A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Raleigh, North Carolina
May 17, 2012

COMMITTEE: Dr. Dennis Daley, chair; Dr. Steven Greene; Dr. Donald Shaw; and Dr. Andrew Taylor

ABSTRACT: Agenda-setting studies are abundant in mass media literature. Since the early 1970s, the methodology conceived by Don Shaw and Max McCombs has been used to study how media coverage of everything from environmental issues to race relations influences public opinion, mostly at the national level. Subsequently, fewer studies have examined whether agenda-setting concepts can be used to correlate media coverage with policy outcomes, and still fewer studies have been used at the local level. By comparing changes in city budgeted allocations with changes in coverage over time, this study finds a limited, long-term relationship between media coverage and policy changes in four areas: public safety, public works, economic development and parks/recreation. Newspapers have a finite amount of influence over policy changes. Further, this study affirms that while citizens continue to depend on newspapers for local government news, local newspaper circulation, market saturation and staff size continue to decline. Finally, this study shows that by 2011, the Great Recession had begun to strain city and town resources with more impact on the Western region of the United States than other areas.

DEDICATION: I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by dedicating this project to my parents, Jim and Sue Wilson, as well as my sister Kristi. They have endured ignored phone calls, delayed e-mails and talk of statistical analysis for more than five years now. In every respect, I dedicate this project to their continued support.
But I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the continued support of Dr. Donald Shaw. He is not only an amazing educator who offers a foundation of knowledge about agenda-setting, he is an educator who pushes students to think of old concepts in new ways.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: First, my thanks and appreciation to Dr. Dennis Daley not only for serving as chair of my committee and for providing guidance during this process but for providing leadership and ideas throughout my graduate school career.

Secondly, thanks to the members of my dissertation committee, Dr. Steven Greene, Dr. Andrew Taylor and Dr. Donald Shaw. They all have generously given their time and expertise to better my work. In a broader sense, they introduced me to a new way of learning as did Dr. James Svara who taught an introductory course and introduced me to the ideas of Cohen, March and Olson. In addition, Dr. Anne Schiller who taught Anthropology 516, Dr. Kitty Klein who taught a survey operations course in Psychology and Dr. David Garson who taught Advanced Research Design. Each, in their own way, validated part of my research ideas and helped me to develop a long-range vision for my research. In particular, Dr. Taylor introduced me to agenda-setting as a concept through the works of Baumgartner, Jones and Kingdon, theorists who have also proven helpful throughout this process.

Finally, I have to acknowledge the help and support of Howard Spanogle who took time out of his schedule to copyedit these pages and to offer guidance on wording and even new directions to take. Together with Monica Hill at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more than any other individuals not on my committee, they pushed me to complete this endeavor.