Peeling Back the Onion: Formative Agenda Building in Business Journalism

Matthew W. Ragas, Hai L. Tran


This study looks beyond evidence of effects in news media content to examine factors journalists perceive as influencing their selection of sources for story ideas—the formative stage of agenda building. Survey data from a large sample of business journalists (N = 782) collected in three years help identify distinctive dimensions of business journalists’ reliance on resources for story idea generation, the impact of journalists’ characteristics, and the mediating role of source credibility. The findings provide new empirical insights into the multiple dimensions—or layers of the metaphorical onion (McCombs, 1992, 2014)—that collectively shape the media agenda as well as the broader process in which business journalists decide what makes news. The conceptual, methodological, and practical implications of the study are discussed.


agenda building, business journalism, story ideas, source credibility, hierarchy of influences, individual-level influences

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