Theories of Mass Media: Gatekeeping, Agenda-setting, Framing, and Priming Theory

Mass media is widely used these days, this article starts with an introduction to mass media and its characteristics. Further, it explains the four different theories used in mass media, namely gatekeeping, agenda-setting, framing, and the priming theory. Adding up to this, the levels and factors are also discussed.

A brief into Mass Media:

Mass media are generally described as channels that help in reaching mass audiences. It includes organizations and technologies that are involved. They are known as the media class and the media vehicle. For example, if we are considering the print medium which is the media class, then the newspapers such as The Hindu, Times of India, or any other magazines serve as the media vehicle. Mass media simply plays the role of information dissemination through print (newspapers, books, magazines) and digital media (Television, Internet, advertising). Mass media is potentially administered, financed, and industrially organized.

Mass media evolves with the evolution of technology. Years ago, our ancestors had to wait to spread or receive information from people. Their way of communication was simple but took more time. But, have a look at today’s communication method, spreading news and information is as easy as boiling hot water. On the functionalist view, mass media exists to entertain people and occupy their leisure time. But on the other side, mass media plays a major role in socialization by enforcing social norms and bringing people together.

Also Read: Noam Chomsky: Five Filters of Mass Media

The media also tells us what is the at a most thing or the least thing that society expects from us and vice versa, which in return has given birth to a conflict perspective. This perspective tells us how the media can aggravate the divisions that exist in a society. These divisions might be based on social class, status, gender, or race. To keep things working without any kind of conflict, we are introduced to four theories that mass media uses.

1. The Gatekeeping Theory:

Gate + Keeping = gatekeeping is the control of what information goes in media to reach the public. According to the Westley Mclean model of the editorial function, gatekeeping is described as the role of the media that decides what the audience can take and what they cannot, it decides what is important and what is not important, and finally, the gatekeeper decides how and in what way a story should be told. In short, the information that reaches the audience is specific, selective and has passed a lots of editing gates before being published.

Factors that influence gatekeeping:

The selection of content is controlled on certain bases, they are:

  1. Events

The events organized by the media almost fall under a recurring pattern. These patterns are the first and foremost to influence gatekeeping.

  1. Social and Political forces

There are a lot of restrictions from the socio-politicals side of the media. These might also be said as media information restrictions or censorship according to the legal side (Libel and Slander). These factors are influenced by the political parties, Governing and Non – Governmental organizations, and sometimes the educational institutions.

  1. Economic Norms

The media has reached a point where they can survive only if there is strong support on the economic side. Some of the economic factors include competitions between agencies or organizations in the market, the workers union, and the advertising and marketing agencies.

  1. Professional Practices

Journalists and media owners play a major role in gate keeping. They decide if they should be ethical or not. The answer for the question of newsworthiness, editorial values and news policies when an information is passed lies in the hands of the journalists and the editors of the organization.

  1. Ideology of Journalists

Not just the professional practise but also the ideology of the journalists play a major role. It is decided when the workers of the media decide on what aspect they see their jobs, on the basis of objectivity, autonomy, immediacy, ethics and public services.

  1. Audience

Finally and importantly, all these end up in the choice that the audience make, according to every individual’s demand and interest.

2. Agenda Setting Theory:

Agenda setting is nextly important to gatekeeping. Simply put, agenda-setting is the media giving an idea to the audience of what to think about. This is mainly used during election campaigns and political communications where the media gives information to the public on what are the changes a party has brought so far or what will be brought. This simply shows the media how much their news has affected or has created an impact in public and helps them set an agenda for the next dissemination accordingly.

Audience and their consumption are the major factors that are influencing the Agenda Setting.

The Two Levels of Agenda Setting:

Level 1

Agenda setting is used by people who are studying or researchers who do thesis on different aspects of media and the influence in the audience and by the audience. This helps future media persons to study and explore how media has an influence on a group or on individuals.

Level 2

The Level 2 people are the people who seriously experiment with Agenda-setting. They focus on how their information should influence their set of audiences. This is where sensationalization plays its part, showing that the media has the power to spread the right information at the right time and also divert people according to their needs.

3) Framing Theory:

Framing is closely related to agenda-setting. In the agenda-setting, we learned that the audience is given an image of what to think, here, Framing is the process by the media influencing the audience on how to think about something. Being given all the information on something, framing allows the media to also give a perspective to the audience. For example, what a political party has done or is going to do to the society is the agenda, framing helps the public whether they should look at it in a positive aspect or in a negative one. It focuses on the field of how the meaning should be.

This has a larger effect on both the audience and the framer. This ideology can keep a person in heights or suddenly bring that person down in minutes. The audience are taught to adapt to the frame of reference given by the media.

4) Priming Theory:

After all this, there is one more thing that influences the audience more. Let us take two major issues, the first issue is easily solvable and a bit simple, the second issue needs most of the attention. But, the media keeps on talking about the first issue and does not give much attention to the second. The audience mentality tunes in with the media and they start giving more attention to the first issue than the second one. The amount of time and space devoted by the media to a particular issue decides the receptiveness and alertness of the audience to the same issue. Precisely, the media sets a stage for the audience to understand an issue by proposing the values and standards, which is Priming. This creates interest in the public and they tend to form individual opinions. Studies and researches suggest that aggressive or compulsive reporting is capable of grabbing the attention of the disinterested audience.

Starting from providing information to giving a perspective to it, mass media plays a much higher role in society. Sometimes these are followed by an organization itself, in some countries the power is in the hands of a political party that owns a channel or a medium, or sometimes in the hands of the government and the ruling party. As far as these theories are followed, there are chances for information to be purely original, fake, or even biased at times. There are chances for a very rare set of audience to find out between the truth and a lie.