News Coverage of Politics and Policies

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The coverage of politics, and more specifically policies or political issues, in news media has been abundantly studied by scholars of agenda setting (see for example, McCombs and Shaw, 1972, 1993; Baumgartner and Jones, 2010, 1991; Soroka, 1999; Walgrave and Van Aelst, 2016; Vliegenthart and Walgrave, 2011; Walgrave and Van Aelst, 2016; Baumgartner et al., 2006). Building on Walter Lippmann’s (1957) argument of the media’s ability to construct social realities in the public mind, agenda setting refers to the transfer of often covered topics in news media to its salience in the public agenda. McCombs and Shaw (1972) pioneered this field, surveying voters in North Carolina (USA) on the most important political issues and comparing these results to a media content analysis of nine local news media outlets. This finding has been coined the first-level agenda setting theory. Ever since the seminal study of McCombs and Shaw (1972), this finding has been replicated hundreds of times all across the world – ranging from other locations in the USA, to Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia – for both election and non-election settings over a broad range of public issues and other aspects of political communication. Moreover, the agenda-setting theory has been extended from objects of attention to attributes, known as the second-level (McCombs, 1992; McCombs and Shaw, 1993; McCombs et al., 2014). From the second-level, it became apparent that “the media not only can be successful in telling us what to think about, they also can be successful in telling us how to think about it” (McCombs, 2005, p.546, emphasis in original). In the early 2010’s, the theory extended with a third-level (Guo et al., 2012; Guo and McCombs, 2011). This level includes a network component to the theory. In this chapter, we will describe the state-of-the-art of agenda-setting theory for the coverage of politics, and especially policies and political issues in media in three trends. Thereafter, we discuss the most common used research designs (pp.5–8), and we conclude with the limitations and possible future directions of the field (pp.8–10).

In Handbook of Standardized Content Analysis. Applied Designs to Research Fields of Communication Science
Felicia Loecherbach
Felicia Loecherbach
PhD Student Communication Science

My research interests include understanding news consumption online making use of theories from political communication and journalism. I use computational methods to study digital trace data. Only publishing research and tools open source.