Reporting on Love?

Ah, Love….

Novelists and filmmakers earn their livings off the subject. (Just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which, at its best, is a love story.)

Love and its discontents is often what we talk about when we talk with intimate friends.

But — except when it involves celebrities, murderers or adulterous politicians — love tends to be ignored by journalists.

Carl Sessions Stepp of the University of Maryland and the American Journalism Review included this oversight in his diagnosis of journalism’s problems — among the most interesting I’ve heard (I paraphrase; unfortunately I was not taking notes):

American news organizations today do not cover love and they do not cover spiritual questions, Carl suggested — and these are the two subjects in which young people have most interest. (When queried on the word “spiritual,” Carl explained that he defined it broadly to cover considerations about the purpose of life.)

I’ve been thinking about Carl’s analysis as I work on a book for Oxford encouraging more adventurous, more far-reaching, more sensitive forms of journalism and journalism education. His point about the lack of reporting on attempts to puzzle out life’s possible purposes is important. But at the moment I’m focused on love and its absence from most journalism. Indeed, I’m currently searching for exceptions that prove the rule and might help point the way to changing that rule: examples of good journalism about love.

Since I first heard Carl on the subject, the New York Times has developed its excellent “Modern Love” feature — the first place quite a few people I know turn in the Sunday paper. (Might someone point me to favorite installments? Are other news organizations now doing similar?) Dear Abby and now some online advice columns have managed to sneak in a little romance journalism. But I have searched my collection of great journalistic writing in vain for reporting on the subject of ordinary, and ordinarily profound, love. What am I missing?

And then, of course, there’s the question of why: why ignore this emotion that, more than any other, can build us up and tear us down.

About Mitchell Stephens

Mitchell Stephens, a professor of Journalism in the Carter Institute at New York University, is the author most recently of "Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World" (Palgrave Macmillan), "Beyond News: The Future of Journalism" (Columbia University Press) and "Journalism Unbound: New Approaches to Writing and Reporting" (Oxford University Press). He also wrote "A History of News" (Viking, Penguin, Oxford) and "the rise of the image the fall of the word" (Oxford), along with two widely used journalism textbooks.
This entry was posted in Future of journalism., Great journalism, Journalism education. Bookmark the permalink.