In their Memphis home, Thomas Trass puts his hand on his wife Emma’s shoulder. The couple has been married for almost six decades. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

When it comes to love, things can get tricky for journalists.

I’m not talking about a workplace romance situation; I mean the place that particular emotion has in our work. 

We definitely want you to learn something, to feel something when you read our work on MLK50. And often we want you to do something. We want you, our readers, to have enough — that is, enough description to be fully immersed in a subject’s world, enough context to have a clear understanding of the situation, enough quotes to both hear and feel the stakes for those facing the impact of policy. 

And even as we toss aside the outdated idea that there are two equally valid sides to every issue, we also seek to use language skillfully and avoid pushing you toward a particular action or feeling. 

Yet, because we write through the prisms of poverty and power, our namesake tells us, love is a part of what we’re exploring:  “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” 

Even as we fight not to get swept up in emotions, we must be grounded in a love for justice and humanity. 

I asked some of my colleagues what role love plays in their work.

“Nurturing and exploring expansive love is a central part of my life as both a queer woman and as a visual storyteller,” said visuals director Andrea Morales. “That notion informs a desire to slow down moments and frame them for collective appreciation and reflection. Looking for love across its full spectrum in the world means confronting the difficult and painful things sometimes but using a tender lens so more of us can feel brave enough to face what is hard. 

“Photojournalism is deeply emotional work, and bringing the lessons learned about experiencing love’s peaks and valleys to each flick of the shutter is a way of deepening its impact.” 

Editor and publisher Wendi C. Thomas said my question reminded her of a quote by author and prophet James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Said Thomas: “To many people, love is blind adoration without any meaningful analysis. To me, loving someone or something means I want them to be their very best selves. That includes Memphis and all its institutions. It’s because of my love for and commitment to this city that MLK50’s reporting focuses on the ways in which we can be better and to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable residents.” 

Housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer talked of his desire to not be selfish, to not put the story first. “To fulfill my highest purpose as a journalist, I’m convinced I need to actively serve the people I come in contact with, loving my neighbors as myself,” he said. 

Listening to my colleagues, I hear love and some of its branches — empathy, compassion, service — as North stars guiding us as we write toward our greater goal of helping Memphis move toward becoming a more just city.  While stony the road we trod, it’s the only path for us. 

So, yes, it’s tricky.  But we’re not only journalists. We are love warriors. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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