Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Q&A: Medill alum Bryan West fulfills ‘Wildest Dreams’ with Taylor Swift reporting job

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Illustration by Shveta Shah
Since joining the USA Today Network in November, West has reported on all aspects of Taylor Swift’s career and cultural impact.

After working for Northwestern News Network as an undergraduate at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications Bryan West (Medill ’11) took the leap into broadcast news, moving to Phoenix upon graduation to work as an investigative producer at the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, his previous Journalism Residency site.

Eight years and two Emmys later, though, West made the decision to leave television news to focus on his mental health and sobriety, joking to a friend at the time that the only thing that might bring him back would be an opportunity to report on Taylor Swift in his daily job. 

In September, that dream came true: Gannett — the biggest newspaper chain in the country — listed an opening for a reporter who would cover Swift’s life, career and music full-time.

West applied quickly, attaching a video submission that listed 13 reasons why he should get the job, including his journalism bona fide’s and his intimate knowledge of Swift’s career. In November, he landed the job and relocated to Nashville to be based at The Tennessean as a part of the USA Today network.

He’s since written articles on college courses dissecting Swift’s music, her relationship with Travis Kelce and a fan’s all-out Swift-themed Christmas decorations. Two months into the job, West sat down with The Daily to share what he’s learned as the media’s first full-time Taylor Swift reporter.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

The Daily: How have your skills from Medill helped prepare you for your current gig at Gannett?

West: I am so grateful for my education at Medill, and the biggest way that helped prepare me is to be a one-man-band and to cover all facets of journalism. So at Northwestern, we learned how to write for print, how to write for magazine, how to shoot and edit video. I would definitely say the Medill F has helped me so much in life. I got my Medill F on — at the time it was Gov. Blagojevich. I wrote my paper super fast and had missed, I think, the J, and that’s what I got my F on. So I take that with me, even in this reporting position. Especially with Taylor Swift, I want to be really cognizant of getting her lyrics correct and getting her song titles correct, including punctuation. And so Medill and the Medill F have helped prepare me for that.

The Daily: What do you think being on the Taylor Swift beat allows you to see that other reporters — who might cover Swift as music critics or business reporters, for example — might miss?

West: I love covering this sick beat, which, as you know, is a nod to one of the lyrics in her songs. But I would say since I’m full-time, I’m fully immersed in all things Taylor Swift, and she has her hands in so many different industries. There’s Taylor Swift the businesswoman, Taylor Swift the billionaire, Taylor Swift the NFL-goer. There’s Taylor Swift, the Grammy award winner. There’s Taylor Swift, who is starting her cinematic era. I’m really excited, she has signed with Searchlight Pictures and she’s going to be directing a film that she wrote herself. But that would be what I believe sets me apart: I’m fully immersed in this Taylor Swift universe and covering all aspects and facets of her life.

The Daily: Your hiring sparked a conversation within journalism about the role of personal bias and fandom in music and sports journalism. Considering how committed and sometimes intense Swift’s fandom can be, do you ever feel like you have to take a step back and kind of look at her career more critically?

West: I’m a journalist first and I’m a fan second. Northwestern’s education helped prepare me for this moment of being able to cover Taylor Swift in a non-biased way. What I would say to the criticism is that I went to an institution like Northwestern, I spent 10 years in the journalism industry, I won prestigious awards and I work with an incredible team. USA Today is a prestigious institution. I have editors that I still report to, I have story ideas I still have to cover. It still has to go through the filters of journalism in order to go out to the general public. What I would also say is my fandom, or following her for two decades, makes me an expert in her career path. 

The Daily: Swift’s public relationship with Travis Kelce has sparked a new round of media coverage that both puts her at the intersection of music and sports and seems to signal a departure from her private retreat from the media and public attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. What can the relationship tell us about where Swift is in her career and her life?

West: The last six years of her last serious relationship were just so, ‘Let’s keep our private life private.’ So, in stark juxtaposition, this has been very much a public relationship. I think what it tells us is, she’s just really happy and they have both embraced this. It seems like the two of them really do love each other and also love sharing this love story with everyone who’s watching. At a time when news can be especially dark, it is kind of refreshing to see them supporting each other, vocally and publicly.

 

Email: [email protected]

X: @jacob_wendler

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