Being a 35-year-old grown man who’s obsessed with a pop star who makes songs for pre-teens and sorority girls is one thing. And getting hired to cover her partly because of your obsession kind of makes sense. But, describing your approach to covering Taylor Swift to how professional sports journalists do their jobs isn’t just insulting, it’s evidence that Bryan West’s reporting will not only be biased but a disservice to readers.
Gannett’s decision to hire West as their inaugural Taylor Swift reporter for The Tennessean and USA TODAY Network has caused quite an uproar, leaving journalists outraged, or at least curious as to how this will play out.
I’m not mad at the move. The country’s biggest newspaper chain having a “beat reporter” to cover one of the country’s biggest musicians in the city where she got her start is far from the wildest thing I’ve seen happen in this industry, especially at a time like this. Due to her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce — and coming off a tour where it was estimated she would make $4.1 billion — Swift is everywhere right now. According to NBC, because of Swift, the Chiefs’ Week Four Sunday Night Football win over the New York Jets was the most watched Sunday show since the Super Bowl in February.
Again, the problem isn’t Gannett’s decision. It’s the decision that West made when he opened his mouth.
“I would say this position’s no different than being a sports journalist who’s a fan of the home team,” West told Variety. “I just came from Phoenix, and all of the anchors there were wearing Diamondbacks gear; they want the Diamondbacks to win. 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.”
This is the kind of stuff that infuriates sports writers — the age-old view by others in the newsroom that the sports desk is the kid’s department of the publication. Here’s a secret, sports writers are always the calmest on Election Night watching everyone else lose their minds in the newsroom, as writing on a tight deadline in a high-stress environment is our norm. Sports journalists are also the only ones who can help out on other desks. We can do more than just sports, other reporters suck whenever they’re asked to help out — the news side has no idea how to do a boxscore. Also, when sports and politics forever merged in 2016 due to Trump and Colin Kaepernick, it was sports that was leading the nation’s conversations, and have been ever since.
Furthermore, West’s quote shows that he didn’t learn a thing at Northwestern — which isn’t shocking given that their athletic department is the sole reason they’ve been national news this year. In case you didn’t know, local TV anchors are supposed to be champions of the communities they serve. So yes, while being unbiased is part of their job, they’re also there to promote the positive things that happen locally — like the unlikely Arizona Diamondbacks making it to the World Series.
These are the things that professionals who work in sports journalism, and journalism as a whole, understand. Yet, West doesn’t appear to have a clue to how things work, despite the resume he gloated about.
“This is not a traditional ‘we’re going to write three print stories a week and draw a paycheck’ type of beat. He’s going to be on video, going to be on social, going to be interacting with Swifties, and going to be out and about at tour stops, on red carpets, at the CMAs, wherever people are enjoying or reflecting on who Taylor Swift is,” said Tennessean news director, Ben Goad, about West’s role. “There’s no shortage of things to write. You know, it’s not unprecedented to have somebody (dedicated to covering) someone who’s a Senate candidate, or an athlete, like when LeBron James goes to Miami and has people just covering him. So I think there’s precedent for it. But also, I think, we’re taking a pretty bold step here, and I’m very optimistic for how it’s going to turn out.”
Goad is right. In sports, ESPN has had different reporters following LeBron James during his career, as his tenure with the Miami Heat had multiple publications covering the beat with a different level of intensity. However, none of those journalists were doing interviews with “the media” bragging about being fanboys of James. They simply covered an athlete who’s the face of the NBA, no matter if it was documenting the things he did well — on and off the court — and the things he didn’t do so well — on and off the court.
But wait, there’s more.
Gannett is supposedly still on the hunt for someone to cover Beyoncé.
“A reporter to chronicle the music, fashion, cultural and economic influence of Beyoncé,” reads the listing. “The international superstar and icon’s impact is felt across generations. She has been a force in everything from how the country views race to how women think about their partners. We are looking for an energetic and enterprising writer, capable of a text and video-forward approach, who can capture Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s effect not only on the many industries in which she operates, but also on society.”
Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have reached points in their careers to where their impact has outgrown music. This country’s largest newspaper chain having reporters cover these women as the brands and businesses they’ve evolved into makes sense. But with that comes the responsibility of doing it the right way. Bryan West has already shown us that he isn’t to be taken seriously in the way he will cover Swift. So, here’s to Gannett getting it right with Beyoncé. Hiring a Black woman would be a great first start.