Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the United States, made waves by announcing the appointment of Bryan West as its first-ever Taylor Swift reporter for USA Today and over 200 other papers across the country. However, before West, 35, could even file his inaugural story, he faced criticism from journalism watchdogs and Taylor Swift’s fans.
Variety broke the news of West’s hiring, and the subsequent interview in the article gave both journalists and Swifties reasons to express discontent. West, a former TV news reporter in Phoenix, referred to himself as “a fan of Taylor,” raising concerns among journalists about his ability to remain unbiased in his new role. Simultaneously, fans debated whether he was a devoted enough Swiftie to cover their beloved star adequately, with some suggesting the position would be better suited for a woman.
In the interview, West defended his position, likening himself to a sports reporter who supports the home team. He stated, “I would say this position’s no different than being a sports journalist who’s a fan of the home team.” This analogy didn’t sit well with some sportswriters, who emphasized the importance of impartiality in journalism.
Frankie de la Cretaz, a Boston-based sports and culture journalist, criticized West’s comparison, stating that the No. 1 rule of sports journalism is “no cheering in the press box.” The concern raised was whether a fan could maintain objectivity when reporting on a subject they support.
Benjamin Goggin, an editor at NBC News, criticized Gannett for hiring “a full stan, rather than someone who is capable of being critical of one of the most powerful people in all of pop culture.”
In response to the criticism, Lark-Marie Antón, Gannett’s chief communications officer, dismissed the objections as “haters gonna hate” and defended West’s credentials, stating he was the best candidate for the role.
April Glick Pulito, a Swift fan working in political communications, expressed her concern about the optics of the choice, suggesting that the role should have gone to a female applicant for better representation. However, the Gannett spokeswoman asserted that the company does not discriminate in its hiring process.
The announcement of a dedicated Taylor Swift reporter generated significant media attention and online discussions. The chosen candidate was expected to explore why Taylor Swift’s influence continues to grow and what her fan base represents in pop culture.
As part of his application, West submitted a video listing his qualifications, highlighting his journalism experience and his previous encounters with Taylor Swift. In the video, he emphasized his ability to report on Swift without bias, even listing three songs he claimed he “can’t stand” as evidence.
However, the initial Variety article misquoted one of the songs, causing confusion among Swifties. Despite the controversy, Gannett proceeded with West’s appointment, emphasizing his qualifications and personal journey, including being five years sober.
While some criticized West’s reference to sports journalism and questioned his ability to remain unbiased, others sympathized with Gannett, acknowledging the challenges of satisfying both the general public and the intense Swift fan base.
Bill Grueskin, a professor and former dean at Columbia Journalism School, suggested that expecting journalists to completely suspend personal liking for a subject might be unworkable. He emphasized the key was how reporters approached covering their subjects.
Despite the criticisms, Gannett has yet to announce who will be covering the Beyoncé beat.
In a year marked by intense media scrutiny surrounding anything related to Taylor Swift, Gannett’s move to hire a dedicated Swift reporter added another layer to the ongoing discussions about fan representation, journalistic integrity, and the challenges of reporting on beloved figures in pop culture.