Date of Award

5-1-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Lowry, Dennis

Abstract

A number of incidents such as the "Obama-is-a-Muslim" rumor during the 2008 presidential election suggest that influential political blogs are playing a major role in setting the agenda of the legacy media. The power of the political blogosphere is forcing media practitioners, communication scholars and political theorists to re-conceptualize how issues arrive on the political and public agenda. This new phenomenon challenges the fundamental assumptions of agenda-setting theory to the extent that the 42-year old model, including the notion of a shared public agenda, should be reevaluated. By situating news agenda research within a larger intellectual context of agenda setting, this dissertation explored the intermedia agenda-setting relationship between political blogs and legacy news media, such as newspapers, network TV, and cable TV channels. Analyzing the contents count data of political blogs and legacy media and Internet Search Volume Index (SVI) data, this dissertation explored how coverage of a certain issue by top-ranking and influential political blogs may predict the coverage of the same issue by legacy news media. Employing a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, the results of the study revealed that political blogs significantly predicted the coverage of the legacy media on the "Obama-is-a-Muslim" rumor over a period of five days. The results also showed that the coverage of the rumor by both the political blogs and legacy media significantly predicted the level of Internet searches related to the rumor on all five days. The study also found positive and statistically significant correlations between the coverage by the political blogs and legacy media on the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor and the volume of Internet searches on that rumor. The correlation was high on day 1, and decreased on each subsequent day. The study also found bi-directional agenda-setting relationships between the coverage of the political blogs and legacy media on the `Obama-is-a-Muslim' rumor. However, there was hardly any bi-directional relationship between the coverage of political blogs of the rumor and the volume of Internet searches related to the rumor. Although, the study found bi-directional relationship between the coverage of the legacy media on the rumor and the volume of Internet searched related to the rumor, the relationship faded away quickly. However, the study findings suggest that the perceived power of political blogs should be seen as trivial and ephemeral while that of the legacy news media should be seen as substantial and indelible in setting the public agenda. These findings may broaden our understanding of intermedia agenda-setting.

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