“Three Big Heads” bring agenda setting to UA students

UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences provided students and faculty with the opportunity to hear from three accomplished and successful trailblazers of journalism.  Dr. David Weaver, Dr. Donald Shaw and Dr. Maxwell McComb presented a coliquium on Nov. 14 discussing agenda setting.  Each professor presented a different take on agenda setting, and its affect on politics, horizontal and vertical media, and voter beliefs.  Along with these topics, the idea of the human “need for orientation” was explored.  Each professor shed a new light on an aspect of agenda setting, and brought about ideas that may be new to lower level and graduate students.

 

The agenda setting theory was developed by Shaw and McComb in a study during the 1968 election.  Shaw, along with McComb, developed the idea of vertical and horizontal media creating an agenda that contributes to voter beliefs.  “We have been able to determine the degree to which media determines public opinion,” said Shaw.  Weaver discussed first and second level agenda setting, and how they play into the framing and priming of a story.

 

A surprising aspect of the presentation was that despite the success these three men have had in their field, they continue to strive for improvement and further develop their theories.  The in-depth look at agenda setting emphasized the concepts learned in journalism and communications courses, and reiterated the power of the media to decide what makes news.  Students were fortunate to have the creators of agenda setting speak to a group who study this theory as part of their education come to campus.

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Can there be news without journalism?

One of the class topics that stuck with me past the class session was the idea of having news without journalism.  Is journalism truly necessary to have news, or is journalism just a method of promoting news that made itself?  So much of news in my generation comes from social media; ask a student to remember the last time they heard a news story not on Twitter, and you aren’t likely to get a large response.

 

In today’s day and age, news is only news if there is a journalist to cover it and push it to readers through social media, news websites, or the quick reel on the morning news.  We are so dependent on journalists to deliver us news quickly and efficiently, that without someone covering an event, we may never know about it.  While events may occur and may be worthy of making the news, we rely on journalists to bring these events to our attention.

 

On the other hand, this new accessibility of news brings knowledge of events to a greater audience.  English journalist Lionel Barber said “Thanks to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a far wider range of people take part in gathering, filtering and distributing news.”  Barber makes a valid point in that due to these sites, a younger audience is seeing and reading the news that they may not otherwise take an interest.

 

Even though news has become so accessible to us and requires little effort on the reader’s part, I feel as though the current generation has lost its ability to seek out the news.  We need to step away from Twitter and step into into the real world, before we forget how to decide real news for ourselves.

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Hunt for the News

Students are often unaware of some of the newsworthy events that have taken place on our campus. Those curious about these past occurrences that made the news got the opportunity to become a little more educated about some historic sights on our campus through a scavenger hunt. The hunt, put on by the Society of Professional Journalists, took students to various areas of campus through creative clues, and highlighted University of Alabama events that made the news. “We have a very historic and newsworthy campus, and this hunt is a great way to learn about them,” said Dr. Chris Roberts, a professor in the College of Communication and Information Sciences.

 

One of the more comical and surprising news stories the hunt took students on was to the quad to learn about the Harlem Shake scandal of 2013. When students tried to organize a UA version of the popular dance craze, they were shut down by campus police due to their lack of permit to assemble.

 

Another notable stop on the scavenger hunt was to Foster Auditorium. This was the site where George Wallace, governor of Alabama in 1963, attempted to block the integration of the university. The hunt also took students to other campus locations, such as the SGA office and Denny Chimes.

 
As students traveled to each spot around campus, it became apparent that the method that each of these stories broke was drastically different. While older stories had to wait to be published in a news publication, newer stories such as the Harlem Shake were able to break immediately through social media and the internet. The evolution and speed of stories has greatly increased, making the university even more prominent in the news.  The scavenger hunt provided students with a fun and competitive way to learn about the newsworthy history of our campus, and was an awesome opportunity to explore UA.

 

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Arthur Pendragon vs. The Media

With something as simple as a Youtube comment, a twisted individual, disguised behind a computer screen, single handedly shook up the entire UA campus. “Arthur Pendragon,” with threats of a day of retribution against those that discriminated against minorities, put the whole community on edge. The fear of a mass attack was extremely real, and the uneasiness of the student body was nearly tangible. Immediately, people took to social media.

 
With the popularity of outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the Arthur Pendragon phenomenon became nationwide in a matter of hours. With the rising popularity of anonymous posting applications like Yik Yak, new stories about the shenanigans of Arthur Pendragon surfaced nearly every ten minutes. With every new “development,” panic on campus increased, and students began looking to the seemingly silent administration for answers.

 
After a long awaited slew of updates from the administration, including a video message from university president Judy Bonner, the threat of Arthur Pendragon seemed to fade away. Instead, the scandal turned into an opportunity to evaluate how the campus as a whole used media to respond to such a crisis. After Pendragon’s initial message, students immediately posted on social media sites. Suddenly, college students nationwide had heard of Arthur’s wrath. Parents of these students, on the other hand, were delayed in learning of what was happening on campus, due to their lack of social media use. The administration itself could not keep up with the ever-changing stories, thus making it challenging to send out updates and any report of progress in catching Pendragon. While some students complained about the lack of communication from the police and law enforcement, the sheer speed of the media compared to past crises created a new obstacle in getting messages out. Social media has changed the game for crisis management, and allowed characters like Arthur Pendragon to instill fear in a massive way.

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