The Los Angeles Times named former ESPN executive Kevin Merida its new executive editor on Monday, making him the second person of color to head the newsroom in its 140-year history.
Merida, a 64-year-old veteran of the Washington Post in addition to Disney’s ESPN sports network, had been long rumored to be the front runner in the race to succeed Norm Pearlstine, who stepped down officially in December and had been involved in the search for a replacement.
Merida — who will be the second black person to head the LA Times since Dean Baquet did a brief stint at the helm in 2005 and 2006 — takes over a newsroom that has been roiled by internal turmoil tied to issues of race, as well as a pandemic that sliced into advertising and circulation.
The company revealed it had been hit with losses of $50 million in 2020 when it announced in March it had landed a $10 million federal loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Indeed, the selection process was complicated this spring when a report surfaced that LA Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong was looking to sell amid a sea of red ink at the paper, which he took over in mid 2018 for $500 million. Soon-Shiong had insisted at the time the reports were not true. Still, some leading job candidates were said to have dropped out amid the uncertainty.
“I am excited to be the next executive editor of the L.A. Times, and will bring with me an open heart, a penchant for experimentation and a fiercely competitive spirit,” said Merida. “Looking forward to partnering with new colleagues and soaring to greater heights together.”
Merida had been a top editor at the Washington Post before he jumped to ESPN in 2015, and had been seen by some as a possible successor to top editor Marty Baron after his former boss retired earlier this year. But Merida’s age appeared to be an impediment and the Washington Post, which is said to be searching for a replacement who could lead the newsroom for the next decade, is still hunting.
At ESPN, Merida was a senior vice president and editor in chief of The Undefeated, a multimedia platform that explores the intersections of race, sports and culture. It has expanded across Disney with documentaries and television specials, music videos and albums, live events and digital talk shows, and two bestselling children’s books. Merida also oversaw the Investigative/News Enterprise unit, the television shows “E:60” and “Outside the Lines,” and chaired ESPN’s editorial board.
“We are elated to welcome Kevin to the Los Angeles Times,” Patrick and Michele Soon-Shiong said in a statement on Monday.
“Kevin possesses a clear understanding of the rigor necessary for independent journalism and how to translate that journalism to multiple platforms. He also shares our passion for the unique opportunity we have to build the L.A. Times into a media enterprise with a distinct West Coast point of view.”
He takes over a newsroom that lately has slammed by racial issues, brought to the forefront during last summer’s protests tied to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.
The Times and its former parent company Tribune Publishing in November agreed to $3 million class action lawsuit settlement which alleged gender, race and ethnic discrimination covering nearly 240 current and former reporters that included blacks, Latinos and women journalists who worked at the paper from February 2015 through October 2020.
In September, Dr. Soon-Shiong published a lengthy apology to readers for its past flawed coverage on matters of race. “Over its history, The Times has also mirrored, and in some cases propagated, the biases and prejudices of the world it covers, reflecting and shaping attitudes that have contributed to social and economic inequity,” he wrote.
When Baquet left the LA Times in 2006 to rejoin the New York Times where he is now the top editor, it was reportedly over staffing cuts by the paper’s former owner, Tribune Co.