Distance theory: an examination of distance and salience in media attribute assignment and agenda building

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The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how previous salience on the news agenda, assigned attributes, and assigned valences of an object in the news media and the distance in time from that object determine how media assign attributes and valences to that object in the future. The concept of Frequency of Object Coverage Arcs (FOCA) defines object salience for the study. The two key components of prediction of future coverage are distance in time of the FOCA and distance in time between FOCAs, the overall valences, driving forces of coverage, and assigned attributes were the primary dependent variables. The primary findings of the study featured two main points: First, that distance in time between FOCAs was a predictor of overall valence changes, the longer the time frame between FOCAs, the greater shifts in overall valence from one FOCA to the next. The second, that as distance in time of an FOCA increased, the more likely the future FOCA would have the same assigned attributes and driving force of coverage. Distance in time between FOCAs does not serve as a predictor of attribute assignment of future FOCAs nor does length of the FOCA predict overall valence of future FOCAs. The dissertation also makes theoretical contributions to the construct of scaled unobtrusiveness and mass aggregate opinion, the implications of which are also discussed.

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