News Photographs and Environmental Agenda Setting


  • Eric Jenner

    Corresponding author
    1. Director of Research for The Policy & Research Group
      Eric Jenner is Director of Research for The Policy & Research Group.
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Eric Jenner is Director of Research for The Policy & Research Group.


Who and what influences the issues that policymakers attend to is central to the question of how power is exercised in politics. This study builds upon research by Soroka that proposes an expanded model of agenda setting as a means to examine how the media influences issue salience for the public and policymakers. It expands on Soroka's model by investigating the hypothesis that photographic attention to environmental issues in the news media influences issue salience for the mass public and governmental decision makers. There is little research that substantiates the idea, but it is widely believed that photographs have influence on the policy agenda. I use a dynamic, multidirectional model to estimate whether the volume of news photographs, in addition to news stories, influences issue salience among the mass public and policymakers. Data are longitudinal and measures of attention are operationalized as the number of congressional committee meetings, concern for the environment as a “most important problem” in public opinion polls, environmental news stories in The New York Times, and environmental news photographs in Time magazine. Results suggest that photographic attention does influence environmental policy agenda dynamics in some counterintuitive ways that are distinct from the effects of the news stories. While news stories appear to increase public attention toward the environment, they have little influence on policymaker attention. News photographs, on the other hand, appear to drive congressional committee attention but elicit an ambivalent public response.