Entertainment

Beyoncé, Taylor Swift fandom now a professional vocation — of sorts — at U.S. news company

This week the United States' biggest newspaper chain posted to its site two unusual job listings: a Taylor Swift reporter and a Beyoncé Knowles-Carter reporter.

Gannett hiring 2 reporters, each of whom will be tasked with covering one of the mega-stars

Beyonce accepts the award for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for "Renaissance" during the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 5, 2023.
The Gannett news company is seeking a reporter 'who can capture Beyoncé Knowles-Carter's effect not only on the many industries in which she operates, but also on society.' The image above shows Beyoncé accepting the award for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album at the Grammy Awards in February. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

This week the United States' biggest newspaper chain posted to its site two unusual job listings: a Taylor Swift reporter and a Beyoncé Knowles-Carter reporter.

Gannett, which owns more than 200 daily papers, will employ these new hires through USA Today and The Tennessean, the company's Nashville-based newspaper. The chain is looking for "modern storytellers" adept in print, audio and visual journalism, said Michael Anastasi, the Tennessean's editor and Gannett's vice president for local news.

"Seeing both the facts and the fury, the Taylor Swift reporter will identify why the pop star's influence only expands, what her fan base stands for in pop culture, and the effect she has across the music and business worlds," the company said in its job description.

Taylor Swift performs during a Los Angeles night of 'The Eras Tour' in August 2023.
Gannett is also looking for a reporter 'who can quench an undeniable thirst for all things Taylor Swift with a steady stream of content across multiple platforms.' The singer is shown above during a Los Angeles stop of 'The Eras Tour' last month. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

Similarly, the company wants a journalist who can capture Beyoncé Knowles-Carter's effect on society and the industries in which she operates.

Anastasi said the Tennessean already has a three-person music team and "I put our sophisticated coverage up against anybody." Gannett is always looking for opportunities to make itself essential for paying customers, he said.

Criticism after cuts

Online criticism of these new roles come in part because of major layoffs at Gannett, where the workforce has shrunk 47 per cent in the last three years due to layoffs and attrition, according to the NewsGuild.

At some newspapers, the union said the headcount has fallen by as much as 90 per cent. Last year alone, Gannett cut about six per cent of its roughly 3,440-person U.S. media division.

Some journalists pointed out that while hiring these massively popular artist-specific roles reflect their influence in pop culture, it comes with failing to invest in local journalism at a company known for its local dailies.

"At a time when so much serious news and local reporting is being cut, it's a decision to raise some questions about," Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the journalism think-tank Poynter Institute, said of the new positions.

Some journalists criticized the listings for presenting super-fan behaviour as a full-time journalism job. Music writer Jeremy Gordon said on social media that it "doesn't feel great to see 'full-time stan' go out as an actual journalism job." Stan is slang for "superfan."

If the hire acts more like a fan than a journalist, the decision could backfire on Gannett. But if the job is done well, and the reporters can penetrate tightly-controlled operations to glean insights, they can establish themselves as national authorities on important cultural figures.

Omise'eke Tinsley, academic and author of Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism, says this type of role makes space for more positive stories about Black women.

Three Black women pose while wearing silver clothes outside a stadium.
Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour has fans flying across the country and following the silver dress code to take part. Here, Jessica, Cooper and Sydney from Houston, Texas are pictured dressed in costume prior to Beyoncé's stop in Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But also, she adds, the existence of both jobs directly reflects Beyoncé and Swift's economic power. "If there wasn't that component to it, there wouldn't be a Beyoncé reporter," Tinsley said.

It is not uncommon for journalists to develop a beat on a specific figure, particularly in politics — as evidenced by Amy Chozick, who the New York Times hired in 2013 to cover Hilary Clinton exclusively. But most entertainment journalists are responsible for reporting on a wide range of talent — even if they are subject matter experts on a specific artist.

That was the case for Los Angeles Times reporter Suzy Exposito, who called herself an "unofficial" beat reporter on popular reggaetonero Bad Bunny because she spent a disproportionate amount of time in a previous job covering him compared to other priorities.

"His near-weekly output became really overwhelming, and it took away focus from a lot of other artists who were also making compelling work," Exposito said. "He's so prolific that I think I literally ran out of new words to describe him at some point. He could use his own reporter, too."

'A numbers game'

She said a major challenge for entertainment journalists is the sheer volume of releases from pop artists. "The business of music is a numbers game," Exposito said. "Hit records become deluxe editions become sold-out world tours, and it can be dizzying for a general music journalist to keep up with when the market is flooded with more releases than ever before."

So, are artist-specific jobs the future of music journalism?

"It is a bit odd, but Taylor Swift Inc., I guess you would call it, is a big economic driver right now," said Eric Grode, director of the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University. "Taylor Swift is doing a lot of newsworthy things beyond just selling concert tickets."

If a reporter takes the job seriously and provides more than breathless concert coverage, their established expertise could be valuable for a news organization, Grode said. Still, there are very few musicians who have such a wide cultural reach.

The likelihood of fans to click on stories about Swift or Beyoncé makes it an obvious motivating factor in designing the new jobs, Exposito said.

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"Digital media is now competing with fan accounts on social media — not when it comes to accuracy, but when it comes to being the first source to report on pop stars' developments," she said.

Top artists draw the attention and work of expert reporters, leading to what critic Soraya Roberts has called a "culture of sameness" — yet another barrier to local arts coverage.

Tinsley believes that posts on social media criticizing the focus of these new roles may reflect a culture of sexism.

"Adding to the pantheon of what figures and representatives matter has the potential to do something important," she said. "I believe some of the dismissals (of these roles) have to do with what we value and don't value as a society — and I think there's an implicit misogyny in it."

Representatives for Swift and Beyoncé did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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