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Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916


Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming
David H. Weaver
School of Journalism, University of Indiana, Bloomington, IN 47405

This article discusses similarities and differences between ‘‘second-level’’ agenda setting and framing, and between priming and agenda setting. It presents data on the number of studies of agendasetting, framing, and priming indexed by Communication Abstract from 1971 to 2005, and it offers some conclusions about the cognitive processes involved in agenda setting, priming and framing. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00333.x

As someone who has worked on studies of media agenda setting since the 1972 U.S. presidential election (Weaver, 1977; Weaver, McCombs, & Spellman, 1975), I am morefamiliar with the theoretical debates and empirical findings of this branch of media research than with theories and research focusing on framing or priming. Nevertheless, I see these areas of communication research as interconnected and as involving some similar, although not identical, cognitive processes and effects. As I have written before (Weaver, 1997–1998, p. 3), ‘‘focusing on framing does notnecessarily mean discarding the findings of much agenda-setting research that is more concerned with which issues are emphasized (or what is covered) than how such issues are reported and discussed.’’ Whereas the ‘‘first level’’ of agenda setting is focused on the relative salience (usually operationally defined as perceived importance) of issues or subjects, the ‘‘second level’’ examines therelative salience of attributes of issues, as McCombs (2005) and Ghanem (1997) have described in detail. These agendas of attributes have been called ‘‘the second level’’ of agenda setting to distinguish them from the first level that has traditionally focused on issues (objects), although the term ‘‘level’’ implies that attributes are more specific than objects, which is not always the case. Theperspectives and frames that journalists employ draw attention to certain attributes of the objects of news coverage, as well as to the objects themselves, and some of these perspectives can be very general (e.g., a ‘‘Cold War’’ frame).

Corresponding author: David H. Weaver; e-mail:
Journal of Communication 57 (2007) 142–147 ª 2007 International Communication Association D. H. Weaver

Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming

Framing and agenda setting

Tankard, Hendrickson, Silberman, Bliss, and Ghanem (1991, p. 3) have described a media frame as ‘‘the central organizing idea for news content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration.’’ Entman (1993, p. 52) argues that ‘‘to frame isto select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.’’ (italics in original). McCombs (1997, p. 37) has suggested that in the language of the second level of agenda setting, ‘‘framing is theselection of a restricted number of thematically related attributes for inclusion on the media agenda when a particular object is discussed.’’ He argues that there are many other agendas of attributes besides aspects of issues and traits of political candidates, and a good theoretical map is needed to bring some order to the vastly different kinds of frames discussed in various studies. Not all scholarsagree that second-level agenda setting is equivalent to framing, at least not to more abstract, or macrolevel, framing. Gamson (1992) has conceived of framing in terms of a ‘‘signature matrix’’ that includes various condensing symbols (catchphrases, taglines, exemplars, metaphors, depictions, visual images) and reasoning devices (causes and consequences, appeals to principles or moral claims)....
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