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July 10, 2023, 2:14 p.m.
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A different kind of “both sides”: The LA Times’ new section De Los aims to draw Latino readers without the paywall

“There is no future for the LA Times without Latino subscribers, because that’s who lives here.”

The Los Angeles Times, based in a city that is nearly 50% Latino, has launched a free, standalone vertical to reach English-dominant Latino news consumers on the LA Times website and where young news consumers already get their news, including Instagram and TikTok.

The new “De Los” section officially debuted on the Times’ website on Monday. The name challenges a phrase in Spanish that many first- and second-generation Latinos are familiar with: “ni de aquí, ni de allá,” which means “from neither here nor there.” “De Los” is short for “de los dos lados,” meaning “from both sides.”

The project is aimed primarily at Latinos in LA, and more broadly at Latinos across the country. It’s run by general manager for Latino Initiatives Angel Rodriguez, editorial director for Latino Initiatives Fidel Martinez, and deputy design director Martina Ibáñez-Baldor. The vertical is free to read and in front of the paywall. Its design features bright colors on black backgrounds, compared to the LA Times homepage that’s a more staid black, serif text on a white background. Its TikTok and Instagram pages feel more like fun meme pages than legacy newspaper accounts.

“The Los Angeles Times, while it has produced amazing, fantastic journalism about the Latino community, has also actively maligned it or has been historically ignoring it,” Martinez said. “One of the ways in which we’re hoping to rebuild trust is by putting everything that we do in front of the paywall. It didn’t feel right to be like, ‘Hey, we know we’ve ignored you for so long, but we’re building this thing for you and in order for you to access it, you have to pay for it.'”

The LA Times has tried different initiatives to reach and serve Latino audiences in the city before, each iteration with a goal that advanced the last. In 1984, the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its 1983 series titled “Latinos,” in which 16 Mexican-American journalists examined and humanized the city’s Latino communities.

In 1999, Frank del Olmo, a 1988 Nieman Fellow known for championing Latino-focused journalism, was the associate editor of the LA Times and oversaw its Latino Initiative. In that iteration, the Times assigned a dozen bilingual journalists in the newsroom to different beats with the mandate to find and report stories that would interest Latino readers.

“The beats we focused on were neither new nor innovative — religion, entertainment, sports, small business, labor — but putting a fresh and different emphasis on them enhanced our coverage of the local community,” del Olmo wrote in Nieman Reports in 2001. The initiative at the time led to the paper hiring its first full-time soccer writer after covering sold-out matches at the Rose Bowl, sparked national coverage of a new labor movement led by blue-collar Latino workers in LA, and made the paper the first publication to put then-rising pop star Ricky Martin on its front page.

The Times currently has more than 547,000 digital subscribers, including direct subscriptions and those from third-party apps like Apple News+. Latinos make up nearly 20% of the total U.S. population and about 48.4% of Los Angeles, according to 2020 census data. The Times estimates 29% of its website traffic comes from Latino news consumers.

“We don’t intend to be the only place to find Latino content at the Times. On the contrary, we exist to complement and supplement the great work our colleagues are doing,” Martinez wrote about the De Los launch. “Nor are we claiming to be experts on Latinidad — anyone who says they are is lying to you. Rather, our job is to explore the contours of Latinidad, the good and the bad. We see ourselves as observers and chroniclers of a community coming into its own.” For instance, De Los team members have tabled at a Pride event in East LA to meet LGBTQ+ Latinos, worked with the Las Fotos Project that gets young Latinas involved in visual arts, and partnered with Boyle Heights Beat, a youth-run news outlet that teaches and publishes journalism by high school students.

In 2020, Rodriguez and Martinez, who both worked on the sports desk at the time and were two of the only Latinos on that team, often talked about the paper’s coverage of Latinos: what worked, what was missing, and what they could have been doing better. They pitched an English-language, Latino-focused vertical to management that year, but said they received the suggestion to start a newsletter instead.

Martinez went to work on a weekly dispatch called the Latinx Files, launched in November 2020, that narrates and analyzes major stories for Latino audiences in local and national news. Some weeks the newsletter covers heavier topics like immigration and politics, while other weeks it discusses pop culture and entertainment. Martinez is the main writer but often pulls in other Times staffers to contribute and commissions guest writers and illustrators. The newsletter has around 50,000 subscribers, Rodriguez said. Some editions include: a reflection of what’s changed in gun policy and in the city of Uvalde, Texas after the school shooting in May 2022, a call to “leave street vendors alone,” and an analysis of the “bad Spanish” in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”

“We realized very quickly that there’s definitely a niche for some of the stories that we’re writing around culture and identity that the LA Times — and, frankly, the country and the rest of the media out there — is not doing,” Rodriguez said. “When you do see Latino stories, they are usually the immigration story or stereotypical coverage of Latinos. More of the cultural aspects of [the community] are really going to be our bread and butter.”

In 2021, Rodriguez and Martinez re-pitched the vertical — now with the newsletter as a proof of concept — to executive editor Kevin Merida, who gave it the green light. That year, Martinez launched the LA Times Día de Muertos digital ofrenda as a way for readers to honor their loved ones who have passed away. In its second year in 2022, the digital ofrenda became the Times’ most successful audience call-out ever, receiving more than 1,000 submissions in four languages. During the 2022 World Cup, the team commissioned writers and illustrators for essays and comic strips about what the tournament and soccer meant to them for series called “Gracias, Fútbol.”

Today, the Latino Initiatives team has a staff of 11, six of whom were already Times journalists and the other five of whom are new hires. They
will all work for De Los full-time. (The team was not affected by the 73 layoffs at the LA Times in June, though 26% of journalists who were impacted are Latino.)

“I feel like the key difference here is that — beyond the moral imperative of writing and covering the Latino community and your coverage area — quite frankly, there is no future for the LA Times without Latino subscribers, because that’s who lives here,” Martinez said. “[In the past,] I don’t think that was a maxim that was said, [or] that the management at the time saw as a necessity.”

Part of what makes De Los different from previous iterations is that the team is building it with its intended audience, not just for them, Rodriguez said. One of their first hires was a community editor, and the team conducted listening sessions with focus groups with three groups: Latinos in the city ages 18 to 34 who were LA Times subscribers or active users, Latino Los Angeles residents who didn’t have a relationship with the paper, and Latinos from all over the U.S. who were familiar with the paper. From those groups, they learned that people felt coverage of Latinos was stereotypical, only focusing on immigration or crime or tragedy. They wanted journalism that uplifts Latino communities and highlights its diversity, and they wanted to be included in creating it. (This is something underrepresented audiences have been saying for years.)

“If you look at the coverage from the Times over the last two or three years specifically, I think we’ve been doing a much better job of telling stories around the Latino community on a number of different topics, but our [paid] subscriber base and our readership isn’t increasing around Latinos,” Rodriguez said. “We felt like we needed to try something different. [It is] something new, fresh, and different with a new approach, a new logo, and a new vibe, and Latinos leading it from top to bottom and being part of every step of the process.”

To do that, Ibáñez-Baldor and Martinez knew they had to be in the spaces where young Latinos already were, rather than trying to drive them back to the website. They launched an Instagram account in May and a TikTok account in June, and each now has more than 2,000 followers. Ibáñez-Baldor said that De Los has partnered with content creators and local influencers to produce videos for those platforms about Latino experiences and life in LA Those creators already have their own audiences and — the thinking goes — seeing familiar faces working for the LA Times helps bring them in and trust the publication. (The LA Times has made a series of moves aimed at reaching younger audiences over the last few years, including hiring Shani Hilton as the managing editor for new initiatives in 2021 and launching a “meme team.”)

The De Los posts on social media include fun, light-hearted videos on life in L.A., visual explainers on LA Times stories, and graphics introducing each member of the De Los team. On TikTok, the most-viewed video (171,000 views) is of Los Angeles content creator Bobby Astro interviewing shoppers at the city’s Los Callejones market about whether or not they scored good deals there. (”I brought my cousin Xavi just in case we run into anyone who speaks Spanish,” Bobby says in the intro.)

@delosangelestimes Los callejones! Cap or nah? #bobbyastro investigates. #loscallejones #santeealley #losangeles #fyp ♬ original sound – De Los

On Instagram, the most-viewed reel (72,000 views) is of Ibáñez-Baldor visiting her favorite restaurant in Los Angeles and interviewing the owner about its origins.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by De Los (@delosangelestimes)

De Los is just one segment of the Times’ work to reach Latinos in LA. It continues to publish LA Times en Español, a separate section exclusively in Spanish with its own reporting staff (the print edition was folded in 2019). The Times also publishes Kiosco Digital, a weekly newsletter in Spanish that rounds up news and events happening in LA.

“We don’t want this to be a segregated thing [where] other editors can just say, ‘I’m not going to write the story for the larger LA Times, I’m just gonna send it over [to De Los],’” Rodriguez said. “That’s not how this works. We hope to be an accelerant for the continued coverage of Latino communities in other departments as well.”

Photo courtesy of Diana Ramirez Santacruz/The Los Angeles Times.

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     July 10, 2023, 2:14 p.m.
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