The “issue-attention cycle” is repeating itself as coverage of the horrific Virginia shootings declines after only one week, according to an academic who has researched the nexus of coverage and political action.
“My sense is that the killing of the two journalists is getting the same treatment as most shootings,” said Danny Hayes, a George Washington University political scientist and former journalist.
That means it’s very unlikely that anything will happen, either in Congress or in state legislatures, when it comes to gun control or any other public policy issue that’s associated with the Virginia tragedy.
“There is a big surge in coverage in the days afterward, owing partly to the fact that the shooting happened on television and party to the fact that the killer posted the video on social media,” Hayes said Wednesday.
For sure, there has been some coverage in recent days of the call for new effort to fight gun violence made by the parents of slain reporter Allison Parker.
“But if recent history is any guide, that’s not going to be enough to sustain the media’s interest. Unless politicians in Washington or state capitols take up the fight, I don’t expect the gun debate to stay in the news for long,” said Hayes.
What’s known as the “issue-attention cycle” was developed by political scientist Anthony Downs in the 1970s. It’s the notion that that the media becomes intensely interested in a public policy matter after some dramatic event but then moves on to other issues even if the underlying problem behind the dramatic event is not solved.
Hayes himself has chronicled examples, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012. It has been the same with other very public shootings. And while media attention alone won’t result in legislative change, it tends to be one condition needed if there is to be change.
“I don’t think there’s much evidence that news coverage alone ’causes’ legislators to act. But when you have an issue like gun control that only gets attention sporadically, media coverage is probably a necessary condition for anything to happen. If there isn’t media coverage, the public isn’t likely to care much about the issue.”