temporal order (the media should set the public's agenda).
2) The measurement of the dependent variable was originally conceptualized as the public's perceived issue "salience," but subsequent studies have conceptualized the dependent variable as awareness, attention, or concern, leading to differing outcomes.
3) Studies tend to aggregate media content categories and public responses into very broad categories, resulting in inflated correlation coefficients.
 See also
- Availability heuristic
- Policy by press release
- Political agenda
- Mass hysteria
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- Lee, B; Karen and Lee (Mar 2005). "Agenda-setting and the internet: The intermedia influence of internet bulletin boards on newspaper coverage of the 2000 general election in South Korea". Asian Journal of Communication 15 (1): 57–71.
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 Further reading
|This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2009)|
- Balmas M. and Sheafer T. Candidate image in election campaigns: attribute agenda setting, affective priming, and voting intentions. International Journal of Public Opinion Research Vol. 22 No. 2.
- Cohen, B. (1963). The Press and Foreign Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-87772-346-2
- Davie W. R. and Maher T. M. (2006) Maxwell McCombs: Agenda-Setting Explorer. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50(2), 358–364.
- Druckman, J., Jacobs, L., Ostermeir. (2004). Candidate Strategies to Prime Issues and Image. Journal of Politics Vol. 66 No.4, 1180-1202.
- Groshek J. (2008). Homogenous Agendas, Disparate Frames: CNN and CNN International Coverage online. Journal of broadcasting and electronic media. 52(1), 52-68.
- Hayes, D. (2008). "Does the Messenger Matter? Candidate-Media Agenda Convergence and Its Effects on Voter Issue Salience". Political Research Quarterly 61 (1): 134–146. doi:10.1177/1065912907306472. ISSN 1065-9129.
- Huckins, K (1999). Interest-group influence on the media agenda: A case study. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 76, 76-86.
- Iyengar, S., Kinder, D.R. (1986) More Than Meets the Eye: TV News, Priming, and Public Evaluations of the President. Public Communication and Behavior, Vol.1 New York: Academic.
- Kosicki, G. M. (1993). Problems and Opportunities in Agenda-Setting Research. Journal of Communication. Vol. 43, No. 2, 100–127.
- Kosicki, G. (2002). The media priming effect: news media and considerations affecting political judgements. In D. Pfau (Ed.), The persuasion handbook: Developments in theory and practice (p. 63-80). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.ISBN 0-7619-2006-4
- Kim, S., Scheufele, D.A., & Shanahan, J. (2002). Think about it this way: Attribute agenda-setting function of the press and the public’s evaluation of a local issue.
- Kiousis, S., & McCombs, M. (2004). Agenda-setting effects and attitude strength: Political figures during the 1996 Presidential elections. Communication Research, 31, 36-57.
- Lippmann, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan.
- McCombs, Maxwell E.; Donald L. Shaw (1972). "The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media". Public Opinion Quarterly 36 (2): 176. doi:10.1086/267990. ISSN 0033-362X.
- McCombs, M.E., and D.L. Shaw. (1993). The Evolution of Agenda-Setting Research: Twenty-Five Years in the Marketplace of Ideas. Journal of Communication. Vol. 43, No. 2, p. 58 – 67
- Reiley, K. (2008, Nov.20). The Never-ending campaign. Interview. p 56.
- Revkin, A., Carter, S., Ellis,J., and McClean A. (2008, Nov.) On the Issues: Climate Change. The New York Times.
- Severin W., & Tankard, J. (2001). Communication Theories: Origins, Methods and Uses in Mass Communication (5th ed.). New York: Longman.ISBN 978-0-8013-3335-4
- Tanjong,, Enoh; Gaddy, Gary D. (1994). "The Agenda-Setting Function of the International Mass Media: The Case of Newsweek in Nigeria". Africa Media Review 8 (2): 1–14. http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/africanjournals/html/itemdetail.cfm?recordID=1045.
- Wanta, W., & Wu, Y.C. (1995). Interpersonal communication and the agenda-setting process. Journalism Quarterly, 69, 847-855.
- Weaver, D.H. (2007, Feb.) Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming. Journal of Communication. Vol. 57 No. 1, 142 - 147.
- Yagade, A., & Dozier, D.M. (1990). The media agenda-setting effect of concrete versus abstract issues. Journalism Quarterly, 67, 3-10.