Since Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of The Undefeated, Kevin Merida, joined ESPN in November, the question he has been asked most frequently is: “When will the site launch?”
Merida, who is overseeing ESPN’s highly anticipated new content initiative exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture, made the announcement to ESPN employees.
Since November, Merida – a former Washington Post managing editor – has broadened the vision for the site, moved the newsroom from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and hired a collection of journalists with wide-ranging experiences. All of these things are designed to further embed the brand into the larger ESPN structure.
Merida’s senior management team at The Undefeated includes managing editor Raina Kelley, a former deputy editor at ESPN The Magazine; deputy editor for enterprise and narrative, Steve Reiss, once a deputy assistant managing editor at the Washington Post Style section; and deputy editor for digital innovation, Latoya Peterson, former editor-at-large at Fusion and a 2013 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.
Merida speaks with Front Row about The Undefeated launch date and more:
What kind of content will The Undefeated feature each day?
We will have four verticals: Sports, Culture, The Uplift (which we’ve described as a daily stream of joy — items to make you smile) and HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. We will build our work and our days around those pillars. We will feature original reporting every day. Video every day. A lead blog called “All Day,” anchored by Clinton Yates. We will do long-form narratives, investigative work, host a weekly podcast to start, have a strong visual footprint, and look to partner with our colleagues elsewhere at ESPN on projects and special ideas.
What are examples of ESPN content you like and might try to emulate at The Undefeated?
There is so much great work being done at ESPN, so much to draw on and learn from. I loved Danyel Smith’s piece in The Magazine on the impact of Whitney Houston’s memorable singing of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV. I am thrilled that she is our culture editor. But when I think of ESPN and The Undefeated, I think of the example Stuart Scott set. He pioneered a style of his own, and did it with swagger and class. He was wildly successful, but unpretentious. He was approachable to those who didn’t know him, like me. And kids everywhere, who are studying this business, want to grow up to be like him — including my own son. I hope we will go after it every day at The Undefeated, and try to be great in our own way.
The Undefeated’s staff
Discuss the editorial team you have assembled for The Undefeated.
It’s an incredible staff that inspires me every day. We inherited a small team – the Magnificent 7 – and we’ve gradually built it from there. Some who have come to The Undefeated left places where they were doing well because they wanted to help create something special and original. I am grateful to those who took a chance on us, and believed. Others are at the beginning of their careers, and hungry. They just wanted an opportunity, and we’re giving it to them. Overall, it’s an amazing, eclectic collection of talent. We had our first all-hands staff meeting last week, and there was a lot of energy and emotion in the room. People have some things they want to prove. They’re fired up. I have to take a moment to mention Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s managing editor and my partner on everything. She is a terrific leader, and there is no way we would be where we are at this point without her.
How would you grade the level of commitment The Undefeated is getting from ESPN colleagues in Bristol and the relationships you are building?
From [ESPN President] John Skipper to [Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Original Content] Marie Donoghue to every leader in every ESPN department I’ve met, I’ve found nothing but encouragement. I think people are rooting for us, and our arms have been open wide for advice.