Making the News:

Politics, the Media and Agenda Setting

Amber E. Boydstun

University of Chicago Press, 2013

  1. *Purchase the book from University of Chicago Press

  1. *Purchase the book from

  1. *Download the codebook, datasets, do files, simulation files, appendices, and spreadsheets containing tables and figures

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, 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.

Regina Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin

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.”

James N. Druckman, Northwestern University

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

Bryan D. Jones, University of Texas at Austin

“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.”