LA Times’ First-Ever Power List on Hold, Subject of Publisher Clash With Former Editor | Exclusive

The project, which was more than a year in the making, originated with former executive editor Kevin Merida

LA Times
Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times put on hold an L.A. Power List that was scheduled to be published last Sunday, and that was previously a subject of conflict between publisher Patrick Soon-Shiong and former executive editor Kevin Merida, TheWrap has learned.

The Power 101 list, ranking top power players and notable figures in Los Angeles, was a project over a year in the making, run by Chris Stone and Joel Rubin, deputy managing editor and associate editor for new initiatives, respectively. It was executed under former editor Merida, who sought to create a vehicle that would highlight the Times’ credibility and create conversation.

But Merida and owner Soon-Shiong clashed over whether the list should be a newsroom project, according to four individuals who spoke to TheWrap.

“Is this something the newsroom should be doing?” the publisher questioned. “Why is the newsroom involved and not the opinion section?” said an individual close to the project.

Merida quit the paper in January in the wake of numerous instances of Soon-Shiong meddling in the newsroom, and amid massive editorial lay-offs. The list appears to be yet another source of conflict between the two executives.

Merida “did not think it’s something an owner should be involved in,” said one of the knowledgeable individuals. The reason for Soon-Shiong’s interest was “unclear,” this person said, but added: “I don’t think an owner is typically involved in meddling in this kind of thing.”

Though the project was supposed to be published in January, it was rescheduled for publication under the aegis of interim executive editor Terry Tang. According to one of the insiders, the list does not currently have a new publication date.

LA Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning told TheWrap: “We’ve recently gone through a newsroom leadership transition. Our top editors are taking some time to review this important project, and expect to have a publication date to announce in the coming weeks.”

Newsroom staffers were concerned that the reason for suspending publication last week was connected to Soon-Shiong’s interest in the list, especially given the context of the publisher’s previous interference in newsroom decisions.

A Special Edition profile of LA Dodgers star pitcher Shohei Otani that was “summoned up at the last minute” will run instead, according to a newsroom insider.

The power list was originally supposed to be published in January, the same month that Merida and several other editors, including managing editors Sara Yasin and Shani Hilton, resigned and more than 100 editorial staffers were cut in chaotic layoffs that saw some employees laid off and reinstated soon after.

An individual familiar with the situation told TheWrap that the divide between Merida and Soon-Shiong wasn’t about which names made the cut for the list — the publisher was fine with not being on the list himself according to our source — but whether the Times should be writing it at all. 

Soon-Shiong was upset that Merida had not told him about the project, and inquired about it repeatedly, two individuals told TheWrap.

“Soon-Shiong was asking, ‘Is this something the newsroom should be doing? Shouldn’t it be in the opinion section?’” said the individual. “It’s uncommon for the owner to be interested in this. Lists are the coin of the realm. It was puzzling why the owner was trying to get involved.”

The Times regularly runs rankings by industry, such as 2023’s sponsored Top-Rated Lawyers list or February’s Top 25 High School Baseball Teams, but they are revenue-generating opportunities that come from the marketing team.

The conflict over the list underlines the ongoing tension between the owner and his editorial staff. As TheWrap reported in January, a dog bite story involving one of Soon-Shiong’s friends proved to be the final straw for Merida when the owner blocked it from running. A source told TheWrap at the time: “He doesn’t understand that the owner of a newspaper doesn’t second guess journalists’ decisions about newsworthiness.”

“Kevin Merida wanted us to cover powerful people more,” a staffer who survived the historic layoffs told TheWrap of the initial inspiration for the list. “It was one of the topics he’d mention when listing issues we should focus on.”

The list, which TheWrap has not viewed, included politicians, business leaders and athletes. “They spent a lot of resources on it,” said the staffer, who said that portraits had already been taken of the power players by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Christina House.

The project now sits with interim executive editor Tang, who was named to the position on Jan. 25. “Terry has halted publication, insisting she read everything first. Folks are mystified. The staff is upset,” said the newsroom insider.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.