After much excitement and controversy, USA Today has hired its first-ever Taylor Swift reporter.
The Gannett-owned publication announced Monday that Bryan West, an award-winning journalist, began working on the Swift beat from the chain’s the Tennessean, based near Nashville. He joined that paper’s music team, but West’s work will be shared to USA Today’s network of more than 200 local news publications across the United States.
“Taylor Swift is a singular cultural force who is shaping our world in arguably unprecedented fashion,” said Michael A. Anastasi, the Tennessean‘s head editor and Gannett’s vice president of local news, in a statement. “Chronicling her story, her impact, her influence takes unique expertise and experience and we’re confident Bryan is the right journalist for this moment.”
West joins the USA Today staff as it looks to rebound after suffering multiple rounds of layoffs in recent years amid the continued decline of local news publications.
When the job posting for the Swift position, and a subsequent Beyoncé Knowles-Carter reporter job, was announced in September, the news chain drew backlash from reporters and readers alike, who pointed to the massive layoffs over the past several years. Journalists losing their jobs has become a national trend among local news publications, including The Times and LAist.
The San Diego Union-Tribune has seen a similar exodus of dozens of local-news journalists who took buyouts since The Times’ owner Patrick Soon-Shiong sold San Diego county’s paper of record to Media News Group, owned by the controversial hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which is known to slash newsroom staffs to increase profit.
Gannett, which owns daily newspapers across the nation, including the Tennessean, has laid off hundreds of staffers and shuttered entire publications in some communities, creating more news deserts.
The fury over the Swift job was led by former Gannett reporters who questioned the news giant’s priorities. Communities in middle Tennessee still lack local reporters covering vital areas such as city hall, local policies, crime and other neighborhood issues. Some had criticized the role as representing a cynical way to capitalize on Swift’s dominant year in the music industry, where she set records in streaming, tour ticket sales and at the movie box office.
Gannett said the Swift and Beyoncé job listings were among more than 100 open roles at the company, which had already hired 225 journalists since March to cover other topics. A hiring for the Beyoncé job has yet to be announced.
Eric Renner Brown, an editor at Billboard, also said there is merit to the Swift reporter job, commenting in a tweet on Monday, “Clowning on the existence of a Taylor Swift Beat Reporter just belies a lack of understanding about what type of music coverage drives traffic in 2023 — and also an ignorance about the seismic impact Swift has on the music business, like her music or not.”
A self-proclaimed Swiftie, West leaned into his affinity for the pop icon when applying for the job. He had sent USA Today a video cover letter, listing 13 reasons why he should be hired for the role, including the ability to sniff out Easter eggs and his penchant for predicting major album announcements.
“I know about every outing, every new song, every lyric, every album release, every party, every ex,” he boasted in his video cover letter which he released Monday. He also defended his journalistic bona fides, pointing to his awards, such as an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award that he won as a part of a team of journalists with NBC local TV news affiliate KPNX in Arizona and the Arizona Republic for an investigation into firefighters who falsely testified in arson cases.
West also promised that he could remain unbiased (apparently West “can’t stand” Swift’s songs “Stay Stay Stay,” “False God” and “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.”) In an interview with Variety, West likened his role to “being a sports journalist who’s a fan of the home team.”
Even so, the job is personal to West.
West, who is open about his recovery from alcohol addiction and his struggles with depression, said Swift’s music helped pull him through. He has been sober since 2018.
“The past five years have taught me so many valuable lessons, like always clean your side of the street — which is a Taylor lyric, but it’s from the sober community,” West told the Tennessean. “I learned to take things one day at a time.”
To commemorate his hiring, West shared a video montage on his Instagram account, highlighting his journey from youth to his first journalism jobs and meeting Swift during her Reputation tour in 2018.
“When I left news five years ago, a friend asked, ‘What would it take for you to come back?’ I joked, ‘If I could report on Taylor Swift every day,’” West wrote in the caption on his post. “When the job listing went viral, the same friend texted me, ‘[Your] dream job became available.’ I am so excited for this new chapter in Nashville and I can’t believe this is my first day.”