The Los Angeles Times’ leadership transition has accelerated with the departure of Norman Pearlstine, who served as executive editor for 2½ years.
Pearlstine announced in October that he planned to retire, but the timetable for his exit had been unclear.
On Monday, The Times’ owner and Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong wrote in a note to staff members that Pearlstine, 78, was no longer overseeing the newsroom and had shifted to an advisory role. The paper recently hired a search firm to manage the process to find a new executive editor, and that endeavor is expected to take several months.
In the interim, two veteran managers will oversee the newsroom and its journalism.
“Times Managing Editors Scott Kraft and Kimi Yoshino will now be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the newsroom, reporting to me,” Soon-Shiong wrote in the note. “Sewell Chan, editor of the Editorial Pages, will also report to me.”
Since his October announcement, Pearlstine increasingly had been delegating duties to pave the way for the transition. Soon-Shiong said the three top editors — Kraft, Yoshino and Chan — would work in collaboration with business-side leaders, including President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Argentieri and Chief Human Resources Officer Nancy Antoniou.
The announcement comes at the end of a turbulent year at The Times, which endured management turmoil following a series of scandals and a painful self-examination over race, along with a dramatic drop in revenue amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders, which prompted traditional advertisers to scale back their ad buys. Employees have been working from home since mid-March, but members of the newsroom nonetheless fanned out across the country to cover the pandemic, protests over racial inequities and a historic presidential election.
In the spring of 2018, just before Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele, purchased The Times, the pair tapped Pearlstine to manage the legendary publication and return it to prominence. Pearlstine quickly sought to stabilize a newsroom that had been battered by years of layoffs, cost-cutting and mismanagement under its former owner, Tribune Publishing, which also called itself Tronc. He led a dramatic hiring spree, replenishing the paper’s beleaguered ranks and recruiting top editors. Today, more than 520 newsroom employees work in the newsroom.
Pearlstine also worked with the paper’s business executives to improve technology needed to generate a larger audience for its journalism.
During his tenure, The Times’ journalism became stronger, in part, due to the increased resources from the Soon-Shiong family. The paper negotiated its first-ever contract with the union representing newsroom employees. And earlier this year, journalists with The Times were finalists in five Pulitzer Prize categories, and two received the coveted awards. Since 2018, the paper has nearly doubled its digital-only customers to 249,362 subscribers.
“We cannot thank Norm enough for his contributions to the L.A. Times,” Soon-Shiong said. “As we became the new owners and needed to rapidly and thoughtfully revive this great American newspaper, Norm’s experience as a journalist and media executive proved invaluable. While we continue to work together, we want him to know that he leaves The Times a much better organization than when we set out on this journey together.”
Soon-Shiong added: “We’re fortunate that we have a strong leadership team in place, both in the newsroom and across the company. We will continue the search to find the right candidate to serve as the next editor of the Los Angeles Times and provide an update when we have more news to share.”
In a note to staff, Pearlstine said: “From the day Pat and Michele asked me to join The Times as Executive Editor, my goal was to put a team in place that could assure The Times’ revival. Although work on finding my successor has just begun, I believe my work is done. There are several people on staff who are ready to succeed me and several talented editors from elsewhere have also asked to be considered. Turnarounds inevitably confront unforeseen challenges, and The Times has had its share as we worked to separate ourselves from Tribune. What made it all worthwhile was the memorable journalism that all of you continue to produce under extraordinary working conditions.”