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Public Opinion and Persuasion Theories

Agenda-Setting Hypothesis vs. Uses and Gratifications Theory

Agenda-Setting Hypothesis says that media content sets the agenda for public discussion. For example people start conversations by bringing up what they heard on the news or saw on the front page of the Newspaper. It raises the idea that through the media’s selection of stories and headlines, the media tells the public what to think about, but not necessarily what to think.

Uses and Gratifications Theory grants power to the individual audience members and states the audience can have an influence on the media. According to the theory, media consumers have free will to decide how they will use the media and how it will affect them.  Uses and gratification is the optimist’s view of the media because the theory rules out the possibility that the media can have an unconscious influence over our lives and how we view the world.

Relationship:

The relationship between the Agenda-Setting Hypothesis and the Uses and gratification theory can be seen in cases such as personal music selection. We select music not only to fit a particular mood but also in attempts to show empowerment or other socially conscience motives.  There are many different types of music and we choose from them to fulfill a particular need, just as we choose media according to the Uses and gratification theory. The Agenda-Setting hypothesis can be seen in music played on the radio, or music played in a store you are shopping in. You cannot help but to listen and think about the music being played, just as you cannot help but to hear the news and notice the front-page story. This could be agenda-setting on the artist’s part, the particular radio station, or the store; because they too are trying to fulfill a particular need, fit a particular mood, show empowerment or other socially conscience motives.

What makes these two different is who gets credit for the thoughts. In agenda-setting the media chose your thoughts. In uses and gratification the individual chose their own thoughts.

PR Practitioners Role in These Two Theories:

  • Agenda-Setting Hypothesis- The media can actually set the agenda for public relations topics and stories. It is the goal of PR professionals to get their subject on the media agenda.
  • Uses and Gratification Theory-The individual can set the agenda for the public relations topics and stories. The PR professional wants to reach the individuals need for information vs. satisfying the gatekeeper at the particular media outlet. The problem with this is the PR practitioner needs to satisfy the gatekeeper, so their story is made public to a large audience. This is how corruption can occur and PR professionals ethics come into play.
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