LA Times Editor Norm Pearlstine Resigns Following Ethics Scandals

“Finally,” one staffer tells VICE News.
October 5, 2020, 7:47pm
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Jay L. Clendenin/Getty 

Following months of turmoil inside the Los Angeles Times, the paper’s top editorial staffer, executive editor Norm Pearlstine, is resigning.

Pearlstine and other masthead editors were the subject of several rounds of investigations by numerous news outlets this summer. In early July, VICE News published an investigation titled What Went Wrong at the LA Times, which reported that Pearlstine had lost the faith of many in the newsroom after he overlooked or dismissed serious concerns from staff about toxic management, diversity in hiring, and ethical issues.

Our report revealed that Pearlstine allowed a top editor to retire in peace shortly after the paper investigated allegations of inappropriate treatment of and relationships with women; failed to act on the recommendations of respected newsroom staffers who wanted to create a more diverse newsroom; brushed off complaints about ethical lapses of multiple staffers, and lashed out at staffers who questioned his leadership.

In mid-July, as VICE reported, sports columnist Arash Markazi was placed on administrative leave while the paper investigated multiple instances of plagiarism. Markazi ultimately left the LA Times and the paper added updates to several of columns in order to provide proper attribution. By the end of the month, as VICE also reported, staff had sent multiple letters to HR and management demanding internal investigations and accountability.

In August, the Wrap reported on the paper’s incompetent management, and cited staffers who said that Pearlstine would fall asleep in important meetings. Later that month, Eater published an investigation into the toxic culture of the paper’s food section, previously led by editor Peter Meehan, who resigned in July after being accused of sexual misconduct in late June. In September, the LA Times published its own front-page deep dive into the paper’s highest level of management, which implicated Pearlstine's leadership. Just last week, Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong wrote a letter to readers titled "The Times’ Reckoning on Race and Our Commitment to Meaningful Change,” vowing that the paper needed to and would do better.

On Monday morning, Pearlstine sent the following memo, obtained by VICE News, to staff:

Dear Colleagues,

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.  Now, we have agreed that it’s time to begin an open search for my successor.

Pat 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.

My thanks to Pat and Michele for giving me the opportunity to work for them and with you. When they first asked me to serve as executive editor, we discussed a set of objectives. Put simply, we agreed it was important to recognize the talented Times staffers who had continued to publish meaningful, memorable stories during years of extraordinary turbulence and to complement that group with exceptional journalists who could help us attract and retain new audiences for our content.

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’ revival.

I remain excited about The Times’ future as you respond to new and evolving challenges and opportunities.

Staff and others who are interested in succeeding me should contact Nancy Antoniou.

All the best,

Norm

There is a feeling of relief, according to staffers. One person, who spoke to VICE News anonymously in order to be candid, said the announcement came as a surprise following the statement Soon-Shiong gave to the Times backing Pearlstine. (In that report, Soon-Shiong said he was “befuddled” by acrimony towards Pearlstine, whom he said “should be lauded for his contributions to American journalism.”) The staffer said the remarks had been “disheartening” and that there was concern that Soon-Shiong would continue to stand by Pearlstine.

Though Pearlstine’s note indicated he will stay on as an advisor, even after his successor is named, the staffer told VICE News the prevailing post-resignation announcement mood is: “Finally.”