When journalist Caché McClay heard about a new job opening last fall, she set about constructing a persuasive video application. “I wouldn’t say I’m a part of the BeyHive, but I definitely speak the language,” she declared in her submission.
She got the job as USA Today‘s first-ever full-time Beyoncé reporter, working out of the Nashville newsroom for the Gannett-owned Tennessean newspaper. (Another reporter was hired for a similar position as a full-time Taylor Swift reporter.) For McClay, that line in her video application was an important part of how she sees her new job.
“I do want to make clear I’m a Beyoncé stan, but my point in saying that was mainly to maintain my integrity as a journalist,” McClay, 28, tells Rolling Stone. “That’s what this role is — to report on Beyoncé, but making sure that I am unbiased with certain issues or certain things.”
In other words, she’ll serve as an intermediary between two tiers of Beyoncé fandom: the stans who are deeply devoted to supporting their favorite artist and keeping up with her every move, and the locals who consume her music more casually and probably couldn’t tell you what city her tour is routed through next.
McClay has spent the last two years as a producer and writer at TMZ, where she moved following a three-year stint at BBC News. She spent time covering the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. before that. Throughout her career, McClay has orbited the pop-culture news cycle, but not on a level that would allow her to spend hours dissecting niche details surrounding any one artist — and especially not for an artist as internally calculated and outwardly unpredictable as Beyoncé. This role requires a particular attention to detail regarding the inner workings of Beyoncé’s fandom and the implications of her unique cultural impact.
McClay is quick to reject the misconception that she was hired to churn out puff pieces. “As a reporter, the job is to highlight and unpack what’s going on,” McClay says. “I am a fan, but also the point of this job is not to just appease a fan base.” The Howard University graduate adds that while she’s prepared for some friction, she doesn’t foresee it coming from the BeyHive. “It’s those people who are skeptical that this job even exists,” she says. “I hope that they’ll see why soon.”
Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper chain, laid out their expectations in their search for a Beyoncé reporter, writing in the job posting: “The international superstar and icon’s impact is felt across generations. She has been a force in everything from how the country views race to how women think about their partners. We are looking for an energetic and enterprising writer, capable of a text and video-forward approach, who can capture Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s effect not only on the many industries in which she operates, but also on society.”
McClay and her colleagues are planning coverage as we approach the release of Beyoncé’s Renaissance documentary concert film, her latest fragrance, a hair-care brand, and more. But the rest is being figured out as they go. “We’re building a beat from scratch that has never existed before, and [McClay] will have a leading role in helping us shape what that is,” Tennessean news director Ben Goad explains. “We will be working with her and assigning stories and helping her decide what avenues to go down. But ultimately, we want our reporters to own their beat and be telling us what the next story is.”
McClay is already locked in on that front. “In order to understand the present and future, sometimes we do have to look backward,” she says, using an examination of Beyoncé’s early-2000s fashion line House of Deréon as a launching point for exploring her athleisure brand Ivy Park. “Just the evolution of her as a businesswoman alone is a story worth talking to an expert about, worth understanding.” Other subjects of interest include the emergence of Blue Ivy as a more public-facing figure during the Renaissance tour, or the threads of queer culture that fortified the album’s foundation.
The idea of a full-time Beyoncé reporter makes sense in light of the many college courses that have been dedicated to studying her work since 2014. Analysis of her visual and musical outputs have inspired studies in intersectional feminism, race and gender politics, and pop culture theory. “I think that was part of our thought process in getting to the place where we determined that this is the time for a position like this,” says Michael Anastasi, the Tennessean editor and Gannett VP of local news. “I don’t know that we’ve specifically talked about any academic course in particular, but just the fact of her impact, and Taylor Swift’s impact — that universities are studying the phenomenon that they are in all kinds of different ways and the seriousness that they have earned through their accomplishments.”
McClay, who grew up in Cleveland, remembers listening to Beyoncé at home with her mother and sister. “I hear the song ‘Daddy’ and I get emotional sometimes because my sister, I remember her belting it in her room all the time,” McClay says. “That was something we could [associate] with my dad.” Her application video also recounts a trip to the hair salon in 2016 to install the same slicked-back braids Beyoncé popularized during the Lemonade era.
“She really is passionate about delving into the impact that Beyonce is having on culture,” Goad says. “When she talks about the phenomenon of the Lemonade braids, and what that meant to people in her community where she was at the time, she does get emotional — and I think that’s OK. We want someone who can really dig into that cultural impact in a way that other outlets are not doing.”
The hiring of McClay’s counterpart, a 35-year-old Swiftie named Bryan West, to cover Taylor Swift has already met with some criticism from both journalists and fans. But Gannett’s executives defend their choice to bring on dedicated journalists to cover two of the biggest stars in music. “We have laser focus on how we connect our journalism with audiences in a way that is altogether different than what we’ve been doing before,” Anastasi says. “That requires us to think differently, and to make sure that we are thinking from the perspective of that audience.” According to the New York Times, Gannett cut around 600 jobs in the last year, with hundreds of additional positions left unfilled. “I guess we’re saying failure is not an option for us,” Anastasi adds. “And sure, things are fragile, but there’s nothing new about that. I think we know how to operate well in that environment.”
Towards the end of our video call, McClay grows visibly emotional when asked about how she has been preparing to shape and execute a brand-new role, one inherently linked to Black culture, under the supervision of two white male editors. “I have been in newsrooms where I’ve been the only Black woman, or the youngest, so I’m used to using my voice … even when it feels uncomfortable,” she says. “I’m honored to be able to do that for something that I feel is so important. It’s not often that I’m using my voice and it’s also speaking about another Black woman — who is so influential — and how important it is, because I have been there.”