When Kevin Merida joined the Los Angeles Times as top editor nearly three years ago, he was hailed as a leader who would restore peace to a newsroom beset by cost-cutting and corporate ownership battles.
Now, he’s exiting with little warning, a sudden departure that has left the West’s largest news organization in a state of confusion.
Mr. Merida told staff members on Tuesday that he was stepping down “after a very thorough examination of my career.”
He did not clearly explain why he was leaving, but he did say that his last day would be on Friday.
The biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of The Times, said in a note to the newspaper’s staff that he and Mr. Merida had “mutually agreed” that Mr. Merida should leave.
“Given the continuing challenges we face, it is now imperative that we all work together to build a sustainable business that allows for growth and innovation,” Dr. Soon-Shiong wrote.
In recent months, Mr. Merida has been at odds with members of the Soon-Shiong family over a number of matters, including editorial decisions and business priorities, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Mr Merida and the Soon-Shiong family have clashed over his decision to ban journalists from covering the conflict in Gaza who signed a letter condemning Israel’s response to the October 7 attacks, the people said.
Some members of the Soon-Shiong family objected to Mr. Merida’s decision, one of the people said, and they were unable to reach a solution with Mr. Merida and even discussed selling the newspaper.
According to people, making the budget for 2024 has also given rise to conflicts.
Mr. Merida did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Times declined to comment on the tension between Mr. Merida and the Soon-Shiong family, and said the Los Angeles Times was not for sale.
“We believe in the LA Times and are committed to its future,” the spokesperson said.
Mr. Merida, 66, was named top editor of The Times in May 2021 after previously serving as top editor at The Washington Post and ESPN. At the time, they were viewed as a stable force in the newsroom, bolstered by the painful erosion of their traditional business model and their stature as the pre-eminent news organization on the West Coast.
Under his leadership, the news organization won three Pulitzer Prizes, including two in 2023 for breaking news reporting and feature photography. Yet, like some of its peers in the media industry, The Times has struggled to offset the decline in its print business with digital subscriptions and advertising.
These problems became even more acute last year in Los Angeles, where Hollywood, one of the major industries, was shut down for several months due to a strike by actors and writers. It had an impact on the Los Angeles Times: The newspaper reported Tuesday that it fell short of its digital-subscriber goal.
Mr. Merida was handpicked by Dr. Soon-Shiong, who bought the company in 2018 for $500 million. The purchase was greeted with relief by many of the newspaper’s journalists, who had been cutting costs for years at the behest of corporate owners, including Tronc.
Dr. Soon-Shiong said he was acquiring the newspaper for social reasons and promised to restore it as a civic institution for the people of Southern California.
But moving forward has been difficult for the Soon-Shiongs, as the newspaper grapples with the headwinds that have affected the entire media industry. The family sold The San Diego Union-Tribune, a sister newspaper, to Alden Global Capital, a financial company known for its cost-cutting. At one point, The Wall Street Journal informed of Dr. Soon-Shiong was exploring the sale of The Los Angeles Times, which was the company rejected,
In June, the Los Angeles Times announced it was cutting more than 10 percent of its more than 550 newsroom staff, citing economic headwinds.
In his note to staff on Tuesday, Dr. Soon-Shiong said the Times would conduct a search for Mr. Merida’s successor that would include internal and external candidates.
In the meantime, he wrote, the newspaper’s current leadership team will continue to oversee the newsroom.