People use the news media to learn about the world beyond their family, neighborhood, and workplace. As news consumers, we depend on what television, social media, websites, radio stations, and newspapers decide to inform us about. This is because all news media, whether through journalists or digital algorithms, select, process, and filter information to their users. Over time, the aspects that are prominent in the news media usually become prominent in public opinion. The ability of journalists to influence which issues, aspects of these issues, and persons related to these issues, are perceived as the most salient has come to be called the agenda-setting effect of journalism. First described by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in a seminal study conducted during the 1968 elections in the United States, agenda-setting theory has expanded to include several other aspects beyond the transfer of salience of issues from the media agenda to the public agenda. These aspects include: the influence of journalism on the attributes of issues and people that make news; the networks between the different elements in the media and public agendas; the determinants of the news media agenda; the psychological mechanisms that regulate agenda-setting effects; and the consequences of agenda setting on both citizens’ and policymakers’ attitudes and behaviors. As one of the most comprehensive and international theories of journalism studies available, agenda setting continues to evolve in the expanding digital media landscape.
Richard T. Craig
Who filters through information and determines what information is shared with media audiences? Who filters through information and determines what information will not be shared with media audiences? Ultimately, who controls the flow of information in the media? At times commentary pertaining to media content references media as an omnipotent individual entity selecting the content transmitted to the public, reminiscent of a Wizard of Oz manner of the all-powerful being behind the curtain. Overlooked in this perception is the reality that in mass media, there are various individuals in positions of power making decisions about the information accessed by audiences of various forms of media. These individuals are considered gatekeepers: wherein the media functions as a gate permitting some matters to be publicized and included into the public discourse while restricting other matters from making it to the public conscience. Media gatekeepers (i.e., journalists, editors) possess the power to control the gate by determining the content delivered to audiences, opening and closing the gate of information. Gatekeepers wield power over those on the other side of the gate, those seeking to be informed (audiences), as well as those seeking to inform (politics, activists, academics, etc.). The earliest intellectual explanation of gatekeeping is traced to Kurt Lewin, describing gatekeeping as a means to analyze real-world problems and observing the effects of cultural values and subjective attitudes on those problems like the distribution of food in Lewins’s seminal study, and later modified by David Manning White to examine the dissemination of information via media. In an ideal situation, the gatekeepers would be taking on the challenge of weighing the evidence of importance in social problems when selecting among the options of content and information to exhibit. Yet, decisions concerning content selection are not void of subjective viewpoints and encompass values, beliefs, and ideals of gatekeepers. The subjective attitudes of gatekeepers influence their perspective of what qualifies as newsworthy information. Hence, those in the position to determine the content transmitted through media exercise the power to shape social reality for media audiences. In the evolution of media gatekeeping theory three models have resulted from the scholarship: (1) examination of the one-way flow of information passing through a series of gates before reaching audiences, (2) the process of newsroom personnel interacting with people outside of the newsroom, and (3) the direct communication of private citizens and public officials. In traditional media and newer forms of social media, gatekeeping examination revolves around analysis of these media organizations’ news routines and narratives. Gatekeeping analysis observes human behavior and motives in order to make conceptualizations about the social world.
Karyn Ogata Jones
Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue. Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies. Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.
Tim Klein, Elisabeth Fondren, and Leonard M. Apcar
Throughout the ages, the editor’s primary role has been to connect writers with readers by deciding what to publish. In modern scholarship, this is known as gatekeeping. The stories an editor allows through the metaphorical “gate” can influence what readers find important—what scholars call agenda setting. But editors not only influence which stories are told; they also shape how stories are told, through word choice, story arrangement, selection of examples, photos, and the all-important headline; this is known as framing. Historians and biographers have written a good deal about individual editors—their publications, their editorial instincts, their altercations with powerful politicians, and their pursuit of truth, entertainment, profit, and influence. But there has been less focus on the broader changes that have impacted the work of editors as the media ecosystem has shifted. Cultural and social changes have created new demands on editors, who have had to adjust to stay in sync with audiences’ tastes and expectations. Technological invention—and the disruption of old economic models—have forced editors to adapt to new mediums of mass communication that serve new audiences and new financial realities. In short, broader economic, political, technological, and social changes have all influenced what type of editing has flourished and what practices drifted into the past. The Internet has posed an existential threat to editors as gatekeepers. Countless new gates that connect readers and writers have been thrown open, some with little to no editorial oversight. This is far from the first time editors have been forced to adapt to change—the history of editing has been a story of innovation in a continuing quest to find new ways to connect readers and writers. Today, despite the decline in gatekeeping power, professional editing still has an essential role—to curate quality out of the multitude of online voices and uphold a rigor for accuracy and truthfulness that can be easily overlooked on social media and non-professional news sites. Whether it is approving (or rejecting) a topic of investigation, copy-editing prose, fact-checking a story, arranging the home page of a website, managing a newsroom, or deciding which journalist to hire, editors play an integral role in shaping the information that is shared with audiences.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison
Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.
Kimberly N. Kline
Popular media are a source of information, a powerful socializing agent, and generate sociopolitical and sociocultural meanings that impinge on health promotion and/or disease prevention efforts and individual lived experiences. Thus, motivated by the goal of improving individual and social health, multidisciplinary scholars attend to the implications of entertainment and news media with regard to a range of topics such as individual health threats related to prevention, health conditions and illnesses, patient–provider interactions and expectations, public health issues related to crisis management and health recommendations, and public policy. Scholarship in this line of research may approach the study of popular media guided by the social scientific tradition of media effects theory to explain and predict response or by critical theory to consider ideological implications and employ different methodologies to describe and evaluate the images of health and health-related matters to which people are being exposed or that focus on media representations or audience (both individual and societal) response.