"Jeff and I agreed that this change is best at this time because Tribune and Times executives need to be aligned on how to shape our future," said Scott Smith, Tribune Publishing president. "We thank Jeff for his leadership of important advances at the Times and his significant contributions during his Tribune career."
Neither Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman nor Times spokesman David Garcia immediately returned a phone call seeking comment.
In a Web-posted story, the newspaper reported that Hiller was expected to ask Times Editor Dean Baquet to stay, despite the editor's own protests against further job cuts by the newspaper's Chicago-based parent corporation.
Times editorial staff had rallied behind Johnson and Baquet and sent a letter supporting them to Tribune executives.
Late last month, Tribune announced it would study the possible sale or breakup of the corporation, which owns the Chicago Tribune, KTLA-TV Channel 5, baseball's Chicago Cubs and other TV stations and newspapers.
The Tribune board is expected to decide on a course by year's end. Chief Executive Dennis FitzSimons has said plans would not include selling the Times.
Tribune has called for cuts at all its newspapers, which include The (Baltimore) Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Newsday. The Times, the nation's fourth-largest paper by circulation, has already cut 200 editorial positions during the past five years.
Johnson seemed to soften his stance regarding cuts after meeting with Smith before Tribune's Sept. 21 board meeting. In a memo sent to staffers, Johnson emphasized cooperation and shared goals between the newspaper and its owner.
Like many old media companies, Tribune has been struggling with declining advertising and circulation as readers age and younger consumers turn to the Web for news. Meanwhile, shareholders have been clamoring for the results that were promised when the company bought Times Mirror in 2000 for about $8 billion.
While the Chicago Tribune is the namesake paper of the Tribune media empire, the Times is its single largest asset, accounting for nearly 20 percent of its 2005 revenue of $5.6 billion, according to sources cited by the Times.
Johnson was executive vice president and general manager of the Times when he took over as publisher June 1, 2005. He replaced John Puerner, who along with Johnson joined the paper as part of a management shake-up shortly after Tribune bought Times Mirror Co.
Before joining the Times, Johnson served as president and chief executive officer of Landoll Inc., a former Tribune Education company. He joined Tribune in 1984 and has held positions at the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel.