Perhaps Soon-Shiong’s biggest breakthrough was the attitude of Merida. The announcement received universal praise from the editorial board. Soon-Shiong himself touted it as a chance to bring stability to the paper – “to grow and last another 139 years” – and broaden its ambition.
“His mission will be to maintain the highest level of journalistic strength and find ways to capture the attention of our community,” said Soon-Shiong, “not just Los Angelesos, but readers in the western region and hopefully the whole.” Nation.”
No sooner had Soon-Shiong welcomed Merida’s hiring than he made his job even more difficult. According to a person familiar with the matter, the owner did not call some of the other internal candidates to thank them for their application, which caused some bitterness among the editorial board.
Merida seemed to understand that keeping Soon-Shiong’s attention was a top priority. As LA Magazine noted, he moved into a Brentwood guest house across from Soon-Shiong. He also assumed much of the responsibility for the relationship between the family and the staff.
Both before Merida started and after he came on board, the newspaper was acclaimed for its work, including covering the rise and fall of super lawyer Tom Girardi and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne; for reporting the fatal shooting on the set of the Alec Balwin film Rust; for consideration by the Sheriff’s Department; and for reporting and major projects on climate change.
But creating the stable work environment that Soon-Shiong outlined has been difficult to achieve, particularly in the paper’s Washington bureau.
A fixture in political reporting, the DC bureau was hailed when it brought Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Kimbriell Kelly on board to serve as its top editor for 2019. In the fall of 2020, Kelly was promoted to the lead role. She was the first black and only the second woman to hold the post.
Her direction was to expand the scope and impact of the Bureau’s reporting. But their approach quickly ran into problems.
Shortly after the election, Kelly began feuding with one of the bureau’s most prominent employees, Jackie Calmes. Calmes had taken over as editor of the White House around this time. But Kelly informed her that she would hire her own deputy before making a decision on who would fill the editor role permanently. During the call, Kelly told Calmes that her grief over two recently deceased family members is affecting her work, according to four people who were aware of the incident.
The friction escalated. When Calmes asked for two weeks of compensatory time in late January, Kelly said she hadn’t allowed her to work overtime for the previous three months. That soon led to multiple Zoom calls with Kelly, as well as staff and union representatives. On the first call, Kelly reiterated that she had not approved Calmes’ additional work. Calmes responded that during a newscast about ongoing election objections and the January 6 riots, the office was understaffed and that she had to start work.
People close to Kelly said Calmes was openly disrespectful. New to the job, Kelly was a black woman who joined an office that was mostly white and male. For her part, Calmes refused to speak to Kelly without a union representative present. In early summer, Kelly filed a disciplinary action accusing Calmes of disobedience and suggesting it could result in her termination.
Ultimately, both sides went further after other DC staffers wrote a letter to Kelly encouraging her to withdraw her allegation of disobedience, which she did.
Eventually, Calmes moved from an editorial role under Kelly to the newspaper’s opinion department. Calmes declined to comment other than saying she had never been disrespectful to Kelly.
In a statement to POLITICO, Kelly did not address the Calmes incident directly, but announced the changes she has brought to the office, including increasing diversity among White House and Congressional staffers.
“We’ve built … one of Washington’s most inclusive reporters as we work to realize Kevin Merida and the Soon Shiong family’s shared vision for a new LA Times.” As with many news organizations, we have had personnel changes,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud to work with our amazing staff and I look forward to continuing to lead our coverage in Washington and serving our audiences everywhere at the LA Times.”
However, frustration in the bureau persists. At least eight of 30 journalists have left the office since Kelly took office, although she noted eight have joined “within the last year”.
This March, the DC office held a virtual meetup with Merida and Kelly, grilling bosses over employee departures. A staffer told him the exodus was a “five alarm fire.” Merida didn’t elaborate on how the paper was handling the departures, except to say he cared about Washington coverage and knew the bureau was struggling, according to one person at the meeting.
“They continue to swing well above their weight, and the LA Times still reports stories that others in Washington don’t,” said Bob Drogin, the paper’s former Washington bureau deputy chief who spent nearly 38 years at the paper. But he added, “It’s unfortunate that there’s been so much turmoil in the office over the last two years … I’m afraid it’s distracted from the core mission of the Washington office, and the loss of so many experienced and talented reporters has clearly hurt.” the daily news production.”