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L.A. Times Editor Norman Pearlstine to step down

Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine announced that he would soon step down and that the paper was launching a search for a new top editor.

Pearlstine, who celebrated his 78th birthday over the weekend, made the announcement Monday morning during a meeting with top editors and then in a note to staff members.

“It has been an honor to serve as your executive editor since Patrick and Michele Soon-Shiong acquired the Los Angeles Times in June of 2018,” Pearlstine wrote. “Now, we have agreed that it’s time to begin an open search for my successor.”

Pearlstine went on to say that Soon-Shiong “has asked me to remain as executive editor during the search and to work with him on it. I have also accepted his offer to continue as an advisor after my successor is named.”

In his two years at the top, Pearlstine stabilized 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, recruiting top editors and working to improve technology used to generate a larger audience for its journalism.

But Pearlstine’s efforts became overshadowed in the last six months by a series of controversies as the newsroom covered major news events while working from home: the COVID-19 pandemic, the George Floyd racial protests, the presidential election and now, President Trump’s illness and hospitalization due to the effects of the coronavirus.

Amid nationwide unrest over Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis, staff members at The Times began questioning newsroom leadership for its failure to better diversify the paper’s staff during a hiring surge that led to more than 120 journalists joining the staff since late 2018. L.A. Times journalists also highlighted the paper’s historic neglect in covering communities of color.

Last week, Soon-Shiong wrote an unprecedented letter to readers that acknowledged the paper’s institutional biases and pledged to do better.

“We are committed to change, both because it is just and because it is mission-critical for our business,” Soon-Shiong wrote. “Only a diverse newsroom can accurately tell this city’s stories. Only a newspaper that holds power to account and uncovers injustice can truly succeed.”

Pearlstine has had a prominent career in journalism — he is a former top editor of Time Inc., the Wall Street Journal and Forbes and a former senior executive at Bloomberg News.

Shortly after agreeing to buy The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune for $500 million in February 2018, Soon-Shiong hired Pearlstine to recruit a new top editor, but then Pearlstine became the executive editor himself. Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele B. Chan, thought that Pearlstine could help spark The Times’ revitalization.

In his note to staff, Pearlstine wrote that he was “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’ revival.”

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