Washington Post managing editor Kevin Merida, who rose through the ranks at the paper over two decades to become second in command, is joining ESPN as a senior vice president and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, a forthcoming and long-delayed site intended to focus on the intersection of race, sports and culture.
"I expect there is not a person in our newsroom, or in our entire organization, who is not heartbroken over this decision, even as we wish Kevin the very best in his new position and know that he will perform brilliantly," executive editor Marty Baron wrote in a memo.
Merida worked at The Milwaukee Journal and The Dallas Morning News before joining the Post in 1994 to cover Congress. He's since written for the paper's style section, covered presidential elections and led the national desk, and was promoted to managing editor shortly after Baron arrived from The Boston Globe in early 2013.
He became the paper's first African-American managing editor, an achievement that was especially notable given his deep roots in the newsroom. The Post had previously gone outside the paper four times in a row when selecting one of its top two editors.
It was a wise move by Baron, who was new to the paper and had a deputy deeply familiar with the Post's inner workings. Though it's been rumored for nearly two weeks that Merida might leave, staffers said Monday there seemed to be no obvious successor. The Post has other senior managers who could presumably move up, and Baron is said to typically promote from the inside rather than looking elsewhere.
But the choice will depend on what Baron is looking for -- a traditional managing editor who can keep the trains running in the newsroom, or, perhaps, someone from a younger generation with more experience on the digital side. Presumably, the ideal choice for Baron would be a managing editor with a balance of all these attributes. Anne Kornblut would have been a likely contender, but the former associate editor left last month for Facebook.
When asked about succession plans, a Post spokeswoman said the paper will "announce next steps in due course."
Merida is a widely respected journalist and admired as a manager in the Post's newsroom. But he'll have his work cut out for him in taking the helm of a site plagued by dysfunction.
In April, Deadspin closely chronicled the internal mess at The Undefeated in a 10,000-word story that largely laid the blame on editor Jason Whitlock's mismanagement of the site, which had been envisioned as a "black Grantland." Whitlock left the network last week with the site still not launched.
Read Baron's full memo below:
Over the past several weeks, so many of you, having heard that Kevin Merida was considering a job at another news organization, have urged him to stay. Insisted he stay, in fact. I’ve been doing the same.
I’m sad to report that Kevin is leaving us all profoundly disappointed. He has accepted a job as senior vice president at ESPN and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, a digital site that will explore the intersection of sports, race, and culture.
I expect there is not a person in our newsroom, or in our entire organization, who is not heartbroken over this decision, even as we wish Kevin the very best in his new position and know that he will perform brilliantly.
I feel a particular loss. My first appointment after joining this amazing newsroom -- about a month after my arrival -- was to name Kevin managing editor. He has been a treasured colleague, partner, and friend.
Kevin is a superb newsman, with consistently sound judgment and an exquisite sense of story. He is a natural leader who provides smart and thoughtful guidance on coverage and conundrums of every type. He sees journalistic possibilities when the rest of us are blind to them. He is a wise and trusted counselor to legions of Post journalists -- and journalists throughout the country. He played a central role in helping The Post build a talented, diverse staff. He has high expectations of everyone, especially himself. Above all, he is a man of abundant generosity and humanity.
I am thinking what all of you are thinking: It is hard to imagine our newsroom without him.
I’m not going to go through Kevin’s long history of accomplishments at The Post. It doesn’t seem the right moment to recite his impressive resume. He has been here 22 years, and there would be so much to cover. His influence is everywhere in our newsroom. We are incalculably better for it.
Kevin’s last day will be Friday, October 30. We’ll find a fitting way to celebrate him before he leaves -- and to thank him for all he has meant to us.