Now who tells us what is important?

I can say that I am a really big fan of the news. Whenever I have some time, for instance when I’m traveling by public transport, I grab my phone and start to read, NOS or some other news applications. Now if you frequently read the news, you can easily tell someone what is currently going on in the world and what the main issues are at this time. This idea that there is a correlation between what the media focus on and what audiences see as important is called agenda-setting (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). This means that because mass media pay much attention to certain issues, their audiences will eventually regard these issues as important. Although this might seems logical, It might not certain whether we can still speak of agenda-setting by traditional media nowadays. This theory does not seemed to take into account any technological developments from the last years, and therefore it might be somewhat outdated. According to Marketingfacts (2013) the internet has put the agenda-setting theory into a completely different perspective, because the internet made the news much more interactive. People do not only consume the news anymore because they are part of it now. So do news organisations still have so much influence on our view of importance of issues? Or does technological progress forces to review the agenda-setting phenomenon in this digital age?


What we have read and seen in the last three months
An example of an issue that has received much attention in recent months is the refugee flow from Syria to Europe. If you would ask someone to name one of the most urgent topics at the moment, there is a great chance that this might be one of the issues to be mentioned. One might think this is because this ‘someone’ would have probably read all about it in the news. However, there may be a different factor in which this problem came to attention.

This other explanation might be found in a social media analysis from Coosto (a social media monitoring & webcare tool). Analyzing both social media and news sources provides some insights into the relations of messages from the two types of media. A search query for “refugees” OR “refugee issue” OR “refugee flow” OR “emergency shelter” in a time span from 1 september till 30 november this year, shows that there have been written over 400.000 messages concerning the refugees issues.

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The first thing to notice is the difference in amount of social media messages, compared to articles that have occurred in the news. The amount of social media messages is almost 5 times the amount of articles that were published by news organisations. This is probably a logical consequence of the number of authors per type of media. social media content is written and published by millions of people, against a relatively small number of professional journalists. However, therefore there might be a chance that one has read more of the refugee problem through social media than through the news, and that its association of the issue did not came from traditional media but rather from social media.

In addition to the analysis of coverage on the issue per month, another analysis was made on the coverage per hour. In this analysis used the same search query as before was filtered on a period of 7 days in the month of september, and Coosto was used to show the amount of messages per hour on a day.

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The analysis above shows the amount of messages per hour on a specific day in September. As can be seen from the analysis above, it seems that the amount of social media messages (blue) is increasing earlier in the day than the amount news articles (orange). Although it is not possible to draw hard conclusions yet, this might indicate that the reporting in the news actually follows the coverage on social media content. If this were the case, it would mean that we are responsible ourselves for any agenda-setting, because of the social media content that we have probably posted ourselves.


So who is setting an agenda now?
In contrast with the past the news is not only written by professional journalists anymore. Bloggers, citizen journalists and Twitter or Facebook users are increasingly contribute to the production of the news (Matei & McDonald, 2015). The content created on social media is increasingly used by Journalists, who consider social media more and more often as a reliable source. With social media data journalists can easily monitor audience sentiments, trending topics, and publish created news stories to a large (global) audience (Conway, Kenski & Wang, 2015). Therefore it is not so obvious anymore that the traditional media determine, by means of agenda-setting, what issues are regarded as important. It is possible that social media has at least as much influence on our view of the world, as traditional media have.  

Due to the growth of digital media and online audiences, the phenomenon of agenda-setting issues are becoming more complex. It is difficult to determine which type of media has the greatest influence on the public view on specific issues. This is partly because both traditional media and social media are online and nearly equally accessible (Neuman, Guggenheim, Mo Jang & Young Bea, 2014). However, I do think that it is no longer obvious to say that the agenda-setting theory only applies to traditional media. As mentioned before, the interactive aspects of the internet have caused some changes in the relationships between news organisations and their audiences. One can help to create the news, help to spread the news and be very critical to the news. All these aspects influence our view to the world and the news that is presented to us. So before we say ‘it’s all because of what the media tell us’ we might want to consider for what agendas we are responsible ourselves.