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Making the News

Politics, the Media, and Agenda Setting

Making the News

Politics, the Media, and Agenda Setting

Media attention can play a profound role in whether or not officials act on a policy issue, but how policy issues make the news in the first place has remained a puzzle. Why do some issues go viral and then just as quickly fall off the radar? How is it that the media can sustain public interest for months in a complex story like negotiations over Obamacare while ignoring other important issues in favor of stories on “balloon boy?”
With Making the News, Amber Boydstun offers an eye-opening look at the explosive patterns of media attention that determine which issues are brought before the public. At the heart of her argument is the observation that the media have two modes: an “alarm mode” for breaking stories and a “patrol mode” for covering them in greater depth. While institutional incentives often initiate alarm mode around a story, they also propel news outlets into the watchdog-like patrol mode around its policy implications until the next big news item breaks. What results from this pattern of fixation followed by rapid change is skewed coverage of policy issues, with a few receiving the majority of media attention while others receive none at all. Boydstun documents this systemic explosiveness and skew through analysis of media coverage across policy issues, including in-depth looks at the waxing and waning of coverage around two issues: capital punishment and the “war on terror.”
Making the News
shows how the seemingly unpredictable day-to-day decisions of the newsroom produce distinct patterns of operation with implications—good and bad—for national politics.

Supplementary information for the book is on the author’s website.

280 pages | 32 line drawings, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Media Studies

Political Science: American Government and Politics

Rhetoric and Communication


Making the News sets forth the deceptively simple-sounding argument that the news agenda is not random but ’skewed’ so that few issues reach and remain on the front page. By applying new methods to explain these patterns irrefutably and on a broad scale, Amber E. Boydstun makes a valuable contribution to the literature on political communication.”

Regina Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin

"This is a seminal contribution about how the media work and influence democracy. Anyone interested in communication and democracy must read this book.”

James N. Druckman, Northwestern University

“Amber E. Boydstun’s observation that the mass media processes information disproportionately is important enough, but she gives us much, much more: a theory of the causes of the lack of proportion and extensive empirical analyses of the dynamics of disproportionality based on a decade of stories on the front page of the New York Times.  The result is a book that fully integrates the media with emerging theories of policy change. It will be widely read among media scholars as well as students of public policy, along with anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of media coverage.”

Bryan D. Jones, University of Texas at Austin

“In Making the News, Amber Boydstun offers a detailed, empirical account of how news is made and, while celebrating the ongoing spirit of the fifth estate, questions the apparently reactive basis on which editorial decisions are made. . . . Boydstun’s extensive research is collected in pages of data and case studies, including analyses of the ongoing coverage of the ‘War on Terror’ and why, by contrast, smaller news items become front-page stories.”

Times Literary Supplement

“[Boydstun’s] thoughtful approach, grounded largely in political science scholarship, will clearly be of interest to scholars working on media coverage of politics. . . . Recommended.”


“[An] important book. . . . Boydstun has successfully imported and recalibrated a robust policy-attention model for media coverage; rigorously tested it across a number of issues, timespans, and sources; and, using computer simulation, estimated the precise skew of media attention. . . . [Making the News] is very likely to inspire further research, signaling its importance for political communication scholars, especially for those interested in agenda-setting and framing research.”

Political Communication

“Boydstun demonstrates convincingly that existing theories on their own are inadequate to explain the familiar patterns in news coverage, and her book sets out to pull together these various perspectives to create and test a more complete theory of news generation that can account for the periods of explosive change and relative stability. . . . [Making the News] is an important contribution to political communication and a must-read for scholars and others who want to understand the impact of news media on the political system.”

Public Opinion Quarterly

“Boydstun’s research provides fresh insight into the role of the media as a political institution, especially in the book’s treatment of news attention as a dynamic concept for analyzing coverage over time. As a result, this book holds significance for scholars interested in journalism, media, public policy, political science, and the societal effects of news coverage. Ultimately, Boydstun provides important analysis that helps concisely explain how familiar and perpetual cycles of current events and news coverage shape democratic governance.”


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Patterns in the News and Why They Matter
Chapter 2. The Forces that Drive the News
Chapter 3. The Alarm/Patrol Hybrid Model of News Generation
Chapter 4. Content and Change on the New York Times Front Page
Chapter 5. Explaining Front-Page Attention
Chapter 6. The Rise and Fall of the War on Terror and the Death Penalty in the News
Chapter 7. How Institutional Mechanisms Lead to Media Skew and Explosiveness
Chapter 8. Skew and Explosiveness in the Shifting Media Landscape
Chapter 9. Implications for Politics and Society


American Political Science Association: Doris Graber Outstanding Book Award

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