An interesting experiment is going on at a venerable mainstream newspaper -- The New York Times.
It's called agenda setting. It's an old school term.
For the last several weeks, the newspaper has dedicated hundreds of inches -- and prime front-page and national-page space -- to questions surrounding access to an affordable college education. Keying largely on compelling stories from one state -- Ohio -- the newspaper has clearly decided that the issue of access and affordability needs to be on the national agenda and part of the presidential campaign.
Few issues, I would argue, are more important that increasing the number of college graduates. As today's story illustrates -- http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/us/as-college-graduates-cluster-some-cities-are-left-behind.html?_r=1&hpw -- there's a pretty strong correlation between educational attainment and economic progress.
But it's also true that as the costs of that education have increased -- with declining state and federal support -- debt levels have increased (although not at the rates The NYT suggests; that's a story for another day).
It also underscores the degree to which newspapers -- large national ones or strong local ones -- can still set a policy agenda. They can still frame the issues that we talk about and to which policy-makers react.
And, old-school though I am, that's still why they are so important.