Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best is leaving the newspaper to take the helm at the newspaper in Missoula, Mont.

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Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best announced Wednesday she is leaving the newspaper to take the helm at the newspaper in Missoula, Mont.

Best cited the challenge of “finding a sustainable newsroom future” within a rapidly changing media landscape among her reasons for leaving a newsroom where she ascended to the top news post three years ago.

“That’s a challenge that is tempting — to try to help the profession you love find its way,” Best said in an interview. “But at the end of the day, I wanted to spend my time doing what I’m best at and what’s true to my heart — and that’s helping journalists do good work and telling great stories.”

Metro newspapers transitioning to digital formats are still searching for ways to sustain their budgets amid declining print circulations that bring in the bulk of their revenues. But finding ways to meet that challenge often requires editors to spend more time doing business-related work and less on journalism, Best said.

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“That’s not how I want to spend the last decade of my career in journalism,” she added.

Best, 59, made the afternoon announcement to a stunned Times staff who gathered in the newsroom a half-hour after she revealed her planned departure in a staff-wide email.

Times Publisher Frank Blethen choked back tears while thanking Best for her leadership, telling the newsroom she was leaving for “all the right reasons.” He added that Best took over as editor amid tumultuous changes in the industry, but put The Times on solid footing for its future.

“Good stewardship is preserving what you are responsible for, great stewardship is enhancing it and leaving it better for those who follow,” Blethen told a teary-eyed Best. “You have been a wonderful steward and I will be forever grateful. You will knock it out of the park in the next leg of your journey.”

Best took The Times’ top news job after Executive Editor David Boardman left in 2013 to become dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.

A lifelong journalist, Best grew up in a newspaper family and remains a co-owner of the family’s newspaper, the News-Progress in Sullivan, Ill., run by her brother.

She started her career with the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, before moving to Springfield, Ill., to cover state politics. She later landed high-ranking editor positions at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Baltimore Sun and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Best came to The Times in 2007, becoming the newspaper’s managing editor for digital news and innovation and later the managing editor for content creation. Blethen named her as editor and vice president of news in 2013.

Blethen recalled Wednesday that as he considered candidates to replace Boardman, he asked for Best’s input. She provided him with a new newsroom structure for which “she hoped that she would be the managing editor,” he said.

“When I told her, ‘I’d like you to be the editor,’ she was shocked,” Blethen said. “But that’s part of Kathy’s charm. She’s so selfless; her ambitions are solely based in doing great journalism.”

During Best’s latest career stop in Seattle, The Times won three Pulitzer Prizes — two for breaking news and one for investigative reporting.

The breaking-news awards recognized staff coverage of the slayings of four Lakewood police officers in 2009, and of the Oso landslide that killed 43 people in 2014. The investigative-reporting award was for work that exposed the state’s financially motivated practice of prescribing a deadly pain drug for people in state-subsidized health care.

Best cited the two breaking-news stories in digital and print among the highlights of her tenure at The Times.

“We created something that was greater than the sum of its parts to help readers understand the enormity of that disaster,” she said of the staff’s Oso coverage.

Recent hirings by The Times have brought new skills to the newsroom, and with a solid leadership team in place, Best said she felt the timing of her move was right.

“The level of talent in this newsroom is stunning,” she said. “The people here are committed to telling the stories of this region in engaging ways. They’ve made me a much smarter journalist. It’s been a huge privilege to work here.”

In an email to staff earlier Wednesday, Best also noted her family had been facing “some significant health issues in the last year” that prompted her to ask fundamental questions about her future.

“The answers are pretty simple,” she wrote. “I love working with reporters to tell great stories. I relish connection to a community. And I get great joy out of helping journalists do their best work. That’s what speaks to my soul. And that’s what I want to return to.”

Best plans to start her new job as editor of The Missoulian on June 27.