Too big a fan and also a man: Swifties, journalists call out Gannett over Taylor Swift reporter hiring

A reporter is now writing solely about Taylor Swift for the Tennessean and the USA Today network. (Getty Images)
A reporter is now writing solely about Taylor Swift for the Tennessean and the USA Today network. (Getty Images)

The announcement of the newly named Taylor Swift reporter, for Nashville's The Tennessean and hundreds of Gannett newspapers across the country, drew as much attention as the initial news that there would even be a reporter solely dedicated to the "Cruel Summer" singer.

It's Bryan West, an award-winning journalist who explained in his video cover letter for the position, that's posted on YouTube, that he's a Swiftie. Still, he said, he can report on the artist without bias.

Gannett certainly believes that to be the case and the coverage of Swift is needed, even at a time when newsrooms are facing budget cuts and layoffs. In a statement, Michael A. Anastasi, the company's vice president of local news and editor of the Tennessean, said Swift is "a singular cultural force who is shaping our world in arguably unprecedented fashion." He added, "Chronicling her story, her impact, her influence takes unique expertise and experience and we're confident Bryan is the right journalist for this moment."

In an exclusive Variety story this week, Anastasi called West a "great balance between being a veteran journalist who has serious news chops and someone who understands everything about Taylor's world and the universe that he's stepping into."

West himself explained his qualifications.

"I would say this position's no different than being a sports journalist who's a fan of the home team. I just came from Phoenix, and all of the anchors there were wearing Diamondbacks gear; they want the Diamondbacks to win," he said. "I'm just a fan of Taylor and I have followed her her whole career, but I also have that journalistic background: going to Northwestern, winning awards, working in newsrooms across the nation. I think that's the fun of this job is that, yeah, you can talk Easter eggs, but it really is more of the seriousness, like the impact that she has on society and business and music."

West has already began his reporting, with stories about what country music stars said about Swift on the red carpet for Wednesday's CMA Awards, Argentinian fans going all out for tickets to opening night of the "Eras Tour" concert in Buenos Aires and Apple Music crowning Swift its Artist of the Year.

But there was some negative feedback, mostly because West is a man and because of his status as a fan.

Reached by Yahoo Entertainment and asked to comment on the backlash, Gannett's Lark-Marie Anton, chief communications officer, said only, "Shake it off."

Tom Jones, a senior media writer at the nonprofit media institute Poynter, took issue with both in his work for that site. He was caught off guard to receive the volume of responses he did.

"I'm typically braced for a slew of emails and calls when I write about Trump or Fox News or a hot-button topic such as guns or abortion," he tells Yahoo Entertainment in an email. "I figured there were a lot of Taylor Swift fans out there who read my newsletter, but I was a little surprised at the number of people who reached out about the Swift columns. Most of the reaction was about how Gannett whiffed on the hire by not hiring a woman."

Jones reiterates to Yahoo that he doesn't feel a man could do the same job, given Swift's song material.

"Women, especially young women, have such a deep connection to Taylor Swift and her music, which often reflects the female experience," Jones says. "Can men appreciate her music? Of course. But can they relate to it like women can? I honestly don't think so."

He wasn't alone.

At the same time, Candy Lee, who teaches journalism at West's alma mater of Northwestern, but didn't arrive until after he'd left, tells Yahoo that the outcry was always going to be the case, no matter who was hired.

"The chance of hiring anyone to fill a position where millions of people have opinions about their favorite person [Swift] and having that person be loved at immediate selection is unlikely," Lee says.

She points out that it wouldn't make sense to hire someone who was unfamiliar with Swift's work.

"You would hardly hire a theater critic who never went to the theater or a book critic who never read books and or a music critic who didn't like to listen to music," Lee says.

Taylor Swift attends the premiere of
Taylor Swift attends the premiere of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour concert movie at AMC's The Grove 14 on Oct. 11 in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS)

And, with Swift at the movies, on the music charts and elsewhere, who would that even be?

Lee praised Gannett for not discriminating on gender, and she notes that she was impressed by West's audition. Like all of us, she'll be looking for his work.

Jones will also be watching the story develop.

"As critical as I've been about this hire because the reporter is both a male and a big fan of Swift, I do think overall this is a cool idea by Gannett," he says, "and I'm willing to give this new reporter a chance. But there's a lot of pressure on this beat. The stories need to be distinctive. They have to be the kind of stories we can't get anywhere else. And I think that's going to be really difficult. But I look forward to seeing how it all plays out."