Agenda Setting Tricks

One of the messages I got from the whole framing-media-science-policy discussions of the past couple of years was the idea that I (the media part of that equation) don’t solve problems by providing any one explanation of stuff. So, for example, I can do a story, as a colleague and I did earlier this year, collecting all the things you can do to winterize your house and reduce your energy bills and greenhouse footprint. Nothing wrong with that, but a second, and perhaps better, approach, is to bang people over the head with the message, over and over. The political science types call it “agenda setting.”

Last spring, my boss suggested a weekly energy tip feature. We enlisted Al Zelicoff, a local energy conservation guru, and began publishing a tip, with Al’s picture, in every Tuesday morning’s Albuquerque Journal. Energy costs have dropped since then, removing one of the prime motivations for people to follow Al’s tips, but we’ve kept at it.

Measuring success is hard, but Al gets great letters from readers, and I hear people talking about it all the time. Al’s page is here, and a blog-like collection of tips is here.


  1. John,
    I have found, as have many others, that great letters are not the measure that you want. This is the support of, in political speak, ‘the base.’ The thing to measure is the number of undecideds and members of the ‘anti-base’ (those who do not believe in energy conservation) who have changed their habits. It is adding to the base that appears to be important. It is also tricky to measure.
    Do you know whether you or Al have added to the base?
    The number of hits on the head may not be the best measure. 😉

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