When Gannett posted a job listing in September for a full-time Taylor Swift reporter you could practically hear the digital snap of resumés flying through the ether as aspiring writers tripped over themselves for the potential gig of a lifetime. Now that the glitter has settled, Variety reported on Monday (Nov. 6) that the nation’s largest newspaper chain has hired 35-year-old avowed Swiftie Bryan West for the coveted gig.
The Arizona writer who recently moved to Nashville for the job said despite the hand-wringing and scoffing from some quarters about the journalistic sense of having a dedicated Swift scribe, he doesn’t see how his new gig differs from any other reporting beat.
“I would say this position’s no different than being a sports journalist who’s a fan of the home team,” he said. “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.”
West set out to prove his bona fides by rattling off some deep-dive Swift knowledge and opinions, including his thoughts on the Vault songs from the singer’s new 1989 (Taylor’s Version) re-release — which debuted atop Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart — “Now That We Don’t Talk” and “Say Don’t Go,” the latter of which he professed to be a “huge fan” of.
“When you listen to it, she screams a harmony of ‘I said “I love you”‘ [in a bridge near the end of the track], and that’s why I really like it: It’s the harmony she screams that’s muted,” he said of his favorite moment in the extra track.
West said his background being a “one-man-band” reporter who often shoots the video of his interviews for the digital versions of Gannett’s dailies helped him gain an advantage in the race to hire a reporter the chain likely hopes will attract young readers to titles from the chain that has drastically reduced staff positions over the past 20 years.
And while the posting seemed like a stunt to many, Michael Anastasi, the Tennessean‘s editor — West will work out of their offices — said the chain was “very pleased” with the caliber of respondents. “I think if we ended up hiring five more people, we would have highly qualified candidates” for all the positions, he said. “It ran the gamut from veteran hard-news reporters, including at least one very established White House reporter, to Swifties who have blogs and are influencers … and of course there were a number of fans who just were following their dreams and hoping to win the lottery. But what we ended up with was someone who I think has the 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.”
The job, as laid out by the paper’s news director, is not a dusty, traditional “three print stories a week” grind, but rather one that will involve video, social media, interaction with Swifties, hitting shows, red carpets, the CMAs and “wherever people are enjoying or reflecting on who Taylor Swift is.”
In fact, West — who met Swift once backstage on the opening night of her 2018 Reputation tour — confirmed that he will be at CMA-related events all this week during his first week on the job, wasting no time jumping into the fray. And, it was actually that pic, along with a short list of serious story ideas that expanded into a two-page PDF over the course of the interview process, that secured the job.
Aware that Swifties can be judge, jury and executioner to writers who offer up even the mildest rebukes of her art, West told Variety that he addressed his objectivity in his video submission for the job by citing three of the singer’s tracks he cannot stomach: “Stay Stay Stay,” “False God” and “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.”
Swift is the leading finalist with nods in 20 categories at the 2023 Billboard Music Awards. You can watch the BBMAs here, and via Billboard and the BBMA’s social media channels on Nov. 19.