Bryan West landed a much-coveted job. Then came the internet.
Everything has changed for Bryan West.
Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the United States, announced on Monday that Mr. West would fill a much-coveted job as the company’s first-ever Taylor Swift reporter, covering all things related to the international pop sensation for USA Today and Gannett’s network of more than 200 other papers across the country.
But before Mr. West, 35, had the chance to file his first story on his new beat, he was getting criticism from two sides: journalism watchdogs and Ms. Swift’s fans.
The objections started rolling in shortly after Variety broke the news of his hiring on Monday. The article included an interview with Mr. West, which provided newsroom ethicists and Swifties alike with grounds for complaint.
Mr. West, who was formerly a TV news reporter in Phoenix, raised hackles by describing himself as “a fan of Taylor.” That remark caused some journalists to question whether or not he could be unbiased when it came to his new beat. At the same time, the singer’s fans debated whether he was a big enough Swiftie to capture their beloved star. Some people in both camps said the job was better suited to a woman.
In the Variety interview, Mr. West likened himself to a sports reporter in making the case that he could maintain his neutrality. “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.”
That remark did not sit well with a number of sportswriters, including Frankie de la Cretaz, a Boston-based sports and culture journalist.
“Any sports journalist will tell you the No. 1 rule of sports journalism is no cheering in the press box,” Mx. de la Cretaz, 38, said. “It’s one of the hallmarks of the profession. It’s one of the first things you learn. The idea, of course, being that if you are a fan of the team, that you can’t be an unbiased reporter.”
“I don’t know that I necessarily think that’s true,” they continued, “but I think the fact that he is making that comparison shows to me a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of a sports journalist is.”
Benjamin Goggin, an editor at NBC News, criticized the hiring of Mr. West on X, writing that Gannett had given the job to “a full stan, rather than someone who is capable of being critical of one of the most powerful people in all of pop culture.”
“Haters gonna hate,” Lark-Marie Antón, Gannett’s chief communications officer, wrote in an email, replying to the criticism from journalists. The spokeswoman added Mr. West’s credentials “made him the best candidate for this role.” (Mr. West, who is now based in Nashville, at a Gannett daily, The Tennessean, declined to be interviewed for this article.)
April Glick Pulito, a Swift fan who works in political communications, posted lyrics from a Taylor Swift song in response to the hiring: “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man?,” Ms. Pulito, 35, wrote on X, quoting “The Man,” which reimagines the singer’s life had she been born a man.
“It wasn’t a statement on the chops of this reporter,” Ms. Pulito said in an interview. “He seems extremely qualified. But as someone who works in communications, I think the optics of the choice are kind of undeniable.” She would have preferred to see the role go to a female applicant, “someone so many Taylor fans could look up to and see themselves in,” she said.
The Gannett spokeswoman said the company “does not discriminate.”
In a year when seemingly anything having to do with the singer has drawn media scrutiny, Gannett’s announcement that it planned to hire a dedicated Taylor Swift reporter generated plenty of headlines and online comments.
The chosen candidate, the company said when it launched the search in September, would “identify why the pop star’s influence only expands” and “what her fan base stands for in pop culture.” (The company also announced a search for a similar role to cover Beyoncé.)
As part of his application, Mr. West submitted a five-minute video listing the reasons he should be hired. The first was his journalism experience. Mr. West previously worked as a broadcast reporter and producer at an NBC affiliate in Phoenix and said he had won several awards.
His second reason was that he had met Ms. Swift. The opportunity to meet her arose after he reported several stories about Ms. Swift while working in Phoenix, he said. Mr. West included a photo of him with the singer in the video.
In his application, Mr. West added that, though he might be a fan, he was able to report on Ms. Swift without bias. He listed three songs he “can’t stand” as evidence, including the track “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.”
Initially, Variety quoted Mr. West as having named the song as “It’s Good to Have a Friend,” a mistake on the publication’s part, which alarmed a number of Swifties, who inferred that he wasn’t up to the task.
Mr. West also noted that he was five years sober. “I’ll never fail a drug test,” he said in his video application. On his personal website, Mr. West posted an essay that goes into detail about leading Phoenix police officers on a car chase and serving jail time for a drunken-driving charge in 2018. “Bryan has been forthcoming disclosing his personal journey,” the Gannett spokeswoman wrote in an email.
Lauren Lipman, 32, was one of the applicants who didn’t get the job. Ms. Lipman, a Los Angeles-based content creator, has made a career out of posting videos predominantly about Ms. Swift. In September, Ms. Lipman received an email from a Gannett recruiter to discuss the role further, but ultimately was not called for additional interviews. (Gannett declined to comment on Ms. Lipman’s application process.)
While she was disappointed to lose out on the role, Ms. Lipman wished Mr. West the best of luck. “I’m bummed, but I’m honestly, truly so excited that this position even exists. Like, go, Bryan,” she said.
Though critical of Mr. West’s reference to how sports journalists go about their jobs, Mx. de la Cretaz said they had sympathy for Gannett’s splashy hire.
“This is a brutal fan base, and I don’t think there was ever going to be any winning for whoever they hired into this role,” Mx. de la Cretaz said. “Either he doesn’t get respect from the general public because he’s a fan and seen as biased or he doesn’t get respect from the fandom itself because he’s not the right kind of fan.”
Bill Grueskin, a professor and former dean at Columbia Journalism school, said that Mr. West’s passion for his subject could yield fine reporting. He also threw some cold water on Mr. West’s critics within the field.
“I think expecting journalists to completely suspend any kind of personal liking for a pop star or a baseball team is probably unworkable,” he said. “The key is kind of how you go about covering it.”
Gannett has yet to announce who will be covering the Beyoncé beat.