Gannett Wants to Save Local Journalism—It Thinks Taylor Swift and Beyoncé Can Help

From a Wall Street Journal story by Alexandra Bruell and Ann-Marie Alcantara headlined “Gannett Wants to ‘Save Local Journalism.’ It Thinks Taylor Swift and Beyoncé Can Help.”:

Lexi Thompson recently took a dip in her parents’ swimming pool—not to lounge and relax, but as part of her application to become a newspaper reporter,

“I’m going to tell all of you guys at USA Today why I would be an amazing Taylor Swift reporter,” Thompson says in a video as the camera zooms in on her, resting arms flat on the edge of the pool—a shot reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde,” in which her character, Elle Woods, submits a video essay to get into Harvard.

USA Today parent Gannett made headlines earlier this month when it posted two unusual jobs: Taylor Swift and Beyoncé reporters. In about two weeks, the publisher received close to 1,000 applications for the jobs—including from Emmy-award winning journalists, an influencer whose Beverly Hills agent reached out about the job and a reporter who currently works at the White House.

Both job listings require applicants to provide a video cover letter, and plenty decided to get creative to stand out from the crowd. Fans flocked to social-media platforms to make their case for the gigs, promote the postings to followers and see how this one ends.

Thompson, a 24-year-old photographer and journalist from Maryland, submitted the “Legally Blonde” spoof—which she said took about six hours to produce—to Gannett as part of her application, alongside a less-colorful video in which she lists her career accomplishments, including freelance photography and video gigs for large sports networks.

The Taylor Swift/Beyoncé postings provoked eyerolls in some corners of social media, with some even wondering if the jobs were real. They also drew plenty of ire, especially from local journalists whose industry has been gashed by layoffs. Gannett, the country’s largest local-news publisher with hundreds of newspapers, laid off around 600 employees last year alone.

“@Gannett, you’re the problem, it’s you,” wrote the New York NewsGuild, a journalists’ union, on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in a nod to one of Swift’s best-known lyrics.

Gannett said the new roles were no gimmick, but part of a core strategy to rethink coverage, including dedicating whole jobs to covering big personalities and topics that appeal to national audiences and drive revenue.

Kristin Roberts, who recently became Gannett Media’s chief content officer, said the publisher has hired 260 journalists and is filling more than 100 open roles since she took over. She also said the Taylor Swift/Beyoncé jobs are expected to generate revenue for the broader business, including local newsrooms.

“This is how we save local journalism,” Roberts said. “This is what we need to do.” If successful, Gannett may create similar roles covering other personalities and popular topics, she said.

Buzz around Swift this year skyrocketed as her Eras tour, which started in March in the U.S., is expected to become the biggest concert in history. The tour has attracted fans who range from tween to boomer, featuring hits that span folk, pop and country. Beyoncé in May launched her global Renaissance tour in Stockholm, where her massive fan base, referred to as her BeyHive, sent hotel prices soaring and contributed to higher-than-expected inflation, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Gannett can only hope, in its wildest dreams, that its coverage of the two pop stars garners a fraction of the attention it’s gotten from the job postings. Some fans say they and many others are already doing the job free. (Gannett said the hourly rate for the two positions will range between $21.63 and $50.87).

The backlash against Gannett also drew its own backlash, with culture critics saying hard-news types should get off their high horse. Others on social media mused about what life in the job might be like, including having to pay attention to football in the wake of Swift’s newfound companionship with the NFL’s Travis Kelce.

New York Post entertainment critic Johnny Oleksinski wrote a satirical piece saying that he left to become the Taylor Swift reporter. In the article, he imagines, and makes fun of, the “intense daily schedule on the high-pressure Swift beat.”

Gannett requires applicants to have serious journalistic chops. On top of five years of journalism experience, both postings said candidates need to have a “firm command” of Associated Press style.

Molly Swindall, a 29-year-old flight attendant from Georgia who is working on applying for the Taylor Swift job, doesn’t have five years of journalism experience, though she has a degree in broadcast journalism. She said she believes her background qualifies her for the job—as well as her own personal interest in Swift’s career and music.

Swindall said she previously drove Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile around the country from 2020 to 2021 and after that drove L.L. Bean’s Bootmobile, meeting people from all walks of life, listening to their stories about the economy, politics, and any topic that came to their mind, she said. Her background in experiential marketing is something she is highlighting in her video application, which she is looking to submit.

“I got an interesting, good grasp on what the makeup of our country is,” Swindall said.

Dante DiDomenico, a 22-year-old student in Toronto, is hoping to get the Beyoncé gig. His application video drips with references to the artist’s songs, and was filmed in front of four different vinyl albums of hers.

DiDomenico also brought up the many TikTok videos in which he poses as a reporter for KNTY4News, a fictional TV network for which Beyoncé pretends to be a news anchor during her tour. In one of these segments, DiDomenico interviews Reneigh, the disco-ball-clad horse that appears on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album cover. The interview earned DiDomenico 14,000 views.

DiDomenico cited these TikToks in his application as a way he experiments and keeps people engaged. “Because of our series, KNTY4News, I’m kind of doing what they are asking for already,” he said.

Liz Duff, a 26-year-old pop-culture analyst with a TikTok account with more than 65,000 followers, is applying for the position with “no expectation” that she’ll get it, she said. She has a degree in public relations, has written profiles and features in college and is trained in AP Style, noting that reporting had always been part of her professional work before she transitioned to her current role as a digital producer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she said.

Duff hopes the job sets a precedent for the future of pop-culture reporting. People want to follow and read about their favorite artists from someone who understands the fan base, she said.

“This isn’t just a celebrity who is really good at what she does,” Duff said. “This is the story of a business.”

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