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Agenda setting and active audiences in online coverage of human trafficking

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Online news platforms and social media increasingly influence the public agenda on social issues such as human trafficking. Yet despite the popularity of online news and the availability of sophisticated tools for analyzing digital texts, little is known about the relations between news coverage of human trafficking and audiences’ reactions to and interpretations of such coverage. In this paper, we examine journalists’ and commenters’ topic choices in coverage and discussion of human trafficking in the British newspaper The Guardian from 2009 to 2014. We use latent semantic analysis to identify 11 topics discussed by both journalists and readers, and analyze each topic in terms of the degree to which journalists and readers agree or disagree in their topic preferences. We find that four topics were preferred equally by journalists and commenters, four were preferred by journalists, and three were preferred by commenters. Our findings suggest that theories of ‘agenda setting’ and of the ‘active audience’ are not mutually exclusive, and the scope of explanation of each depends partly on the specific topic or subtopic that is analyzed.
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Keywords: Human trafficking; active audience; agenda setting; latent semantic analysis; online news; topic models

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA 2: Department of Information Technology & Decision Sciences, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Publication date: May 3, 2016

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