Kevin Merida will become editor of the Los Angeles Times in June.
For the past five years, Merida has served as Senior Vice President of ESPN and Editor-in-Chief of The Undefeated, the sports giant’s digital platform that delves into the intersection of running, culture and sport. . Previously, he was editor of the Washington Post, in charge of news coverage and reporting for almost 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 HW Bush administration.
Merida, 64, was born in Kansas but raised in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. He has lived in the Washington area for much of his life, but he and his family will soon be relocating to Southern California.
Newspaper owners Dr Patrick and Michele Soon-Shiong said they were impressed with the breadth of Merida’s experience – in traditional print publications, on television and in running a digital start-up. – as well as by his “quiet confidence”.
Soon-Shiong said he joked with Merida over the weekend, asking if The Times – a resilient 139-year-old institution – should be renamed “Los Angeles Times: The Undefeated” to make Merida feel at home.
We spoke with Merida ahead of Monday’s announcement. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you like about this job?
The challenge. I’ve always been a fan of the LA Times. It is located in such a rich, culturally diverse and vibrant city – it truly is a global city with a melting pot of neighborhoods and communities.
From a personal point of view, our two oldest sons live there. They make movies. We have a grandson now and it’s very attractive, and our youngest son will be joining us in Los Angeles. It will be the first time that our immediate family will meet again.
As far as the actual job goes, I was motivated by the challenge and a bit of that outsider spirit. Also, the commitment that Patrick and Michele, and their daughter Nika, have [to the paper] and their involvement in the region. Their story – growing up and living in South Africa and seeing all the challenges that this country faces – and that they want an institution that is a reflection of the community.
The other thing is that in talking to people, I saw that there was passion on the part of the staff. A number of people I didn’t even know contacted me during the whole process. They expressed the desire for me to come. I was really struck by this.
I don’t believe you’ve ever lived in Southern California, and you’ll be in the middle of a pandemic. How do you plan to know your new city?
I have not lived in Southern California. But I love to explore and want to get to know people who work at the LA Times. This will be one of the first things I want to do – spend time with reporters whenever possible. I know a group of people [in L.A.] and as things open up more and more people [vaccinated] , we can have gatherings and go to places. I want to see things and absorb the feel of LA and just try to immerse myself in both the physical place and the people and the culture. Hopefully it will get easier as we come out of the pandemic.
I was struck by what you said about the LA Times being an underdog.
There were a lot of people who gave reasons why I shouldn’t do this. And the more I heard it, the more I wanted it. It’s kind of like, “Okay, we’ll see.”
I don’t see anything other than an opportunity. I think it may be the most innovative media company in the country. This is what I will try to help Patrick [achieve]. I think people will watch and see what we’re doing. Journalism is already great. So, let’s just build on that. And, I think, we’re going to shock the world.
There are hundreds of people who will suddenly and intensely be interested in you. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I love music. Music is kind of my meditation. When we drove to work, whether it was the Washington Post or The Undefeated, I liked the ride mostly for the music, which kind of fueled my ideas. I love music of all genres, but jazz is probably at the center. I also like live music and go to music festivals, [including] the Newport Jazz Festival. In California, there is the Monterey Jazz Festival.
I am also a huge sports fan. I love and still play basketball, I shoot. The shooting hasn’t happened all over the court since the pandemic, but I like to shoot with my son and train with the coach, and we do basketball drills. I played basketball in high school and still love to do that.
Patrick [Soon-Shiong] says he wants to play with me, one-on-one. I don’t know if I’m more in the one-on-one business, but I could definitely shoot and I love playing games, HORSE and that sort of thing. So here is.
And I love to read. I love stories of all kinds and genres, whether it’s Tik Tok stories, Instagram Live stories, or a limited TV series. I like short documentaries, music videos, long-form journalism, investigative journalism. I am truly a consumer of storytelling and the art of it. I always look forward to experimenting and thinking about it in different ways.
Who 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’s the state of California, I can say Golden State. I love the Warriors, I love to watch them. And I cheer on all the teams in Washington because I grew up here.
You mentioned the undefeated, and I imagine it might be bittersweet to leave because of what you’ve built there.
Yes. It was very difficult. We literally built a start-up from scratch and outside of a large corporation, first within ESPN and then expanding to Walt Disney Co. It was about to be to 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 wasn’t a one-person operation. But this is not my unbeaten: everyone who built it, the leaders and the people in place, will move it forward and continue to develop it. And I will watch with enthusiasm and applause from the wings.
Looks like you’re really excited to join The Times. What should our readers take away from this approach?
I’m going to do whatever I can to make it the best media for people in California, Los Angeles and beyond. By nature, I am a collaborative person, so I won’t pretend to know what I don’t know. I will be here to learn from the communities and my colleagues and together we will build something great.
It is a moment in time when the media can really help to enlighten, guide and play a role in communities and empower people. I just can’t wait to be there. It will be a great pleasure for me just to start.