Should we care that a high-profile national reporting job covering Taylor Swift went away – die down -For men?
I was shocked when USA Today/The Tennessean and their parent company Gannett announced last week that its first Swift beat would be filled by a 35-year-old journalist named Brian West.
The summer of 2023 was, after all, the season of girl power, not just of Erasure tours and friendship bracelets, but also of “Barbie” and Beyoncé and “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” It was about kindness, cowgirl boots, and the color pink. It was about adult women giving themselves license to celebrate girlhood. It was about women rising to the heights of power and success despite attacks on our rights in this country.
By any measure, Swift is a cultural and feminist icon. Countless girls and young women have felt validated by her songs, which fearlessly speak from the female perspective. Swift and womanhood are clearly linked, my much younger Star Tribune colleague, Zoe Jackson, told a Swift fan feeling the sting of Gannett’s hiring decision.
“Women have been made fun of for liking Taylor for a decade,” Jackson told me. “Society has underestimated the social, purchasing and cultural power of them and their fans, and a woman should report on that influence.”
To be clear, Swift’s cultural importance has been overlooked because her audience is mostly girls and women, but this is a person who would get a chance to make a living writing about it.
The job description went viral after Gannett posted the opening in September. Journalists criticized the new style and said that massive layoffs across the industry had left entire communities without an investigative or city hall reporter.
Although it is unclear how many people applied for West’s job and what percentage were women, the Wall Street Journal reported that within two weeks of the posting, Gannett was asked for the Swift gig as well as a new Beyoncé reporter. Approximately 1,000 applicants were received. The editor of The Tennessean told Variety that the group of Swift applicants included people ranging from fan influencers to hard-news journalists, “including at least one very established White House reporter.”
To be fair, no candidate for the job will ever be able to satisfy journalists and Swift’s fan base, two camps that have united in their displeasure with West’s appointment.
But after watching his video application, which I posted on YouTube last week, I can understand West’s appeal among news managers. Professionally speaking, he is highly qualified, having won the highest award in broadcast journalism (the equivalent of the DuPont Pulitzer). He displays a gift for gossips and video lovers that can be used for TikTok. He is emotional and likeable. They have tons of story ideas that will generate not only articles and page views but also social media content that will garner clicks, likes and shares.
Although West may not be the target audience of Swift’s music, there’s no doubt that he is personally influenced by it. He told The Tennessean that he became more connected to Swift’s music while recovering from struggles with depression and alcohol addiction.
West said, “The last five years have taught me a lot of valuable lessons, like always clean up your side of the road – which is Taylor’s song, but it’s from the Sovereign community.” “I learned to take things one day at a time.”
Perhaps this reflects the universal appeal of Swift’s music. She knows what it’s like to be alone and struggle, to be broken and betrayed, to lose friendships and innocence, to make the awkward transition from child to adult. Women do not have a monopoly on these broad topics of what it is like to be human.
Perhaps most troubling to journalists who strive for objective reporting of their subjects, West is an unapologetic Swiftie. (Recalling the time he met the star backstage, “Our ears touched and I thought for a second, I might be straight,” he said in his video.)
Poynter.org, a news site about the journalism industry, covered the news of West landing the job and questioned his ability to report critically on Swift, but failed to address the fact that West is male. . The author who recorded the story immediately heard criticism from readers for this omission. The following day, Tom Jones issued a mea culpa. Jones said, “I dropped the ball by failing to see that perhaps the biggest issue is not that West is a Swift fan, but that he is a man.”
The fact that we expect a reporter to share some kind of identity or lived experience with the subject he or she covers shows how much journalism has evolved in less than a generation.
When I started in this field decades ago, it was up to cub journalists from marginalized backgrounds to prove that we could report on our communities without fear or favor. Now more newsroom leaders are recognizing that the backgrounds of women, people of color or LGBTQ journalists should be viewed as assets rather than liabilities that we need to hide or overcome.
Can a trust-fund kid from Manhattan authentically cover issues of classism and structural inequality as a full-time poverty reporter in Appalachia? Would a male journalist be well aware of the double standards applied to women, a bias that Swift describes in her song “The Man”? Of course it is possible. This may take more work.
Growing up, Jackson, 25, remembers people scoffing at Starr’s songwriting abilities because she wrote about her boyfriends — even though relationships have been reliable fodder for pop artists since time immemorial.
“I just hope (West) can capture that nuance,” Jackson said. “As a reporter, if I’m writing about an identity that I don’t have, the people I’m talking to need to make up the bulk of that reporting. I hope that’s what I’m doing.” Will bring liveliness to work.”