Kevin Merida is the new executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. He began just last month and is only the 19th editor since the paper took root in 1881.
After decades at newspapers like the Washington Post and the Dallas Morning News, Merida came to the Times from ESPN, where he was a senior vice president and editor in chief of The Undefeated, a multimedia platform that explores the intersections of race, sports and culture.
In an interview for "LA Times Today," Merida joined host Lisa McRee to discuss his new role.
Given the multimedia platform Merida has at ESPN, he says there are various lessons he learned that he could bring to the Times.
"Well, it was creating a startup inside a big company, which is really hard to do. But when you are starting something new, then everything is new. You know everything is fresh. So you are your own kind of anthropologist's, you know, you're constantly exploring. We experimented. We were using comedians, and we did poetry, and we did a lot of live events. We did two best-selling children's books with content that we had created. We did, we went out into communities and engaged them. We did documentaries, television specials, created three albums en route to doing a music label,” said Merida. “And I think the lessons are that there are lots of ways to distribute and create content, but also to kind of buttress your journalism and extend it and to reach people in different ways."
It is no secret that news consumption patterns have changed, but Merida says relevancy is essential for all platforms.
"We are competing with lots of people who want you to pay for their products. And whether that's Netflix, HBO Max, or someone else who wants a subscription service, we are competing for that. And I think we have to be important enough to people's lives if, for some people, it may be that we are the indispensable source for really sorting out, sifting through, reporting on the homelessness problem. It could be wildfires; it could be that we are the place that helps to reveal Los Angeles in ways it hasn't been revealed. It could be for others that we're the place that tells you of all of the best places to hike. It could be that we have the best authoritative investigative reporting. But I think we have to be essential and irresistible enough for people to read the paper," said Merida.
When it comes to competing with digital platforms like TikTok, Merida says it is crucial that the LA Times keep up with the platforms and engage with readers in various ways.
"In this digital era, there have been more distribution platforms — more ways to reach people. And, we have to go where the customers are, you know, and sometimes engage them and the safest platforms and the most fun to them. And so, yeah, our presence as the LA Times has to be strong on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. We have to engage people and be part of the conversations that people are having in their lives and be part of their lives. I think relevance is important. And along the way, have fun. You know, I think it's a great institution. The LA Times has some of the greatest journalists in the world. But there are other things we can do that are more than a newspaper. You know, I think that's the aspiration for us is to be more than a newspaper, to be bigger than that," said Merida.
Organizations across industries have been trying to address racial injustice in the last year and a half. Merida's wife, Donna Britt, has written extensively about her brother, who was killed by police under suspicious circumstances. Merida says personal experiences like this affect the way he shapes his coverage.
"We all have multiple identities. And I think that's the thing to remember. We are journalists, but we all have personal experiences in our lives that shaped us,” said Merida. “My wife lost a brother who was close to her when there wasn't cell phone footage. So there wasn't a lot of recourse for people back then. There was a whole life of Darryl Britt. It was not just, 'man shot and killed;' there are so many lives that we discard that don't have enough value. And we are all valuable. And I think a great newspaper and a great news organization show that there's this range of lives and some lives that have not gotten the attention need to get the attention and deserve it. We have a lot of inequities in society. I think that's one of the signature issues of our times. Right. The inequality, the wealth gap, who gets to do what? Who gets to be seen, who gets the opportunity? And that's certainly from a coverage standpoint; it's important. You know, it's an important subject to me."
Watch "LA Times Today" at 7 and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app.