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A Novel Way for Students to Learn about the Role and Function of Mass Media
Athena's Forum: A Historical Novel
By Phil Tichenor
How Free Is the Press During Wartime?
Ivar Lindfors is an idealistic but disgraced Swedish journalist who immigrates to Minnesota in 1908 with his wife Inez—a woman reluctantly posing as the mother of his illegitimate infant daughter Charlotte.
The couple publish a Swedish-language newspaper in Athena County, but their light-hearted writing and hard-hitting crusade against poverty runs afoul of powerful local leaders. Seeking exoneration, Ivar reports on a tragic barn fire, glorifying community aid given to the victims, but the coverage ruins the victims’ lives.
As World War I approaches, Ivar and Inez rename their paper the Forum and publish in English. The Forum becomes the dubious mouthpiece of the NPL, a radical farm organization accused of pro-German sympathies. But when America enters the war, a state-authorized local agency threatens to shut down the Forum unless it publishes stories in support of the war. Inez and a weakening Ivar comply, finding no sympathy for their freedom-of-press views from town merchants or other newspapers.
Their convictions to journalistic principles are put to an even greater test when a crowd kidnaps and lynches a local history teacher who has pacifist views. Ivar’s tries to report on the lynching, but police and local leaders rebuff him. He now has enemies among both farmers and town leaders.
Will Ivar pursue the story and risk his career and perhaps his life or the lives of his family? How important are journalist ideals?
The fictional events in Athena’s Forum took place nearly a century ago, but the moral questions they raise are as relevant in today’s post-9/11 world as they were then.
About the Author
Phil Tichenor is a professor emeritus of Journalism and Mass Communication and Rural Sociology at the University of Minnesota, where he was co-author of numerous studies of the community press.
330 pages / paperback / 5 x 8 format / Copyright 2006 / $24.95 / Includes CIP Data / ISBN: 0-922993-51-3