The Beyoncé and Taylor Swift jobs at USA Today have sparked backlash from news reporters — here's why

Beyonce, left, and Taylor Swift will participate in YouTube's "Dear Class of 2020" virtual graduation ceremony.
Beyoncé, left, and Taylor Swift will be the subject of beats at one of the country's largest news organizations. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It's rare for a news publication's job listing to make headlines. Yet this week, lightning has struck twice at USA Today.

Owned by Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain that is still reeling from massive layoffs to its newsrooms, the publication is making an unusual move by advertising for a pair of reporters to cover two icons: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Taylor Swift.

Both listings are similar in scope, asking each writer to cover the close of their historic tours — Renaissance and Eras — as well as upcoming album or project releases. The jobs are remote, and candidates must be able to travel internationally. Swift is embarking on the international leg of her Eras tour, while Beyoncé's Renaissance tour is wrapping up in October. However, the reporters are asked to treat both figures not just as musical performers but also as cultural bellwethers with influence on pop culture and business. Both ask reporters to cover their fan bases — Swifties and the Beyhive (which the listing described as "protective"), respectively.

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The Swift listing came first on Tuesday, causing a stir online.

"Seeing both the facts and the fury, the Taylor Swift reporter will identify why the pop star’s influence only expands, what her fanbase stands for in pop culture, and the effect she has across the music and business worlds," the Swift listing said.

Swifties heralded the opportunity as a "dream job," some jokingly saying they would leave behind their careers for the position. Brooklyn-based reporter Dave Colon said the Swift position would make the individual "the most hated reporter in America" and wondered if the job included putting their "family in the witness protection program."

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USA Today managers were specifically inviting Swifties to apply for the job despite the listing requiring candidates to be without "a bias." The conflict seemed like an invitation for candidates to "lie on their applications," mused one former USA Today reporter, Grace Deng.

The job post also proved especially controversial among local news reporters who questioned the company's priorities. They pointed to the massive layoffs the newspaper chain has undergone in the last several years, a national trend among local news publications, including The Times and LAist. Gannett, which owns daily newspapers across the nation, has laid off hundreds of staffers and shuttered entire publications in some communities, creating more news deserts.

One of those news deserts is in Tennessee, where operations for the Swift and Beyoncé jobs will be rooted. One of Gannett's daily news publications, the Tennessean, is mentioned as the employer, alongside USA Today. The Nashville-based paper, along with the Commercial Appeal, which covers Memphis, has also seen staff cuts in recent years. Communities in middle Tennessee now lack local reporters covering things such as city hall, local policies, crime and other neighborhood issues.

Read more: Column: How the decline of local news exposes the public to lies and corruption

"Nashville is getting a Taylor Swift reporter. Memphis is still without an investigative reporter," wrote former Memphis reporter Laura D. Testino who covered education and children's issues for the Commercial Appeal.

In response to USA Today's tweet that called the new position "the job of your wildest dreams," former Commercial Appeal reporter Dima Amro, who covered Memphis' suburban neighborhoods, quipped. "My wildest dream is Gannett filling my old Memphis position (has been vacant since mid-June)."

"The Tennessean: Can't cover Williamson County. Can cover Taylor Swift," wrote Nashville author Betsy Philips.

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Emily R. West, a former neighborhood reporter for the Tennessean, said she "saw so many talented people LAID OFF from photographers, reporters, copy editors and designers. I see the void in coverage of important areas in Middle Tennessee and The Tennessean wants to hire a person to cover . . . Taylor Swift."

A Gannett spokesperson defended the Swift listing and told Neiman Lab that the company is “actively” recruiting for more than 100 open roles and has already hired 225 journalists since March, when Gannett's chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, joined the chain.

On Wednesday, Gannett doubled down on the renaissance and new era of their publications, posting its job listing for the Beyoncé Knowles-Carter Reporter online.

Read more: Beyoncé's birthday Renaissance show celebrated the depths of Black womanhood

"Get in Formation!" USA Today tweeted, adding that the paper is "seeking a Beyoncé reporter to specialize in all things Queen Bey." The job listing quickly spread online among the Beyhive with many fans excited by the opportunity.

"It's me. I am the Beyoncé reporter," joked Amazon Music's X account.

"I HAVE FOUND MY CALLING," USA Today sports reporter Lindsay Schnell exclaimed.

And while the Knowles-Carter job listing received far less backlash than the Swift post, it still invited skeptics and critics.

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Slate music critic Carl Wilson said the Beyoncé job adds "balance" to the equation, but cautioned that due to the Houston native's tight control around new releases, "this reporter may go long dry stretches after the Renaissance tour is over."

And the suffering local news ecosystem remained front of mind for many with one branding the listings as "what's wrong with journalism today," showing the apparent pay disparity between the Swift and Knowles-Carter jobs (hourly rate between $21.63 and $50.87) and a local news housing reporter job in the Central Valley city of Visalia, Calif. ($15.50-$29.30 hourly).

"Honestly love the fact that G*nnett wants a Beyonce reporter AND a Taylor Swift reporter, but how about idk...caring more about LOCAL NEWS?" wrote Meghin Moore, a news editor at local public radio station VPM news. "If this is how to keep music journalism viable, no thank you."

Read both the Swift and Knowles-Carter reporter job listings.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.