The Los Angeles Times has named ESPN executive Kevin Merida, an acclaimed journalist who spent more than two decades at The Washington Post, as its next executive editor.
Merida, 64, is a veteran reporter and editor; he worked at the Milwaukee Journal and Dallas Morning News before rising through the ranks at the Post as a political reporter, feature writer and national editor before serving, from 2013 to 2015, as managing editor for news and features, the second-ranking newsroom position.
He left The Post to join ESPN as a senior vice president and the founding editor and editor in chief of The Undefeated, which reports on sports, race, fashion, the arts and technology.
The Times is one of several news organizations that have sought to fill their top newsroom jobs and Merida’s name has surfaced as a candidate for several of them. Most notably, he has had discussions with The Post, which is seeking to replace its top editor, Martin Baron, who retired at the end of February.
Merida will replace Norman Pearlstine, the veteran editor hired by Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2018 after Soon-Shiong bought the Times and its sister paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, from Tribune Co. Pearlstine stepped down in December.
In staff and readership, the Times is the one of the largest newspapers in America, attracting 37.2 million unique readers to its website in March, according to ComScore, the digital tracking firm. It has won 47 Pulitzer Prizes, including for audio reporting and criticism last year.
But it has also been beset by ownership and management turbulence since its controlling family, the Chandlers, sold its parent Times Mirror Co. to Tribune for $8.3 billion in 2000. The rapid decline of the newspaper industry and Tribune Co.’s ongoing financial issues led to cutbacks in the Times’ network of foreign bureaus and its esteemed Washington bureau.
Soon-Shiong, a physician and biotech billionaire who lives in Los Angeles, bought the Times and Union-Tribune from Tribune for $500 million.
Since then, Soon-Shiong has invested in rebuilding the Times’ newsroom. The paper now employs about 520 journalists, an increase of more than 100 since Soon-Shiong’s arrival. But the Times remains at about half of the strength it boasted before Tribune’s acquisition two decades ago.
It also faces uncertain economic prospects; its publisher said last month that its revenue declined by $50 million during the pandemic last year, a figure he characterized as “catastrophic.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Soon-Shiong was “exploring” the sale of the paper, but a Times spokeswoman disputed the story, saying he has no such plans.
Among Merida’s challenges will be improving the Times’ digital operations, a task he spearheaded at The Post. The newspaper has been slow to gain digital subscribers, which have become vital as advertising revenues have shrunk. The Times has about 240,000 such subscribers, placing it far behind the industry’s leaders, which include the New York Times (7.5 million), Post (3 million) and Wall Street Journal (2.46 million.)
His other task will be improving morale in the newspaper’s newsroom, whose members voted overwhelmingly to unionize in 2018, a few months before Soon-Shiong took over.
Sparked by protests over the killing of George Floyd last year, some Times journalists expressed impatience with the Times’s progress in adding more people of color to its staff and the way in which the Times covered some of the violence associated with the protests. They noted last year that the Times had only one African American reporter on its 90-member local desk, in a city that is about 9% Black. Latino journalists make up about 14% of the newsroom in a region in which about half the population is of Hispanic descent.
Merida is the second African American to lead the Times’ newsroom. Dean Baquet, currently editor in chief at the New York Times, previously held the position during Tribune’s ownership. He is the third person of color in the job, following Baquet and Davan Maharaj, who was editor and publisher until 2017.
Merida did not respond to a request for comment.
His hiring was met with enthusiasm among some Times journalists when leaks about the Times’ interest in him began two weeks ago. “He has the right pedigree,” said a senior Times employee, who asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak in behalf of the company. “He fits in well.”