Agenda Building Essay

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Agenda building refers to the process by which news organizations and journalists select certain events, issues, or sources to cover over others. The agenda-building literature is characterized by a diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches. However, a common thread is that news coverage is not a reflection of reality, but rather determined by a hierarchy of social influences (Shoemaker & Reese 1996).

Research, for example, has explored the impact of ownership structure on the issues and plurality of perspectives considered  newsworthy. Additionally, several scholars have examined how changes in technology and  market  forces have displaced coverage of policy-oriented hard news issues with coverage of soft news topics. Other research has focused on inter-media agenda setting, or the tendency for different types of news outlets to mirror closely the set of issues covered by just a few national  news organizations.

Yet, most of the research on agenda building has focused on workplace and professional-level influences that shape news attention. This research investigates the unofficial set of ground rules that govern the interactions between journalists and their sources, privileging attention to certain issues, views, and societal actors over others.

Faced with financial and time pressures, journalists routinize their daily work by relying on news values such as prominence,  conflict, drama,  proximity,  timeliness,  and  objectivity. They also rely heavily on storytelling themes and narrative to package complex events and issues and to make them appealing to specific audiences. In reporting the news, they often follow a common set of organizational rules, professionally derived standards of ethics and quality, shared judgments of authority  and  expertise and  societal expectations relative to commonly held beliefs such as patriotism or religion. More recent work has examined how the cognitive and emotional needs of journalists can help explain common agenda-building phenomena, ranging from pack journalism to political bias (Donsbach 2004).


  1. Donsbach, W. (2004). Psychology of news decisions: Factors behind journalists’ professional behavior. Journalism, 5, 131–157.
  2. Shoemaker, P. J. & Reese, S. D. (1996). Mediating the message: Theories of influence on mass media content. White Plains, NY: Longman.

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