Topic is one of the most fundamental concepts in the empirical examination of human

communication. Topic as a communication concept, in other words, permeates and has

utility for a wide variety of areas within the communication discipline. Media

Correspondence: Nicholas A.Palomares, Department of Communication, One Shields

Avenue, University of California, Davis, CA 95616; email: napalomares@ucdavis.edu

Communication Yearbook 30, pp. 45-97

researchers, for example, focus on the topic (or content 1 ) of media messages and how

topic determines, in part, the type and extent of media effects. Specifically, agenda-

setting research suggests that media sources influence the topics about which individuals

are concerned; that is, the topics that the media address affect the topics about which the

public thinks and discusses (Dearing & Rogers, 1996). Media research that focuses on

television also finds the concept of topic fundamentally important. Extensive content

analyses of violence (Wilson et al., 1997) and sex (Farrar, Kunkel, Biely, Eyal, &

Donnerstein, 2003) on television focus on the topics of media messages. Farrar et al., for

example, examined television’s portrayal of sexual topics on primetime programming,

including specific topics on sex as well as topics relating to the risks and responsibilities

associated with sexual behaviors. Furthermore, media effects research demonstrates that

the impact of media on certain outcomes, such as sexual socialization, depends on the

specific sexual topics (e.g., talk about risks and responsibility) of television messages

(Donnerstein & Smith, 2001; Greenberg & Hofschire, 2000; Malamuth & Impett, 2001).