Mitra Kalita leaving LA Times for CNN

mitrakalita-cnn.jpgS. Mitra Kalita arrived last year to be one of three managing editors at the Los Angeles Times. Her portfolio here was billed as editorial strategy. She announced today she is leaving June 10 to move back to New York City and join CNN in a new position as vice president of digital programming. There she will work for Meredith Artley, the editor in chief of CNN Digital who herself was a senior editor at the LA Times some years back.

Here's the news break from Ken Doctor at Politico Media, the LA Times' published version of the news, and the memos from Kalita, Artley and editor-publisher Davan Maharaj at Poynter.

Kalita cites "a number of personal reasons, chief among them are our aging parents," for moving back to New York so soon after being ecstatic about joining the LA Times and moving to Los Angeles. Maharaj suggests in his memo that she was poached with "an offer she felt she couldn't refuse."

In an interview on the CNN communications blog, dated curiously May 25, Malita is asked why she pursued the new job.

The two words you can’t escape in journalism right now: mobile and video. So this was a chance to innovate in an area that is pretty key to the future of storytelling. The vice president for programming is also the final decision-maker in what stories, headlines, visuals get pushed out on the site and across platforms. I’ve spent my career trying to make journalism more accessible, the foreclosure crisis in America to labor laws in India to homelessness in Los Angeles. This job represents incredible power to shape stories people already care about and bring new angles and awareness to those they don’t.

Kalita was a high-profile get for the Times as an experienced editor who had risen on the digital side of the news industry. Just last year, Kalita said "there are few jobs in journalism that would make me uproot my family, leave a neighbourhood and friends I love, and exit an innovative startup like Quartz," her last employer. But she came in when Austin Beutner was publisher and the stated ambition of the paper was to be great in Calfornia and as a diverse presence online. The longer she was at the Times, I heard from more and more people in the newsroom who wondered what her role really was. There also was some bristling when she appeared to take some personal credit online for the Times' staff Pulitzer this year for covering the San Bernardino terrorism shootings, and coverage of her personally often referred to her as managing editor of the LA Times (as the CNN blog post even did) rather than as one of three with a specific portfolio.

She leaves with the paper now on its second publisher since Beutner, with a new and completely unpredictable corporate direction emerging, and more cloudy financial signs on the horizon. The front section of today's print LA Times is only 12 pages and there are more house ads than paid ads in the news sections.

But she leaves with glowing words here and at CNN. From Maharaj, her boss in LA:

Mitra’s time with us has been short but her contributions will be lasting. She worked with colleagues throughout the newsroom to bring more readers to our journalism — not with shortcuts and shopworn tricks, but by finding ways to connect meaningfully with readers on topics that stirred their passions. We all learned Mitra’s mantra: the most successful digital stories are those that are original, genuine and “felt."

The audience on has nearly doubled in the last year — to nearly 60 million unique visitors a month. Our traffic from social media has also grown; now more than half our readers find us on mobile. Our newsroom is now more diverse; more than a third are people of color, up significantly from a year ago — a statistic that puts us ahead of every large newsroom in the nation. Mitra played a significant role in all these achievements.

I know that each of you, like me, will be sorry to see her leave The Times. But it isn’t surprising that CNN offered her a top position. Mitra’s skills have been fiercely sought after in our industry. Earlier this month, the New York Observer listed her among the top 10 most poachable news executives.

Artley at CNN says "what you really need to know about Mitra is that she is an admired and inspiring leader, a journalist's journalist in the most modern of ways. She is a champion for stories and people that make an impact, for diversity in its many forms and for creativity and experimentation. She’s going to be a phenomenal leader and partner for CNN’s people and teams worldwide."

A sample of Kalita's note to the staff of the LA Times:

Serving as a managing editor of this storied institution has been among the greatest honors of my life.

I was brought here to lead editorial strategy and to continue to transform the newsroom. The truth is I learned so much more from all of you. This place has experts on everything, from trade and tacos to quake fault lines and the box position on B.B. King’s guitar. You recommended nannies and pediatricians, donut shops and dosa places. You made us feel at home. For that, I want to thank you.

We should feel proud of what we've all achieved over the last year:

· Record traffic growth; unique visitors have been consistently over 50 million for the last few months

· Huge audiences on stories that really matter, that define us, that challenge perceptions, that change the world

· Creative storytelling is our first reaction to news, as is involving our audience

· We continued to recognize our readers are omnivorous; we put punk rock and Beyonce on the front page. We made Somalia and Japanese ghost ships go viral.

· Our newsroom is now 33% people of color, up significantly from a year ago, a statistic which leads newsrooms across America.

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