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The People’s News: Media, Politics, and the Demands of Capitalism, Joseph E. Uscinski

Reviewed by Michael L. Barthel



The basic assumption of media effects research is that the nature of the news causes changes in the audience. But what about the opposite possibility—that the audience changes the news? To test the possibility that the news might be pandering to the audience rather than telling them what to think, Joseph E. Uscinski combines survey data showing which issues the public thinks are most important at a given time with a thorough content analysis of what types of issues were covered at the start of each night’s network news broadcast. Which comes first? Uscinski’s analysis finds some evidence for the well-­established phenomenon of agenda setting: for four issue areas, increased news coverage precedes the public belief that those issues are more important. But the more common effect that he finds is “audience-driven” coverage, with increased belief that an issue is important driving greater news coverage of that issue in seven areas. The audience would indeed seem to change the news.

Is this good or bad? The news media could be pandering to audience demands, chasing bigger audiences and more advertising dollars. Alternative­ly, journalists could be responsively attending to public demands that greater attention be paid to certain vital but underreported areas of civic life. To see whether news firms are being democratically resp

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