The veteran editor Norman Pearlstine came out of retirement a little more than two years ago to bring stability to The Los Angeles Times. On Monday, less than two weeks after the paper published an article headlined “L.A. Times shaken by a summer of turmoil and scandals,” he told the staff that he was stepping down.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished. I also recognize it’s the right time to find a successor — an editor who embodies the qualities needed to continue The Times’s revival,” Mr. Pearlstine said in an email to the staff, which was obtained by The New York Times.
One of the nation’s largest newspapers by circulation, The Los Angeles Times endured years of newsroom strife under its previous owner, Tronc (now Tribune Publishing). In 2018, the staff cheered when a billionaire biotech entrepreneur, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, and his wife, Michele B. Chan, bought the paper and other California publications from Tronc for $500 million. Shortly after the purchase, Mr. Pearlstine was brought in to advise Dr. Soon-Shiong on who should be the next executive editor, only to end up taking the job himself.
The paper has grown more robust during his time in charge. But it has faced a number of new challenges, including a sluggish digital subscription business, pay cuts and furloughs related to the coronavirus pandemic, and turmoil among the staff over what an article in the paper described as a “painful reckoning over race.”
Mr. Pearlstine, 78, said in his email to the staff that he and Dr. Soon-Shiong had agreed it was time to start “an open search” for his successor. He added that Dr. Soon-Shiong had asked him to remain executive editor during the search and that he had accepted the owner’s offer for him “to continue as an adviser after my successor is named.”
Newsroom problems under Mr. Pearlstine’s leadership became public over the summer. In June, amid protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd, The Los Angeles Times published an article that examined the lack of diversity in its newsroom, as well as disparities in pay between white staff members and those of color.
In a Sept. 21 article, The Los Angeles Times reported on missteps by management and a lack of internal confidence in Mr. Pearlstine. “Since early last year, six prominent editors have been either pushed out, demoted or had responsibilities reduced because of ethical lapses, bullying behavior or other failures of management,” the article said.
The article included details on the departures of Peter Meehan, who resigned as editor of the food section after he was accused of workplace harassment, and the sports columnist Arash Markazi, who left in August amid questions about his journalistic ethics.
In a letter to readers on Sept. 27, Dr. Soon-Shiong affirmed his commitment to a diverse work force.
“As The Los Angeles Times’s first nonwhite owners in its nearly 139-year history, my wife, Michele, and I are determined to increase diversity within the organization,” he wrote. “We believe that The Times can better represent Los Angeles and California by providing more and better coverage of Black, Latino, Asian and other underrepresented communities in our English- and Spanish-language publications. We have committed to hiring more reporters and editors of color and to building an organizational culture that truly values representation and equity.”
Mr. Pearlstine started his career as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in the late 1960s and went on to hold some of the most prestigious positions in journalism. After serving as the top editor of Forbes and The Journal, he spent a decade as the editorial leader of Time Inc., overseeing Time, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and other prominent magazines.
He left that job in 2005 and later became the chief content officer of Bloomberg. After a brief return to Time Inc., he announced his retirement in 2017 — only to find himself back at work the next year.
After a tense summer at The Los Angeles Times, the Sept. 21 article seemed to accelerate the succession process. In the story, Dr. Soon-Shiong said he would start looking for the executive editor’s replacement when Mr. Pearlstine was ready to leave, and Mr. Pearlstine said he hoped to discuss the issue with the owner before the year was out.
“The right person will be the right person when that person shows up,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said in an interview with his own paper. “To be honest, we’ve not found or seen that person yet.”
Now the search begins in earnest.