When executive editor Marty Baron called an impromptu meeting today in the middle of the Washington Post newsroom and announced that Kevin Merida would be his number two as managing editor, the reaction was swift: Reporters and editors erupted in applause and cheers.
Baron’s choice was both street smart and journalistically savvy. In picking Merida, Baron begins to inoculate himself from any criticism that he’s an outsider to the city and the newsroom.
Baron, a Tampa native, arrived last month from the Boston Globe. How to get a quick study of his new home? Anoint Merida.
Merida was born in DC and raised across the Maryland line in Prince George’s County. He’s now raising three boys in Silver Spring, with his wife, Donna Britt, former Post Metro columnist.
Merida is also a lifer at the Post. He’s worked his way up through the ranks, from covering Congress and the White House to writing features to editing at the highest levels. He becomes the highest-ranking African-American ever at the Post. Milton Coleman made it to deputy managing editor. Eugene Robinson was in the running to be managing editor but didn’t get the nod, which freed him up to become a columnist. Merida has quietly busted through.*
My take on Merida: He’s smart, measured, unassuming, not even close to being an egomaniac. Knows the Post, knows news, cares about reporters. I say Marty and Merida complement one another, with one caveat: Baron is more likely to play the bad cop to Merida’s good cop, a role reversal, of sorts, since the managing editor often is the hardass delivering the bad news. Kevin Merida is a sweetheart; Baron is the tough guy, judging from his colleagues at the Globe.
Merida essentially replaces Liz Spayd, who’s leaving the Post after many decades. She was one of two managing editors under Baron’s predecessor, Marcus Brauchli. Spayd was the Post lifer, in contrast to Brauchli and his sidekick Raju Narisetti, both of whom came from the Wall Street Journal.
John Temple, who took over Narisetti’s role, will remain as managing editor of digital matters—so far. He was editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News before coming to the Post last year, and he might bridle at being a deputy.
Brauchli and Narisetti presided over a near-decimation of the Post newsroom, through buyouts and defections. Given the chance, it’s possible that Baron and Merida might be able to restore the newsroom’s sense of pride and stability.
My sources say there are no imminent plans for another buyout, which is good for Merida, who won’t have to start his new job by delivering bad news.
Perhaps the cheers will last a while.
Read on for a letter from Baron announcing the decision.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.
I am pleased to announce that Kevin Merida will become The Washington Post’s managing editor responsible for news and features coverage as well as the Universal News Desk.
Managing Editor John Temple will oversee our rapidly expanding digital operations and initiatives, all presentation units (including design, photo, and graphics), the multiplatform desk, budgeting, and newsroom operations.
In his new position, Kevin will be able to easily and quickly deploy reporters and editors across all departments that report to him, including National, Foreign, Metro, Business, Sports, Investigations, Outlook, Style, Arts, Travel, Food, Local Living, Weekend/Going Out Guide, and the magazine.
John, with his trademark energy and sense of urgency, will be able to give added attention to our digital efforts as we launch an online video channel dedicated to politics and introduce a range of new digital products.
Responsibility for our success in the digital arena rests with both Kevin and John—and with every one of us. Working together, we will seek to build on the impressive digital transformation that has taken hold in the Post newsroom over the past several years. We must move forward. We must also move fast.
I don’t have to tell you about the admiration and affection in this newsroom for Kevin, where he has worked for 20 years. He is a journalist of remarkable accomplishment, but also a warm and caring colleague. And he has a record of proven leadership.
During the past four years, Kevin has been the Post’s national editor, leading a supremely talented staff in its coverage of news events that have consumed the nation’s attention: the BP oil spill, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the 2012 presidential campaign, the Ft. Hood, Aurora and Newtown shootings, the battle over health care, the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff fights, and so much more.
During his tenure, Fact Checker was introduced, The Fix was expanded, and the Post started a new blog, She the People, to showcase the voices of women. The Post’s national staff also enhanced its digital presence through live-blogging as well as The Grid, providing comprehensive coverage of live events.
He also has hired outstanding new talent to our reporting and editing ranks.
Kevin, 56, brings to his new position a breadth of personal and professional experience.
He knows this region intimately. He was raised in the area, initially in Southeast Washington and then in Prince George’s County (the Seat Pleasant/Capitol Heights community, where his parents still live). He grew up frequenting D.C.’s go-go music scene and reading the late Shirley Povich, his exquisite introduction to The Washington Post. He was in the first class of busing in Prince George’s County in 1973 as a 10th grader, the subject of an elegant, introspective essay he crafted for the Post a quarter-century later.
“Just working for my hometown newspaper was a dream of mine,” he told me.
Kevin came to the Post in 1993 to cover Congress, where early on he was called upon to chronicle the Newt Gingrich revolution. After covering the 1996 presidential race, he joined the Style section, becoming a long-form feature writer. Kevin was coordinating editor of the Post’s yearlong 2006 award-winning series, “Being a Black Man,” which later formed the basis for an anthology published by Public Affairs Books.
He is the co-author of the biography “Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas,” published by Doubleday in 2007, and co-author of the bestselling “Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs,” published by HarperCollins in 2008. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign as a roving feature writer.
Kevin is married to author and former Post columnist Donna Britt. They have three sons and live in Silver Spring, Md.
After graduating from Boston University in 1979 with a degree in journalism, Kevin joined The Milwaukee Journal, where he was a general assignment reporter and a rotating editor on the city desk. He left the Journal in 1983 for The Dallas Morning News, where he served as a special projects reporter, local political writer, national writer, White House correspondent and assistant managing editor in charge of foreign and national news coverage.
Kevin notes that he has a special interest in national politics. But “love” is the word he applies to basketball—“I play pickup with Samantha Power, who played in high school and can still really hoop”—and jazz.
I won’t join him on the basketball court, where I do not belong, but I’m delighted that he’ll be joining me in leading the Post newsroom.