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Journalism professor publishes academic text on history of free press

A six-year project has come to fruition for New Mexico State University Assistant Professor of Journalism Roger Mellen, who has written a book on the concept of freedom of the press in Colonial Virginia.

BOOK COVER: "The Origins of a Free Press in Prerevolutionary Virginia" by NMSU professor Roger Mellen (Image courtesy Roger Mellen)

The academic tome titled "The Origins of a Free Press in Prerevolutionary Virginia: Creating a Culture of Political Dissent" explores patriot and statesman George Mason's involvement in seeking print freedom and protection from government control.

"I was teaching journalism at George Mason University, and I got interested in that rather irascible character," Mellen said. "He is considered the author of the first ever bill of rights, the Virginia Declaration of Rights. So, I decided to explore his role in creating the constitutional right to a free press."

Upon further research, Mellen found that the spread of printed material changes people and society. In applying this suggestion, he examined the changes of dominant media and communication and how that correlated to cultural developments. A shift from a culture of deference to a "culture of dissidence" was an important consequence related to the spread of print culture, Mellen theorizes, and out of that, emerged the first constitutional right of freedom of the press.

The book is not aimed at his current group of journalism undergraduates; instead Mellen wrote this for the research purposes of graduate students or other scholars specializing in a similar area of study.

According to Mellen, predictions for the text said it will put NMSU at the forefront of research in this interesting area of history and journalism.

While Mellen said he most likely would not put out another book-length work again, he is studying essays and poems published in Colonial Virginia periodicals on attitudes toward slaves.

"For someone used to writing short television stories, it is an amazingly long and complex process," Mellen said. "Right now I am working on some academic journal articles that come out of this same research."

Prior to joining academia, Mellen spent 20 years in television news. He completed his doctoral work in the George Mason University History Department, focusing on the historic origins of free press and Colonial Virginia print culture.

"Local history has always intrigued me wherever I have lived and having local resources helps," Mellen said. "I am now exploring a bit of how print developed in the Spanish

"Origins" will go on sale on Thursday, Nov. 5. It will be available on http://www.amazon.com/ and http://www.barnesandnoble.com/.