Maxwell McCombs

Internationally recognized mass communications expert gave a lecture on agenda setting and its effects on shaping the foundations of the public opinion at 5:30 p.m., on Sept. 23 at Linfield College in Riley Hall.


            Mass communications’ world has been greatly influenced by the research of guest speaker Maxwell McCombs. According to McCombs, Walter Lippmann as the originator of the concept of agenda setting; the name of the idea to later be coined and tested by McCombs and his colleague, Don Shaw.  McCombs explains that agenda is a descriptive term describing the pattern of news copies in a set time, and how many times that certain news story is covered.  McCombs and Shaw asked the question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” 


In early agenda setting, McCombs and Shaw ranked the media in terms of the agenda set, based on how many times a news story was covered: the news story with the most coverage being the most important.  The pair then surveyed to see what U.S. citizens thought the top five issues facing our country were, finding the answers were remarkably similar.  For the 18-34 year olds, who do not read as many newspapers, the correlation was +.80 in Louisiana and +.90 in North Carolina.  As far as the baby boomers, ages 35-54, and those 55 years of age and older the correlation was +1.0 in both Louisiana and North Carolina.  The issues proposed by the media were not only the same issues the public thought, but were ranked in the same order of importance.


This notion of agenda setting shows how vital news sources are to the general public’s opinion, proving its extreme importance to advertising.  McCombs’ idea of agenda setting is also important because of its work with social media, particularly Twitter.  McCombs explained how the majority of Twitter users re-tweet or comment on a tweet that a news publication has posted about previously. This provides powerful knowledge as it shows that the more a story is repeated in the media, the more it is spread through social media. The scientific evidence and testing of agenda setting and ideas along that line is the type of information that advertising companies want and need.  Advertising companies need to know what strategies work and what strategies do not, otherwise they can potentially waste millions of dollars.


The fact that mass communication and public opinion can be tested to this degree and remain relevant, decades after the inception of agenda setting, is extremely exciting and powerful.  This solidifies in my mind the importance of the presence of mass communication in the world of advertising.



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