The Power of Journalism – Choice of Topics

”It [the press] may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (Bernard Cohen, 1963).

Agenda setting theory is a theory of influence which, in its simple form, states that media sustains themes or agendas that bind the audience’s interest. It is rare that the media – if and when it covers the news neutrally and objectively – can directly alter the opinion of people, even though it continuously influences what people are thinking about.

The media uses societal power by bringing items to the agenda.


One important concept related to this is coverage. Coverage means the public space granted to a party by the media. An example of coverage would be the interview of an influence-maker, writing a review on a restaurant or an art piece, or writing an article about the cause driven by a certain political party.

Coverage can be either negative or positive in tone, but it still counts by making the audiences aware of something or someone. As a saying goes, sometimes any publicity is better than no publicity at all. That is why it can be said that media uses societal power by offering coverage to different people or topics.

Coverage can be either negative or positive in tone, but sometimes any publicity is better than no publicity at all.

Even though media in principle strive for impartiality, editorial offices also have their own agendas that influence what is highlighted in the mass media.

First of all, behind every media is a person, who has her/his own personal stance to societal issues. Secondly, editorial office managers can have their own interests, or interests related to their position.

Often the policy of the media is influenced by the political or financial goals of its owners. A media that sells advertising space often thinks twice before criticizing the actions of its customer companies, or any parties closely related to them. This is problematic from the perspective of the realization of the principles of freedom of speech and impartiality.

The press has an important role as a part of democracy. That is why it is problematic if media continuously fails to highlight certain themes.


Newsworthiness relates to different factors that influence whether a topic makes it to the news or not.

News criteria include, among others

  • significance
  • expected level of interest
  • surprise factor
  • forcefulness
  • timeliness
  • geographical proximity
  • negativity
  • famous or influental person
  • potential for personification
  • unambiguity, ease of definition

Space in a print paper is always limited, but also writing online news uses up the work hours of reporters. Factors that influence newsworthiness are the general news situation, media publicity, varying needs of different media, target group thinking and follow-ups on a topic.

The more important a piece of news is the more dramatic an impact it will have on the lives of a group of people. Additionally, newsworthiness is always linked to a certain time and a certain place.

For example, the private lives of public figures are only newsworthy when they are in contradiction to the public image created by them, or the values that they promote. For example, the public has the right to receive knowledge from suspected malpractice committed by the decision-makers.

News criteria refers to the principles, through which the newsworthiness of phenomena is assessed in editorial offices.


Megaphone Effect

Megaphone effect is a term used mainly by media academics and often discussed in relation to news criteria and newsworthiness. It refers to a situation where a certain news topic is becoming newsworthy just because it has been discussed in other media.

When a piece of news has become a heated topic of discussion, other media want their share of the readers’ expressed interest, and they start to echo and multiply the same news item.

Nowadays the megaphone effect arises often because of social media circulation of a topic.

Keep Reading:

The Power of Journalism – Article format; The Power of Journalism – Numbers and Statistics
Go back to the beginning of this section: Critical Reading