When he joined The Los Angeles Times as its top editor nearly three years ago, Kevin Merida was hailed as a leader who would restore calm to a newsroom that had been buffeted by cost-cutting and corporate ownership battles.
Now, he’s exiting with little warning, an abrupt departure that leaves the largest news organization in the West in a state of flux.
Mr. Merida told staff members on Tuesday that he was stepping down “after considerable soul-searching about my career.”
He did not specify exactly why he was leaving, but he did say that his last day would be on Friday.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, the biotechnology billionaire who owns 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 persistent 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 on a variety 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 restrict journalists who signed a letter condemning Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks from covering the conflict in Gaza, the people said.
Some members of the Soon-Shiong family raised objections to Mr. Merida’s decision, one of the people said, and they were unable to reach a resolution with Mr. Merida and even discussed selling the newspaper.
Budgeting for 2024 has also led to conflicts, according to the people.
A spokeswoman for The Los Angeles Times declined to comment on tensions between Mr. Merida and the Soon-Shiong family, adding that The Los Angeles Times wasn’t for sale.
“We believe in The L.A. Times and are committed to its future,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr. Merida, 66, was named the top editor of The Times in May 2021, after previously working as a top editor at The Washington Post and ESPN. At the time, he was viewed as a stabilizing force in the newsroom, which had been buffeted by the painful erosion of its traditional business model and its 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. Still, like some of its peers in the media industry, The Times has struggled to offset the declines in its print business with digital subscriptions and advertising.
Those problems were exacerbated last year in Los Angeles, where one of the major industries, Hollywood, was shut down for many months because of the actors’ and writers’ strikes. That took a toll at The Los Angeles Times: The newspaper reported on Tuesday that it had fallen short of its digital-subscriber targets.
Mr. Merida was handpicked by Dr. Soon-Shiong, who purchased the company in 2018 for $500 million. The purchase was greeted with relief by many journalists at the newspaper, who had been through years of cost-cutting 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 the going has been difficult for the Soon-Shiongs, as the paper has grappled with headwinds that have afflicted the entire media industry. The family sold The San Diego Union-Tribune, a sister paper, to Alden Global Capital, a financial firm known for its cost-cutting. At one point, The Wall Street Journal reported that Dr. Soon-Shiong was exploring a sale of The Los Angeles Times, which the company denied.
In June, The Los Angeles Times announced it was cutting more than 10 percent of its newsroom staff of more than 550, citing economic headwinds.
In his note to the staff on Tuesday, Dr. Soon-Shiong said that The Times would undertake a search for Mr. Merida’s successor that would include internal and external candidates.
In the meantime, he wrote, the newspaper’s existing leadership team would continue to oversee the newsroom.