Nearly 50 years ago, journalism professor Donald Shaw started work on a theory that was first dismissed as too simple.
Now, he and a colleague have been honored for that work, which ended up changing the practice of political journalism.
Shaw, who has taught in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication since 1966, and his research partner Max McCombs were named the 2011 recipients of the Helen Dinerman Award.
The award is given annually by the World Association for Public Opinion Research to people who contribute significantly to survey research methodology.
Shaw and McCombs began work on their award-winning, agenda-setting theory in the late 1960s. The two met at UNC in 1967, when McCombs came to the journalism school as a junior professor.
During the 1968 presidential election, Shaw and McCombs collected survey data from a random group of UNC students.
They concluded that the public’s interest in certain issues, such as the Vietnam War, directly corresponded to the prevalence of those issues in news coverage.
This led Shaw and McCombs to publish “The agenda-setting function of mass media.”
Shaw said scholars weren’t receptive to the initial report.