Kevin Merida Wants to Reinvent the ‘L.A. Times’

Of all of the main newspapers in America, or a minimum of those that also exist, the Los Angeles Instances has weathered extra abuse than most. Through the darkish early days of the print-media apocalypse, the Chandler dynasty’s delight and pleasure was delivered to the brink by a revolving door of nightmare bosses. (A former Instances journalist as soon as described them to me as “an unbelievable string of assholes.”) Hope was restored with the arrival in 2018 of the paper’s newest proprietor, the billionaire physician, bioscientist, and medical entrepreneur Patrick Quickly-Shiong, who now runs the Instances together with his spouse, Michele Chan, and daughter, Nika Quickly-Shiong. However nonetheless, three years after the Quickly-Shiong household’s practically $500 million deal to accumulate the Instances, it’s not completely clear whether or not the paper’s future appears to be like brighter than its tortured previous.

Enter Kevin Merida, who succeeded Norm Pearlstine as govt editor in June, turning into the establishment’s ninth newsroom chief in 15 years. Within the blink of a watch, Merida, 64, went from a comparatively under-the-radar determine to some of the talked about information executives round—a veteran Black journalist who, on the heels of a long-overdue reckoning round race, soared into the nonetheless overwhelmingly white stratosphere of the information enterprise. Some would possibly say he’s the L.A. Instances’s final nice hope, as a result of if Merida can’t place the place for long-term success, who can? “I didn’t come right here as a result of I don’t assume we are able to have success,” Merida instructed me over Zoom a few weeks after he began. He and his spouse, the journalist Donna Britt, had been in Maryland, packing up for the transfer to L.A., the place two of their sons reside. “No matter occurred earlier than was earlier than, and now we’ve got an opportunity to start out proper now.”

Born in Wichita, Kansas, and raised contained in the Beltway, Merida reduce his enamel at The Milwaukee Journal and The Dallas Morning Information earlier than touchdown at The Washington Put up in 1993. He lined Congress and politics, labored as a options author and columnist, after which climbed the ladder in varied administration roles. By 2013, he was the Put up’s managing editor for information and options. He additionally turned a key participant within the Put up’s digital transformation, which took flight beneath Jeff Bezos.

In 2015, a dream job introduced itself. ESPN, a part of the Walt Disney Firm, was launching an internet site referred to as The Undefeated, which might cowl race and tradition via the lens of sports activities. They wished Merida to run it. Beneath his stewardship, The Undefeated sizzled as a type of cross-platform company start-up, churning out podcasts, occasions, TV specials, and a music collaboration with Disney’s Hollywood Data. Merida was elevated to a much bigger position inside ESPN, the place he had already taken on further duties, overseeing investigative and long-form tasks. As The Undefeated grew, Merida started reporting on to community president Jimmy Pitaro, who instructed me Merida is a “actually excellent govt” and “cool beneath strain.” As Merida kicked off 2021, he was using excessive with a job that felt like the perfect he may ask for, plus an array of thrilling tasks to sit up for within the new 12 months, together with a ebook imprint, a document label, and a shopper merchandise line. However alternative got here knocking as soon as once more.

Pearlstine, who turns 80 subsequent 12 months, had left the L.A. Instances in December, and Merida started listening to from a few of his contacts there. Would he contemplate being their new govt editor? The informal outreach whet his urge for food sufficient to take a name with HR, which was adopted by a sequence of Zooms with the Quickly-Shiong household. “I used to be impressed they had been all in it collectively,” Merida stated. In the meantime, in January, Marty Baron introduced his retirement from The Washington Put up, bringing the curtain down on a legendary eight-year editorship. Merida began getting calls from his Put up buddies too. Plenty of Put up people liked the concept of Merida taking the helm, not solely due to his huge expertise, however as a result of he would grow to be the primary Black govt editor of the Put up, which has wrestled with range points. The bizarre factor was, individuals within the newsroom acquired the sense writer Fred Ryan wasn’t significantly bought on the concept, at the same time as former colleagues pushed Merida’s identify. Whereas the Quickly-Shiongs had been aggressively courting Merida, the outreach from his alma mater was surprisingly “passive,” as one supply put it on the time.

Again at ESPN, Pitaro had conversations with Merida about what it might take to maintain him. On the similar time, Merida was approached about the opportunity of working ABC Information, additionally owned by Disney, the place community president James Goldston had lately stepped down. Nonetheless, by midspring it was clear that Merida’s coronary heart was in L.A. Disney chairman Bob Iger acquired on the telephone with him to speak all of it via. “I attempted to retain him,” Iger instructed me, “discussing his future, which was vibrant, and the way forward for his enterprise, however he appeared intent on returning to his newspaper roots and transferring to Los Angeles. I liked working with Kevin, as a result of he’s sensible, artistic, and intensely considerate, and I used to be sorry to see him go.”

On paper, the L.A. Instances arguably regarded just like the least engaging possibility. Management turnover was notoriously excessive. Digital subscriptions had been lagging. The place was nonetheless reeling from complaints concerning the mistreatment of staff of coloration, in addition to a office scandal that roiled its meals part. In February, The Wall Avenue Journal reported {that a} sale was being explored. The Quickly-Shiong household instantly countered that they’d no such intentions, however Instances journalists anxious that the rumors would scare off prime candidates like Merida, who instructed me Patrick Quickly-Shiong “gave me his assurance” that he was dedicated. “I’m drawn to underdogs,” Merida stated. “For those who’re not leaning into challenges, what are the issues that excite us and supply us with sparkle? What’s it that lets us know we’re alive? We have now an opportunity to reinvent the L.A. Instances, to make it higher. I wish to redefine what a contemporary newspaper is.” Merida later emailed to make clear, “We could also be an underdog, primarily based on notion. However our roster is loaded.” The roster is thrilled to have him. “It is a time of large pleasure,” stated one journalist there.

Again within the good previous days, lengthy earlier than the L.A. Instances was decimated, Otis Chandler constructed it right into a nationwide powerhouse. The Instances has recaptured a few of that mojo beneath the Quickly-Shiongs, however Merida appears like he’s extra targeted on increasing the publication’s journalism reasonably than worrying about whether or not it’s in the identical ballpark as The New York Instances and The Washington Put up. “I need to get into partnerships, and documentaries, and broaden the podcast slate, and experiment in all the types you’ll be able to experiment with,” he stated. In fact it doesn’t harm that the Golden State is filled with main tales from local weather change to the streaming wars. “You would argue that California is a rustic unto itself.” | Kevin Merida Desires to Reinvent the ‘L.A. Instances’

Huynh Nguyen

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