The Los Angeles Times has found its new lead editor.
Kevin Merida, who has lead ESPN’s The Undefeated vertical since 2015, has been named executive editor of the 139-year-old newspaper. He’ll be the 19th editor in Times history and the third person of color to lead the paper. Merida takes over for Norman Pearlstine, who stepped aside in December and became a senior adviser to the paper’s executive chairman, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.
“We are elated to welcome Kevin to the Los Angeles Times,” owners Patrick and Michele Soon-Shiong said in a statement. “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.”
Merida has been senior vp of ESPN and editor in chief of The Undefeated, which focuses on the intersection of sports, race and culture, since 2015. He also oversaw the sports giant’s investigative and enterprise unit and TV shows E:60 and Outside the Lines and chaired ESPN’s editorial board.
Prior to joining ESPN, Merida had a long tenure at the Washington Post, most recently serving as managing editor for news, features and the paper’s universal news desk.
“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. It was a privilege to lead The Undefeated and work with such an extraordinary collection of talent across ESPN and the Walt Disney Co. I am grateful for all that I learned and all that we accomplished during the past five and a half years, and euphoric about the future.”
A Washington Post source says that Merida was widely-liked inside the newsroom, for his commitment to journalism and skill in navigating the difficult news climate of the nation’s capital. There was some surprise that Merida was apparently not in the running to succeed the Post‘s Marty Baron, who also announced his retirement earlier this year (that search is still ongoing). Speculation inside the newsroom is that the Post was seeking someone willing to commit to at least a 10-year tenure (Merida is 64).
Meanwhile, one ESPN source described themselves as “really, really sad” about Merida’s decision to jump to the Times. Merida effectively built The Undefeated at ESPN, and it has become one of the most successful niche verticals in the sports giant’s history. And over the past couple of years, as ESPN’s commitment to journalism was in question following chnges in leadership and budgetary changes, Merida helped alleviate those concerns while running the company’s editorial board and overseeing its team of talented investigative reporters.
Merida will relocate to Los Angeles from Washington and officially join the Times in June. He inherits the top job at a paper with about 500 newsroom staffers. Soon-Shiong has also made a commitment to diversifying the newsroom.
“We congratulate Kevin Merida on his selection as editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times,” the paper’s union said in a statement. “Our members expect leaders with uncompromising commitments to quality, integrity and fairness, and we look forward to meeting with Kevin soon to hear his vision for the continued restoration of the Times. There is work to be done. We’re ready to partner with our new editor to get it done together.”
At ESPN, The Undefeated managing editor Raina Kelley will take over as vp and editor in chief of the vertical.
–Alex Weprin contributed to this report.
Updated at 12:30 pm with reactions from Washington Post and ESPN sources.