7th Biennial ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference

Tom Christie

Dr. Tom Christie is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Texas Arlington, a Carnegie Research 1 institution. His research field examines the dynamics of public policy, public opinion and news media. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has published in 29 peer-reviewed academic publications and has presented his research at more than 50 academic conferences.


Uncovering Open Sources used in Agenda Setting Research – a Content Analysis of Academic Studies

International political communication scholars use open/accessible sources in studies grounded in theories of agenda-setting and agenda-building. Most methodology in these studies relies heavily on news and public policy content, ranging from social media postings to transcripts of public policy speeches. Classic studies examine traditional news media content such as newspapers and television news and, when needed, public opinion through available polling data. Researchers in this field are limited by the availability of a variety of these sources and data. The purpose of this study is to identify and analyze these open sources used in international political communication over the past two decades.
Conceptual Framework:
An "agenda" is defined as a collection of issues or events viewed at a point in time (Rogers and Dearing, 1987) and is frequently studied within the context of agenda-setting theory (McCombs and Shaw, 1972). Boyle (2001) elaborated, “Agenda setting refers to the ability of a media organization or institution to determine the important issues for debate or consideration. Media scholars have considered agenda setting as it deals with three main areas: the media agenda, the public agenda, and the policy agenda” (p. 26).
The study of this interaction among three separate agendas--mass media, public and policymakers (Manheim & Albritton, 1983) requires open access to a wide variety of sources. While researchers may be aware of many of these, an examination of scholarly studies over the past two decades could reveal the nature and extent of these sources used and may serve as guide for future researchers. As such, the following research question guide this study: (1) What types of media, public policy and public opinion materials have scholars used and published in academic journals in agenda-setting research during the past two decades?, and (2) What obstacles in obtaining public policy and public opinion materials (such as transcripts of speeches and polling data), if any, were noted by these scholars?
A computer-assisted content analysis using Wordstat is used to categorize the sources in the study. WordStat is a content analysis and text-mining tool that extracts thematic elements and keywords identified in a study.
Academic, peer-reviewed journal articles from a leading communication database, “Communication & Mass Media Complete” were examined. This database is a “robust communication studies database” providing full-text articles for numerous international academic journals in the field of communication. Journal articles were selected based on the occurrence of the key words “agenda setting” in the abstract and “public policy” in the text.
Analysis/Expected Results:
The search from January 2000 to January 2020 resulted in 135 articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. Descriptive tables reveal the sources used in the methodologies and identify the country of origin in addition to any challenges or difficulties noted by researchers in obtaining materials.
Results reveal and categorize a wide variety of public policy and media sources used in this critical research field which relies extensively on the availability of open sources.