Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida announced Tuesday that he was stepping down 2½ years after joining The Times as its newsroom leader with a mission to strengthen the organization during a period of turbulence in the news industry.
Merida’s exit, effective Friday, presents another challenge to a newsroom already under strain as well as to the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who now must find a new top editor.
The Times has fallen well short of its digital subscriber goals and needs a revenue boost to sustain the operation.
“Today, with a heavy heart, I announce that I am leaving The Times,” Merida wrote in a note to the staff. “I made the decision in consultation with Patrick, after considerable soul-searching about my career at this stage and how I can best be of value to the profession I love.”
Soon-Shiong said that he and Merida had “mutually agreed that his role as executive editor of the L.A. Times will conclude this week.” Soon-Shiong said that he and his family were immediately launching an internal and external search for Merida’s successor.
“In the near term, the newsroom’s senior leadership team, Julia Turner, Sara Yasin, Scott Kraft and Shani Hilton, will be overseeing the newsroom, with Terry Tang continuing to lead Opinion,” Soon-Shiong said in a note.
Soon-Shiong and his family acquired The Times nearly six years ago from Tribune Co., restoring the 142-year-old institution to local ownership after more than a decade of turmoil and endless waves of cost-cutting that prompted an exodus of talented journalists and a withering of ambition.
His stewardship has faced setbacks brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapidly shifting news environment and financial headwinds that have stymied his goal to make the organization self-supporting.
“Our commitment to the LA Times and its mission has not wavered since the inception of our acquisition,” Soon-Shiong wrote. “However, given the persistent challenges we face, it is now imperative that we all work together to build a sustainable business that allows for growth and innovation of the LA Times and LA Times Studios in order to achieve our vision.”
Merida, who turns 67 this month, arrived in June 2021 after leading an award-winning ESPN news unit that plumbed the intersection of race, culture and sports. He was chairman of ESPN’s Editorial Board. Times staff members were thrilled by his arrival, hoping that Merida would restore the organization to national greatness.
He had spent three decades in traditional newsrooms, including 22 years at the Washington Post, where he rose to managing editor in charge of news, features and the universal news desk. He was deeply involved in the Post’s online push that led to sustained subscriber growth, gaining insights that Soon-Shiong and journalists hoped would translate into his success at The Times.
Merida’s departure comes after a rocky year and a devastating round of layoffs last summer that saw the newsroom shrink by 13%. On the business side, the Los Angeles Times Studios — once seen by Merida as a key area of growth — was significantly scaled back.
The Times is struggling amid a larger landscape of rapidly declining print readers and failing upstart digital-only news organizations, including Buzzfeed News.
The Times missed its revenue projections last year after Hollywood strikes curtailed ad spending by the major film and TV studios. The paper cut back sports listings, angering scores of longtime subscribers.
Additionally, the newsroom union has grown more restive after going more than a year without a contract.
“I am proud of what we accomplished together during my tenure here, and grateful to Patrick Soon-Shiong and family for the opportunity to help transform The Times into a modern, innovative news media company for a new generation of consumers,” Merida wrote. ”We’ve made tremendous progress toward that goal, and I am hopeful that progress will continue.
“Ours is a fierce, resilient, superbly talented newsroom, and I am proud to have belonged to it,” Merida wrote.
This year will bring other major moves, including a shift in the printing operations owned by rival Southern California News Group in Riverside County rather than using The Times’ longtime facilities on Olympic Boulevard in downtown L.A..
In his note, Soon-Shiong sounded an upbeat note that the organization still has runway to succeed.
“I am proud of the LA Times’ journalistic integrity, ability to break news rapidly and strong investigative reporting,” Soon-Shiong wrote. “A vibrant future for the LA Times, where this organization is self-sustaining and capable of growth, requires new approaches to better engage with our readers and grow new audiences.”