‘I see nothing but opportunity.’ Meet L.A. Times’ new top editor Kevin Merida
Kevin Merida will become executive editor of the Los Angeles Times in June.
For the last five years, Merida has been a senior vice president at ESPN and editor in chief of the Undefeated, the sports giant’s digital platform that delves into the intersection of race, culture and sports. Previously, he was managing editor of the Washington Post, in charge of the news and features coverage for nearly three years. He spent 22 years at the Post after starting his career as a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal and later at the Dallas Morning News where he was White House correspondent during the George H.W. Bush administration.
Merida, 64, was born in Kansas but was raised in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. He has lived in the Washington area for much of his life, but he and his family will soon move to Southern California.
Merida, head of ESPN’s the Undefeated, has rare experience in print journalism, television and running a digital startup.
The paper’s owners, Dr. Patrick and Michele Soon-Shiong, said they were impressed with Merida’s breadth of experience — at legacy print publications, in television and running a digital startup — as well as his “quiet confidence.”
Soon-Shiong said he joked with Merida over the weekend, asking whether The Times — a resilient 139-year-old institution — should be renamed “the Los Angeles Times: The Undefeated” to make Merida feel at home.
We spoke with Merida in advance of Monday’s announcement. This transcript was edited for length and clarity.
What about this job was appealing to you?
The challenge. I’ve always been a fan of the L.A. Times. It’s located in such a rich city, culturally diverse and vibrant — it’s really a global city with a melting pot of neighborhoods and communities.
From a personal standpoint, our two oldest sons live there. They’re in the film business. We have a grandson now and that’s very appealing, and our youngest son will join us in L.A. It will be the first time that our immediate family is together again.
In terms of the actual job, I was motivated by the challenge and by a little bit of that underdog spirit. Also, the commitment that Patrick and Michele, and their daughter Nika, have [to the paper] and their commitment to the area. Their story — growing up and living in South Africa and seeing all of the challenges of that country — and that they want an institution that is a reflection of the community.
The other thing was, as I talked to people, I saw that there was passion from the staff. A number of people that I didn’t even know reached out to me during the whole process. They expressed the desire for me to come. I was really struck by that.
I don’t believe you’ve ever lived in Southern California, and you’ll be arriving in the middle of a pandemic. How do you plan to get to know your new city?
I have not lived in Southern California. But I like exploring and I want to get to know people that work at L.A. Times. That’ll be one of the first things I want to do — hang out with some reporters to the degree that’s possible. I do know a bunch of people [in L.A.] and as things open up, as more and more people are [vaccinated] , we can have some gatherings and go places. I want to see things and absorb the feel of L.A. and just try to immerse myself in both the physical place and in the people and the culture. Hopefully, that will become easier as we make our way out of the pandemic.
I was struck by what you said about the L.A. Times being an underdog.
There were a lot of people who gave reasons why I shouldn’t do this. And the more that I heard that, the more I wanted it. It’s a little bit like, ‘Okay, we’ll see.’
I see nothing but opportunity. I think this can be the most innovative media company in the country. That’s what I’m going to try to help Patrick [achieve]. I think people will watch and see what we do. The journalism is already tremendous. So, we’ll just build on that. And, I think, we’ll shock the world.
There are hundreds of people who will be suddenly and intensely interested in you. What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
I love music. Music is kind of my meditation. When we drove to work, whether it was to the Washington Post or to the Undefeated, I loved the commute primarily for music, which kind of helped fuel my ideas. I love music of all genres, but jazz is probably at the center. I also love live music and going to music festivals, [including] the Newport Jazz Festival. In California, there’s the Monterey Jazz Festival.
I’m also a big sports fan. I love and still play basketball, shoot around. The shooting around hasn’t been full-court since the pandemic, but I like to shoot around with my son and work out with the trainer, and we do some basketball drills. I’ve played high school basketball and I still love to do that.
Patrick [Soon-Shiong] says he wants to play me, one-on-one. I don’t know if I’m in the one-on-one business anymore, but I certainly could shoot and I love to play games, HORSE and that kind of thing. So yeah.
And I love to read. I love stories of all kinds and all genres, whether it’s Tik Tok stories, Instagram Live or a limited TV series. I like documentary shorts, music videos, long-form journalism, investigative journalism. I’m really a consumer of storytelling and the art of it. I’m always eager to experiment and think about it in lots of different ways.
What are your favorite teams? Do you see yourself becoming a Lakers fan?
I think I better say “yes.” But, hey, I can always say the Clippers too. And because it is the state of California, I can say Golden State. I love the Warriors, I love watching them. And I root for all the Washington teams because I grew up here.
You mentioned the Undefeated, and I can imagine that it might be bittersweet to leave because of what you’ve built there.
Yeah. It was very difficult. We literally built a startup from the ground up and from outside of a big company, first within ESPN then expanding it across the Walt Disney Co. It was about to be at the next level, growing with different content streams and building a global brand. And so it was hard to leave. But I’ve always said it was not a one-person operation. But it’s not my the Undefeated: Everybody who has built it, the leadership and the people in place, will carry it forward and continue to grow it. And I’ll be watching with enthusiasm and applause from the sidelines.
It sounds like you are genuinely excited to be joining The Times. What should our readers take away from this move?
I’m going to do everything I can to make this the greatest media outlet for the people of California, of L.A. and beyond. By nature, I’m a collaborative person so I won’t pretend to know what I don’t know. I’ll be here to learn from the communities and from my colleagues and we’ll build something tremendous together.
This is a moment in time where media can really help enlighten and guide and play a role in communities and hold people accountable. I’m just looking forward to it. It will be a big thrill for me just to get started.
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