Media Relations and the Agenda Setting Model Of Understanding the New Media

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Concepts and theories as they relate to the practice of media relations. 4

Relationship between journalism and public relations. 6

Changing role of media relations practitioners in reaching audiences through traditional and new media environments  7

Construction of news. 9

Conclusion. 10

References. 12

Supa et al (2009) define media relations as the practice, undertaken by journalists and public relations practitioners, of providing different information subsidies to the media by systematically distributing information to audiences (in the case of journalists) and clients (in the case of public relations practitioners). There are varying estimates concerning the extent to which news provided by journalists to the media originate from efforts at media relations.


In an era of an increasingly important role of the new media in agenda-setting, the success of media relations is almost always dependent on the understanding that the media relations practitioner has of the target media audiences. Curtin (1999) reports that 50% of all that is contained in an average daily newspaper is obtained through media relations efforts. This trend may be changing fast as part of the new media revolution that is progressing at the same speed as information technology changes.

Media relations practitioners have a very crucial role to play in setting the agenda on different matters affecting society. Editors, broadcasters and newsroom staff play a critical role in shaping up political realities. Readers do not only learn about the latest news relating to an issue of public interest, they also learn about the importance that is attached to it. This depends on the explicitness in terms of details, the position of the story in the case of newspapers and the attitude of the media practitioners towards the development in the story.

            Traditional media environments are being phased out fast by new environments mainly through the transformative power of modern technology. In the traditional setting, the most commonly used media platforms were television, radio, and the daily newspaper. These days, the internet makes it possible for all traditional media platforms to be digitized and transmitted to global audiences with a level of speed, clarity, and efficiency that traditional media practitioners could not even ever dream of.

            The agenda-setting model has changed a lot due to the transition from traditional to modern media forms. In the modern media form contexts, people have greater control over what they can watch. They also have an overwhelmingly wide range of choices from which to source information. Meanwhile, this freedom corresponds with the enormous increase in the power of newsroom staff members, broadcasters and editors to set the agenda in diverse areas ranging from politics, healthcare, sports, show business, obscenity, international trade, international politics, technological development and many other issues of paramount social significance.

            In the traditional media, people were excited about the power of television, radio, and print when it came to matters of shaping public opinion. Today, that power has not abated. Rather, it has been compounded since mass media not only enables opinion leaders to appeal to the mass media directly; it also enables them to interact with some of them interpersonally through various online social networking utilities such as Facebook, Tweeter and MySpace.

            Although there is a lack of conclusive evidence indicating that the mass media can deeply change people’s attitudes during political campaigns, there is enough evidence to show that voters rely on the mass media for the immense quantity of information that they need in order to objectively assess the policies of different campaigners.  The lack of enough evidence to show the mass media at work in changing people’s political beliefs cannot be attributed to weaknesses of the new media; rather, it is due to the sense of consciousness that new media creates by facilitating various methods of information access and verification. The days of traditional media when people used to maintain loyalty to only one source of news, analyses, and commentary of issues affecting the society are long gone and forgotten. In the modern media environment, the liberalized internet-based information superhighway enables anybody to be a source of valid information as long as he has the right tools of technology to do the job. 

            The mass media forces attention to various issues. In times of calamities such as earthquakes, the mass media draws the attention of global audiences to the scale of destruction the extent of suffering among people who are in disaster-stricken areas. A good example is attention that was directed to the Ethiopian famine of 1984 after a photojournalist brought to the attention of global audiences, stories of children dying of hunger. Another recent example is that of the Haiti earthquake in early 2010 where more than 200,000 people perished in the wake of a devastating earthquake that destroyed the Porto au Prince city.

Colby (2005) notes that the agenda-setting function of the mass media is a mere hypothesis; that the media may not be successful all the time in efforts to tell people what they should think about, although it never fails in the task of telling leaders what they should think about at any time. While the mass media may lack enough influence on the direction and intensity of different attitudes, it is often hypothesized that it sets the agenda in each political campaign, whereby it influences the salience of many attitudes towards different issues of public interest.

Concepts and theories as they relate to the practice of media relations

Media agenda-setting framework is one of the theoretical conceptions of the nature of media relations with the society. Within this theoretical framework, the agenda-setting process is viewed to be based on three theoretical interrelationships involving media news agenda, policy agenda setting, and public agenda-setting.

In a media setting agenda, various studies are used in the conceptualization of the way in which news sets the agenda, thereby constituting the main variable in agenda-setting studies. In public agenda-setting, studies conceptualize issues in terms of their relative importance to the public. In the policy setting agenda, the main variable is the issue agenda of different governmental bodies and elected officials. In all these studies, most of the emphasis tends to be concentrated on the importance that is attached to public issues at the expense of analysis of public opinion generally functions in a democratic setting. Ultimately, the current research on the agenda-setting role of the mass media seeks to offer an explanation of one of the ways through which social changes take place in modern societies.

            Communications scholars are attracted to the areas of media relations because it offers a good scholarly perspective in the search for ways in which the media directly brings about overt behavior and attitude change. Earlier researches in mass communication tended to come up with limited effects of the mass media in relation to society (McCombs &Shaw, (1972). These scholars felt that the mass media role was to educate and not to persuade or change people’s attitudes and behaviors. For this reason, they focused on cognitive effects such as agenda-setting whereby people were to be told what they should think about. Many agenda-setting researchers insisted that the core justification for their research work attempted to overcome all limited-effects findings characterizing findings of previous researches.

Carragee et al (1987) argue that despite being overshadowed by important shortcomings, the media relations approach has contributed to a better, more advanced understanding of the role that the mass media plays in society. He adds that it has even led to a shift of emphasis from short-term attitudinal effects to a longitudinal analysis of the impact of mass communication on society.

Relationship between journalism and public relations

In recent years, scholars have expressed the need to spell out the relationship that exists between journalism and public relations. Sievert(2009) notes that not much work has been published on the relationship that exists between the training that is often given to journalists and the one given to PR specialists. This is very surprising because, as Sievert (2009) notes, journalists have always performed the role of a very important reference group for people who are public relations practitioners.

The relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners can best be described as symbiotic since PR experts are always important to contact persons for what some people term as “media horde”. Today, going by the existing methodologies and available logistical data, it becomes rather difficult to differentiate people who can be termed as public relations students and those who can be termed as journalism students. No wonder some authors have had to use address lists or memberships in order to identify different respondent populations while carrying out research on the relationship between journalism and public relations.

            Both journalism and public relations practitioners share many normative goals aimed at shaping public opinion, albeit in slightly different ways and in order to meet different ends. Whereas public relations practitioners work as a department within an organization, journalists have a more intimate relationship with the core business of collecting and dispensing to the general public for the sole purpose of, first and foremost, informing.

            Public relations practitioners and journalists in both business and government always need each other in order to perform their tasks in an effective manner. This mutual relationship, argues Weaver (1998) is under pressure. The pressure results from an increase in professionalism in the way news are managed by communicators and the explosive growth in the supply of information which leads to competition between different journalist and an intensification of efforts to contest for news. In the heat of this competition, the public becomes confused rather than enlightened by the resulting news and analyses. Supa & Zoch (2009) are of the view that for effective media relations to be practiced, an understanding of the relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners is very important.       

Changing role of media relations practitioners in reaching audiences through traditional and new media environments

Today, we live in a world where information is continually being considered a very critical resource. The news media play a very crucial role in dissemination, a role that can best be performed through the input of professional journalists. Since the scale of information, availability is changing fast, and journalists have no option but to change their professional approaches as well in order to meet the expectations of diverse audiences that are within reach thanks to the power of information and communications technology.


Today, the changes being made in the form of training given to journalism students is a reflection of the changes that the budding media professionals are expected to bring into the job market in order to remain competitive in their careers. In the training that they receive, the emphasis is often put on online and digital, a trend that represents a deviation from past practices where journalists were contented with knowledge of analog communication transmission, storage and sharing platforms.

The new media presents many opportunities as well as challenges, meaning that journalism as a career is expected to undergo transformations in form and public image. For instance, digitization, while enabling global audiences to receive news almost seconds after it happens, presents journalists with a mountainous challenge of maintaining high proof-reading, authentication and accuracy speeds, something that maybe next to impossible for a freshly trained, inexperienced journalist.

New media has transformed everyone into a potential journalist as long as that person finds himself in a news spot. Social media is quickly being transformed into a new front in journalism. In the recent past, the most timely accounts of crucial untimely events such as disaster and eclipse sightings have been covered most accurately by amateur photographers and passersby who just happened to be ‘at the right place at the right time’. Such a new front in journalism is sure to bring about unprecedented competition in the profession.

Efforts at regulation are expected to be raised because of potential ethical concerns. However, the practicality of regulating the manner in which amateurs provide information to media houses and website owners may be questioned by many people, since this would be tantamount to robbing gatekeepers in the mass media profession of their jobs. This negative notion, coupled with the impracticality of regulating ‘amateur media’ at the global front, leaves media practitioners something to smile about since they can rest in the notion that their jobs do not face any immediate threats.

 Traditional media environments, just like new ones, are dogged by moral concerns, both at the national and international levels. Journalists who report on people who are suffering have traditionally been accused of sensationalizing stories in order to ‘stay ahead’ of competitors in the news business. In the advent of new media, few people believe that the problem of moral violations will be overcome soon. In fact, technology has been cited as being a facilitator of morally degrading view of mankind and his society, as commercial battles that were formerly reserved for boardrooms take shape on television screens through the struggle for endorsements by perverted celebrities.

Construction of news

Supa et al (2009) note that the issue of what qualifies to be news remains a long-standing debate today, not only in journalism but also in public relations practice. The new media environment has brought so many changes that today that the editor seems to be losing the power (which he has immensely enjoyed during the good old days of traditional media) to say what is the news and what is not news (Supa et al, 2009).

Although the decision to declare news and non-news still lies to a certain with the editor, these days, he is being forced to share that power with photographers, journalists, freelancers and bloggers, publishers and in certain forms of media, members of the public themselves. Although the editor may still be the final decision-maker for print news, the case of the public relations environment may be a bit different. However, this is not to say that it is easy to tell who between the public relations practitioner and the journalist has been forced by the new media to make more drastic changes in the workplace.

Zoch &Supa (2005) while making a presentation on a literature search study in journalism gave eight factors of newsworthiness as part of their findings. These factors included human interest, localness, timeliness, immediacy, cultural proximity, significance, unexpectedness, and prominence.

The new media has changed the scope of human interest in news, mainly through globalization. Similarly, globalization has changed the scope of localness, cultural proximity, significance and basically, all the criteria that a journalist can use to define news. The old traditional notions of localness as defined by national and regional borders are no longer tenable in the era of new media.

The immediacy factor has made it impossible for the editor to go through all incoming stories. Media houses would rather entrust gate-keeping tasks to experienced journalists rather than hire new editors. Such efforts are being done in many media houses especially newsprint houses with digitized versions of daily hard-copy newspapers. On the downside, some media houses have been slow in updating stories on an hourly basis (as is the norm in many international online print news editions), instead choosing to run commentaries that appear like appendages on daily publications. Either way, the new media has revolutionized the gate-keeping role of people who work on news stories inside newsrooms.

Kopenhaver (1984) noted that public relations practitioners and journalists agreed ‘remarkably’ on the elements that should define news. However, Kopenhaver (1984) adds that there is a likelihood that although practitioners in these two fields answered abstract questions relating to the issue of definition of news in more or less the same way, it is not surprising to find them behaving in a completely different manner while conducting their day-to-day professional work in practical settings. It all depends on the agenda that they want to set and the means at their disposal while in pursuit of these means.


In conclusion, technological developments (particularly the internet and its digital-based platforms) have been slowly phasing out traditional media and ushering in the new media. As this happens, subtle changes are taking place in matters of agenda-setting, the definition of news, relationships between journalists and public relations practitioners and perspectives on morality.

            The environment in which media relations people work determines their perceptions about the audience, although these perceptions are today being conceptualized on a global platform, thanks to the capabilities of the new media. For this reason, perhaps it would be true to say that news and the agenda they set depend on publications (for example newspapers as differentiated from blog articles and magazines) as well, the understanding that journalists have of the audiences.


Colby, D. 2005. Toward a New Media Autonomy, Communication Law & Policy, 10(4), 433-476.

Koppenhaver, L. 1984. How Public Relations Practitioners And Editors In Florida View Each Other. Journalism Quarterly, 61(5), 860-865,

Mccombs, M. & Shaw, D. 1972. The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media, Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2) p. 45-75.

Rogers, E., Dearing, J. & Bregman, D. 1993.The Anatomy of Agenda-Setting Research “Journal of Communication”, 43(2), 5-7.

Sievert, H. 2009. Why the Differentiation between PR and Journalism is Necessary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Supa, D.& Zoch, L. 2009. Maximizing Media Relations through a Better Understanding of the Public Relations-Journalist Relationship: A Quantitative Analysis of Changes over the past 23 Years, Public Relations Journal 3(4), 49-87.

Weaver, D.  (ed.)1998. The Global Journalist. News People around the World. Routledge: London.

Zoch, L.  & Supa, D. 2005. Dictating the News: Understanding Newsworthiness from the Journalistic Perspective. Paper presented at AEJMC Conference, San Antonio.

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