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Graduate students meet mass communication research pioneer

Posted Oct. 10, 2014
By Dr. Andrea Tanner, associate director of graduate studies, School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Graduate students had the opportunity to learn about mass communication theory and research from a man they typically read about in their textbooks.  Dr. Donald Shaw, a "father" of a mass communications theory that significantly changed how we think about media and public opinion, was the invited lecturer for the October 2014 Research Roundtable seminar sponsored by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduate Program.

"Dr. Shaw's presentation was a master class in theory. He took us inside the formulation of the theory, showed us the conceptual inner workings, then highlighted the potential directions agenda-setting might take and encouraged our ideas on new research," said Chris Frear, a second-year doctoral student.  "It's obvious after spending a couple of hours with him why Dr. Shaw has long been a beloved mentor and remains a vibrant scholar."

In 1972, Drs. Donald Shaw and Maxwell McCombs published their groundbreaking research on agenda-setting theory, which detailed how the media play an important role in determining how the public thinks and feels about major events and issues.  The study is the most-cited mass communications research study ever published. Communications scholars around the world have since conducted hundreds of similar studies testing the agenda-setting power of the press.

"I was really excited to attend the meeting because I never thought I'd meet Dr. Shaw in person when I first learned his name and agenda-setting theory in college," said Queenie Li, a first-year doctoral student. "The lecture he gave us was really inspiring and made me redefine the relationship between vertical media (traditional media) and horizontal media (online, social media) and wonder more about how the two will interact with, but not replace, each other in the future."

Shaw's visit to the USC campus was facilitated by Dr. Robert McKeever, a graduate faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications who was mentored by Dr. Shaw while a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina where Shaw has been a faculty member for nearly 50 years.

"For me, it was a joy seeing my current doctoral students learning from Dr. Shaw, as he played such an important role in my own doctoral education. Most people don't know this, but my first experience with mass communication research was working on a project with Dr. Shaw during my first semester as a doctoral student," McKeever said.

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