It’s a cut-throat competition testing the survival skills and killer instincts of dozens of highly trained contenders in an arena where danger and betrayal lurk behind every bush—you know, like The Hunger Games. Except in this dystopian nightmare, that arena is the Los Angeles Times and the winner gets to be executive editor.
Sources say upwards of 30 candidates have been vying for the paper’s top job since Norman Pearlstine, the 78-year-old former Time Inc. and Wall Street Journal editor who’d been running the place for the last two years, announced in October that he was ending his tempestuous tenure.
The paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (known to some as PSS), has reportedly engaged a high-powered New York headhunter to run the job search, along with the Los Angeles Times’ president and chief operating officer, Chris Argentieri. Pearlstine, who jetted back to New York in January, is also said to be consulting on the hunt.
So far none of the competitors has been stung to death by genetically engineered wasps or shot in the heart with a Katniss arrow, but whoever ultimately gets the job may have days when they wish they had. Exec editor of the Times is one of the toughest—and, as Pearlstine knows all too well, most treacherous—jobs in journalism.
The paper’s internal turmoil has been brutal in recent years. At one point during Pearlstine’s reign, one of the paper’s investigative units actually started investigating him over possible ethics concerns that were ultimately cleared. There have been lawsuits and complaints from staff regarding race and gender discrimination and allegations that the paper has failed to recruit, retain, and promote journalists of diverse backgrounds.
But the winner of this competition–if they’re up for the challenge–will find themself at the helm of a 139-year-old publishing institution with global influence, one of the largest and most important metropolitan papers left in the nation, with a daily readership of 1.3 million (2 million on Sunday). Since the paper’s inception, all but two of its top editors have been white men; none of the publicly mentioned finalists are.
Word is that of those 30 original applicants, only a handful have survived the initial interviewing. Who’s currently favored to win? Who’s the sleeper longshot who might sneak up from behind? After checking in with dozens of informed sources both inside and outside the paper, we’ve made a few educated guesses, though obviously, like in every hunger game, things change all the time. Still, below is our current ranking of the top contenders. May the odds be ever in their favor!
Kevin Merida, 64, senior vice president, ESPN and editor-in-chief, The Undefeated
In December 2020, Merida was elected to the board that selects winners of Pulitzer Prizes, a sign of the high regard with which he’s held in the journalism world. Merida was hired as a political reporter at The Washington Post in 1993, and moved up the ranks, becoming managing editor of that paper in 2013. When he left in 2015, Posties were devastated, and leaving your staff wanting more is generally a pretty good sign. Since then, he’s been senior vice president of ESPN and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, a publication under the ESPN umbrella that covers intersections of sports, race, culture, and politics. Merida is editor of Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril and co-author of Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas.
Strengths: He’s broadly viewed as a top-notch journalist with serious chops and an innate understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion. But the consensus is that Merida loves his current gig, which probably pays good Disney money. (The top job at the Los Angeles Times pays an estimated $500,000 to $700,000 annually.) A Merida associate says not to rule anything out. “Kevin really loves a challenge.”
Weaknesses: Earlier in his tenure at ESPN, he ordered staffers to stay out of politics on their personal social media, which ruffled feathers. Plus, if Merida really wants to return to newspapers, he’d probably prefer to do it at his old stomping grounds in D.C. The Post’s legendary editor Marty Baron is retiring soon and many at that paper would love to have Merida back. “Being viewed as a major contender for the L.A. Times really helps his chances at the Post,” says one source, “and I think that’s really his first love.”
Odds: Out-of-towner with class, 2 – 1
Janice Min, 51, former editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter
A genius at packaging, generating buzz, and tailoring content to her audience, Min rose from staff writer to senior editor at People in the 1990s, then became executive editor of Us Weekly, where circulation more than doubled under her leadership. But it was at her next job, as editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, that Min achieved media superstar status, transforming what had been a sleepy industry trade into a flashy lifestyle magazine. After THR, she took a job overseeing news programming for Quibi, but after clashing with founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, she bowed out before the app’s disastrous launch. Min is the author of How to Look Hot in a Minivan: A Real Woman’s Guide to Losing Weight, Looking Great, and Dressing Chic in the Age of the Celebrity Mom.
Strengths: She knows a sexy story when she sees one and would add some needed sizzle to the Times’ front page and overall news coverage. She could also bring in luxury and entertainment advertisers by broadening the paper’s culture, fashion, and lifestyle coverage. And she’s savvy about the web and digital media and Hollywood—all areas in which the Times has woefully underperformed.
Weaknesses: Her gossip-mag roots and lack of newspaper experience might not jibe with Soon-Shiong’s serious ambitions; Pearlstine was hired to boost global news and to appeal to the media establishment. Also, her previous seven-figure salaries–and the substantial financial losses she racked up at THR–might conflict with Soon-Shiong’s determination to make the still-struggling paper profitable. (The LAT had to revise down aggressive revenue projections for 2020 once the pandemic hit.) Says one former colleague, “She has vision and the drive to bring real change to a paper that’s been resistant to it, but I’m not sure she has the patience for school board stories and political round-ups.”
Odds: Sources say Min has been back for three meetings with LAT brass. Always runs hard: 5 – 1.
[Ed. note: The New York Post reported on Feb. 19 that Min withdrew her name from the search.]
Julia Turner, 42, deputy managing editor for entertainment, audio and strategy, Los Angeles Times
Turner was an early Pearlstine hire, lured away from her perch as editor-in-chief of Slate to help the Times level up its national profile. At Slate, Turner dramatically expanded the site’s content and audience and launched hit podcasts like Slow Burn that rack up millions of downloads per episode. She currently oversees all culture and entertainment industry coverage at the LAT, and helps direct the paper’s overall editorial strategy.
Strengths: Turner is a savvy and talented editor with a strong grasp of design, both print and digital. As the paper’s culture czar she’s imported a procession of bold-faced talent–like longtime music critic Craig Marks and Rolling Stone writer Suzy Exposito–though there has been grumbling in the ranks about a lack of diversity in some of her hires.
Weaknesses: The paper’s cultural coverage under Turner tends to run a bit highbrow for some–more Music Center than Staples Center–though there are recent signs she’s loosening up, like the wall-to-wall Calendar coverage of the new Britney Spears documentary and a deep geek dive into the importance of a female character in The Mandalorian. Says one staffer, “In terms of brainpower, Julia is the smartest top editor at the paper right now, but she’s not very interested in the internal politics that comes with the job. The rap on her among Calendar writers is that her door is always shut.”
Odds: Frequently in the winner’s circle: 7 – 1
Dean Baquet, 64, executive editor, The New York Times
The dean of American journalism may work for a paper based in New York, but he has deep roots (and a house) in L.A. In 2000, he was hired as the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times. Baquet moved up to executive editor from 2005 to 2006 under Tribune–but was fired after facing down the new owners over proposed newsroom staff cuts. The Pulitzer-winner returned to the NYT just weeks later. In 2014, he became the first Black executive editor in New York Times history. Baquet’s son lives in L.A., and he’s spent a large chunk of the pandemic editing The New York Times from his home in Hancock Park. More to the point, at 64, he’s facing a looming deadline; the standard retirement age for masthead editors at The New York Times is before their 66th birthday. The Los Angeles Times has no age limit for editors.
Strengths: His appointment would give the paper instant global gravitas, firmly placing the L.A. Times in league with NYT and The Washington Post. “I think you’d see a lot more hard news, national and international coverage,” says one associate. He’d also beef up political reporting, pressing the LAT’s home court advantage in covering leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes, Katie Porter, and Gavin Newsom.
Weaknesses: Recent controversies at the Times over its crumbling Caliphate series and racially tinged conflicts about the departure of longtime health reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr. have clouded Baquet’s largely sunny tenure there. Baquet’s equivocating response to the mess has fueled concerns that the cautious editor might not be the right choice to tackle the Los Angeles Times’ own roiling debates about race, ethnicity, and demographics. Plus, critics accuse him of having a case of “bothsideism” that’s out of step with modern journalism mores. “He could leave while he’s on top of his game,” says a longtime colleague. “Does he need a pain-in-the-ass job like this in his golden years?”
Odds: He was courted for the position back in 2018, but passed on the opportunity. He could pass again, especially if Times owners won’t commit to rebuilding the paper’s foreign and national bureaus. Could fade in the homestretch: 8 – 1.
Carolyn Ryan, 56, deputy managing editor, The New York Times
Ryan’s ascent at The New York Times began in the paper’s Metro section, where she won a Pulitzer in 2009 as editor of a reporting crew that brought down New York Governor Eliot Spitzer–a team that included fellow candidate Sewell Chan. In 2013, she took charge of the paper’s Washington bureau; after the 2016 campaign, she shifted gears and oversaw the paper’s newsroom hiring spree and was instrumental in establishing a fellowship program for early career journalists which created a pipeline for young, diverse talent. (In 2018, she was the recipient of the first-ever Leadership Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.) Last year, Ryan was promoted to deputy managing editor, where she continues to play an important role in the paper’s key personnel decisions.
Strengths: Well-liked, social media savvy, and politically agile, she’s well-equipped to broker a peace agreement between the LAT’s battling constituencies. “She makes every article better and sees the big story coming down the track before anyone else,” says one admirer.
Weaknesses: Her lack of L.A. experience may irritate LAT staffers who are tired of pedigreed East Coasters flying in to “save” the paper. Also, the NYT’s 2016 campaign coverage under her was widely criticized as too quick to run negative stories on Hillary Clinton and too slow to recognize the dangers of Donald Trump (though the paper often rivaled The Washington Post in covering politics in the Trump era).
Odds: She seems destined for a big job somewhere. The top spot at the New York Times would be the obvious move, but the smart money has tagged NYT managing editor Joe Kahn as Dean Baquet’s eventual successor. If that’s true, Ryan might see a move west as her best route to the top of a masthead. Runs well at the front: 10 – 1.
Sewell Chan, 43, editorial page editor, Los Angeles Times
Chan has a reputation for being smart, ambitious, and driven. The Queens-raised son of immigrants from China and Hong Kong spent 14 years at The New York Times as a reporter and editor. In 2014, Out named him one of the 100 “most compelling lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the world.” Pearlstine lured him west to become deputy managing editor of the LAT in 2018, and he was promoted to the paper’s editorial page editor in 2020, where he’s received generally high marks.
Strengths: One of those newspaper people who loves everything about the business, he’s a well-liked schmoozer with energy and name-recognition and a dedicated social media following. As a pioneer of the NYT’s City Room blog, he understands how to cover breaking news, bringing eyeballs back for multiple scoops of content–and ads. And he’s said to have a warm relationship with Soon-Shiong, who has been complimentary of his performance running the opinion pages.
Weaknesses: He has not been seen as a vocal leader during recent paper-wide video conference calls, preferring to keep a low profile. As a breaking news reporter he amassed many bylines but few breakout articles. A recent project turning the letters page over to Trump supporters caused reader backlash and some staff consternation. Also, like Turner, he’s a Pearlstine hire which may be a negative to some at the paper. But as one colleague says, “Sewell is nothing if not adaptable.”
Odds: Runs well on the inside: 18 – 1
Kimi Yoshino, 49, managing editor, Los Angeles Times
Yoshino, a California native, has deep connections at the paper. She’s been writing and editing there since 2000, reporting from Baghdad, working in the Metro and Business sections and was a member of the team that won a 2011 Pulitzer for public service for an investigation into corruption in the City of Bell. As Pearlstine prepared to leave, she was one of two people he tapped to guide the transition. “Nobody is more familiar with the paper’s inner workings than Kimi is,” says a fellow editor.
Strengths: Twenty years with the Times, and a general reputation for treating people decently–with a few exceptions. Her leadership during some of the paper’s darkest hours has inspired loyalty and respect from some staffers. Yoshino stood up to unpopular executive editor Lewis D’Vorkin in 2018. He had her removed from the office on suspicion of her leaking information to The New York Times (regarding a story about his refusal to publicly support reporters in a standoff with Disney over coverage of financial breaks given by the City of Anaheim). D’Vorkin was soon booted to a different corporate job.
Weaknesses: Her role in the controversy over now-fired food editor Peter Meehan tarnished her rep. Critics say Yoshino, who was Meehan’s primary supervisor, failed to respond to his misconduct, and some staffers felt burned by her neglect. After news of Pearlstine’s departure surfaced, the paper’s newsroom guild reportedly presented a request that no existing masthead editor succeed him, naming Yoshino specifically. “She is the status quo candidate,” says one staffer. “Status quo is not very popular here these days.” In fact, a source close to Yoshino says she doesn’t really want the job.
Odds: Stumbled out of the gate: 20 – 1.
Anne Kornblut, 47, head of curation, Facebook
Kornblut oversees Facebook’s news initiatives, which means she understands what people choose to read—for better or worse. But she does have plenty of newspaper ink on her hands. Starting in the 1990s, she was a reporter at the New York Daily News and Boston Globe; as deputy assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, she won a Pulitzer in 2014 for overseeing the 28 journalists who worked on the Edward Snowden story. Kornblut is the author of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win.
Strengths: Extremely rare combo of legit newspaper and Silicon Valley experience. Popular with her current staffers, who say she encourages innovation. Seems well-suited to deliver on one of Soon-Shiong’s most oft-stated goals, to reach 1 million paid digital subscribers, but first he’d have to be willing to pony up a Facebook-sized salary.
Weaknesses: Not particularly well known. “Until some articles named her as an editor prospect, no one here ever heard of her,” confesses one LAT staffer. And these days, a Facebook pedigree isn’t what it used to be.
Odds: Rewatch the Richard Dreyfuss classic Let it Ride to understand that sometimes the best way to bet is on the longshots and against all the so-called experts: 25 – 1.
Shani O. Hilton, 35, deputy managing editor of news at the Los Angeles Times
Hilton may be young but she’s been hitting journalism home runs since she founded her own newspaper in seventh grade to cover her school in Rancho Cucamonga. At Buzzfeed news she climbed the ladder from executive editor to deputy editor-in-chief to vice president of news and programming. She joined the LAT in 2019 as deputy managing editor for news. Early in the pandemic she was tasked with guiding coronavirus coverage, including the acclaimed “Pandemic’s Toll” obituary project, which she co-created. Her elevation would almost certainly mean upgrading the LAT’s video content, social media, newsletters, and every other key touchpoint essential for today’s readers. One current coworker tells us that “if it’s going to be someone already here, Shani is the only one I trust.”
Strengths: The only millennial in the mix, her appointment could signal a true generational shift at the paper, which could put it ahead of the curve. Poised and thoughtful in both her writing and on-camera appearances, she is seen as a go-to voice on newsroom diversity.
Weaknesses: Young but her day may come sooner than some expect. In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I expect that I will be working for Shani some day. She is utterly brilliant and has a great sense of how media works and what people want to read.”
Odds: Fast out of the gate: 40 – 1
Gustavo Arellano, 42, columnist, Los Angeles Times
Some at the paper are calling for the makeup of the newsroom staff to demographically mirror the city, which is nearly half Latino. Getting there would require a massive overhaul of the staff, but picking Arellano for the top spot could count for a lot. He arrived at the Times in 2018, after 15 years at OC Weekly, where he gained national attention for his “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and investigative reporting before he was named editor-in-chief and publisher. He quit when a new owner demanded staff cuts. Arellano is the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Orange County: A Personal History, and Ask a Mexican. In recent months, his name was also mentioned as a candidate for the Times’s food editor position, but he stamped out that scuttlebutt.
Strengths: He’s one of the best-known names at the paper, a prolific writer with lots of range and popular with readers and staff. His work has included an important reckoning of the Times‘ historic mistreatment of the city’s Latino community. He’s also knowledgeable about food, one of the most passionately read sections.
Weaknesses: When the progressive Latin culture site Remezcla hired him as editor-at-large in 2018, online critics came out to accuse Arellano of making statements they characterized as homophobic, anti-Black, and disrespectful to Central Americans. Arellano pushed back against the charges, but he and Remezcla parted ways two days later.
Odds: Knows the track: 50 – 1
CLARIFICATION: This article previously stated that all of the editors in the paper’s history have been white men, and has since been updated for accuracy.
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