‘Stories About Latinos Are Best Told By Latinos,’ Design Director Martina Ibáñez-Baldor on The LA Times’ New Section Honoring Latinidad
A newsroom is more than the workplace commonly seen in romantic comedies of the 2000s. However, those movies did accurately represent a real-life issue: the overwhelming majority of journalists in those newsrooms are white. In fact, this year’s survey by the Pew Research Center found 8% of journalists are Hispanic, 6% are Black, and 3% are Asian.
This means Latinos are needed in all parts of a newsroom — whether they are reporting on the ground or assigning stories on issues that pertain to our community. Furthermore, our DNA is also needed in design, and that’s where Martina Ibáñez-Baldor — the Los Angeles Times’ design director for Latino Initiatives — shines brightly.
“Stories about Latinos are best told by Latinos,” said Ibáñez-Baldor. “As a first-generation Latina, I know the cultural, religious, and historical contexts that go into understanding our communities and accurately telling our stories.”
The Latina designer amplifies her culture for the masses through exceptional illustrations, social media design, branding, and more. She recently helped launch De Los, a new section for the paper with content that celebrates and is tailor-made for Latinos.
Her parents immigrated from South to North America for a better and safer life. She was born in Toronto, Canada, and raised in Wisconsin. “I carry inside me my parents’ and ancestors’ traumas, which I think, in turn, has made me very empathetic to the communities whose stories we want to tell,” said Ibáñez-Baldor.
Turning over a new leaf in Latino community coverage
The idea for a Latino-focused project was loosely in the works at the publication for years. As it happens, the community has been covered extensively by the L.A. Times in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in 1983.
Nonetheless, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the national outrage that followed across the country led to internal conversations in the newsroom about racism, diversity, and equity.
Later that year, the weekly Latinx Files newsletter was launched. They offer exploration and analysis into the experiences of Latinos living in the United States. It’s also a collaborative effort where readers share their experiences to paint a more accurate picture of our demographic.
With over 40,000 subscribers, the demand for this kind of content is plain to see. It brought forth an undeniable need to expand coverage, with the added mission of attracting Millennial and Gen Z readership.
“We also knew from focus groups that there was a desire to see this community lifted and to have these stories told with authenticity, told by Latinos from these communities,” said Ibáñez-Baldor.
De Los was the solution; while it took some convincing, the endeavor was approved. It launched over the summer, and Ibáñez-Baldor and her team got to work sharing and portraying the collective Latino experience.
The publication is rekindling its relationship with Latino readers
Design-w,ise for De Los, Ibáñez-Baldor wanted to create something that didn’t lean into stereotypes. “At the same time, I wanted to make sure our branding and design was reflective of Latino design history and Los Angeles culture,” she said.
She worked with the Times’ art director, Diana Ramirez, to bring this vision to life. They even designed the section’s merch line together.
“Journalism and art has the ability to share those stories, uplift communities, give them a platform that may not have been accessible to them before,” said Ibáñez-Baldor.
More broadly, their team knew that winning back the trust of the Latino community would be a worthwhile challenge. The publication’s history covering Latinos has been dismal, from hurtful rhetoric in stories and op-eds to “[flaming] the fires of racial tensions,” according to Ibáñez-Baldor.
“This has rightfully led to distrust between the Times and Latino readers,” she said. “We are working on re-building that trust by being community-based.”
The L.A. Times’ cards are on the table now, thanks to their new community editor. They’ve been connecting with Latinos through events and local partnerships with organizations like the Las Fotos Project and Boyle Heights Beat.
One more thing about De Los: there’s no paywall. “We knew we could not build a product for this community and ask them to pay for it right off the bat,” said Ibáñez-Baldor.
Ibáñez-Baldor’s advice for Latinas interested in a journalism career
The graduate from Marquette University says journalism students should connect with their professors. Their real-world experience and built-in network will help them learn more about the industry. Moreover, Ibáñez-Baldor recommends joining the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Society for News Design. These are ideal for journalists looking for networking opportunities and workshops.
Another powerful asset for rising journalists is social media. Aside from connecting with editors and writers, there’s the opportunity to get creative. Sharing your work on platforms like Instagram and TikTok can lead to the right eyes seeing your work.
“Slide into DMs of people whose career you admire,” advises Ibáñez-Baldor. “More than likely than not, they will be happy to respond with tips and advice!”
With creative careers, there is usually a lingering doubt about your place in an industry. Ibáñez-Baldor wants us to know that the feeling of imposter syndrome is temporary. “It took me almost a decade to really feel confident in the place I am in my career and confidence in my voice and abilities,” she said.
Part of that confidence is due to her making room for herself and making her voice heard.
“Especially as young Latina women who are often taught to be quiet and polite and pleasant, it can be hard for us to feel like we can take up space,” said Ibáñez-Baldor. “Take it. Make your voice heard!”