Mr Highfield has agreed with the board that he will not put himself up for re-election at the AGM on June 5.
In a statement, Johnston Press said: “Ashley is leaving for family reasons and in order to fulfil his plans to transition to a be a ‘plural’ non-executive director as the next phase of his career.
“As a result of Ashley’s resignation, Johnston Press will appoint David King, currently chief financial officer, to replace Ashley as CEO. David will step into the role of CEO with effect from the AGM. David’s replacement will be announced in due course.”
Camilla Rhodes, chairman of Johnston Press, said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Ashley for his significant contribution since becoming CEO in 2011. We are sorry that he felt that his personal circumstances required a change at this time.
“Ashley oversaw the successful acquisition of the i newspaper, has driven growth in our digital footprint, while making substantial progress in reorganising and restructuring our business. We wish him every success in the next phase of his career. I am pleased to announce that David King will step up to become CEO. David has worked closely with the board on our strategic review of financing options. I am confident that David will prove to be a strong leader and his transition to the CEO role provides stability to the business at this important time.”
Mr Highfield said: “I have been privileged to lead Johnston Press during a period of unprecedented turbulence in our industry. Since 2011 we have grown our overall audience in particular our digital business, created an industry leading tele-sales operation and maintained margins. The acquisition of the i newspaper has been a particular highlight. I am proud of what the board and my colleagues have achieved and would like to thank them all for their support. I wish David every success in his new role.”
Johnston Press is the owner of a wide range of newspaper titles, including the i newspaper, The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and News Letter in Northern Ireland.