The following announcement is sent on behalf of Features Editor Brittany Levine Beckman and Deputy Managing Editor Amy King:
The Features Department is growing to bolster our successful guides, expand the wellness beat and deepen coverage of how to best spend one’s leisure time. The Times’ Lifestyle and Experiences coverage has seen tremendous growth in terms of conversions and subscriber engagement. This expansion will help us become even more essential for Angelenos seeking to explore, savor and build community in Southern California.
Colleagues from the Utility and Arts teams will join Features in the coming months as part of the expansion. They include Sonaiya Kelley, Todd Martens, Paula Mejia, Ada Tseng, Deborah Vankin and Steven Vargas. They join Deborah Netburn and Laura Newberry, who moved to Features in May, and Jessica Roy, who started earlier this month. Lila Seidman has also joined the team for a three-month rotation.
The entire Features team contributes to points of interest guides (POIs), which consistently attract subscribers in the short and long term, as part of their regular reporting. The expanded team will fortify this valuable work and add new reporting dimensions to the most interesting people, places and subcultures of California.
Roy will edit, write and coordinate West Coast Experiences coverage; Kelley will focus on writing guides as part of the West Coast Experiences team; Martens will bring his critic’s eye to deepen our theme park and West Coast Experiences coverage; Mejia will lead efforts to expand coverage of arts and culture experiences as well as things to do at night; and Vargas will continue to write the L.A. Goes Out newsletter and work with Mejia on experiences coverage. Vankin will be taking on a beat she has long been passionate about pursuing: covering wellness through a California lens. Tseng will do so as well, in addition to editing and coordinating across the wellness and West Coast experiences teams. Netburn still reports on spirituality and joy. Newberry continues to write the Group Therapy newsletter and covers outdoors experiences. During her rotation, Seidman will write The Wild newsletter and also report on outdoors experiences.
It’s an exciting time for the Features Department, which will nearly double in size. With these additions and the hire of a new senior editor, Features will be even more equipped to build content that informs, inspires and engages an online audience.
More about the staffers joining the Features team:
Sonaiya Kelley started at the Los Angeles Times in 2016. She has spent nearly seven years on the Calendar side, writing about film and the intersection of Black Hollywood. The Bronx, N.Y., native has previously contributed to Essence, Allure and Keyframe Magazine. She is an alumna of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism and the Bronx High School of Science.
Todd Martens joined the Los Angeles Times in 2007 and has reported on pop music, video games, theme parks, board games, graphic novels, films, television and craft beer. A former Times music editor, Martens currently focuses on interactive entertainment, with an emphasis on storytelling through play, which includes video games, immersive theater and theme parks. He has contributed essays to numerous books, including “Nirvana: An Illustrated History,” “SXSW Scrapbook: People and Things That Went Before” and “The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time.” In the video game space, Martens has been recognized as a judge for IndieCade, a voter for the Game Awards and a moderator at prestigious events such as DICE. A USC graduate, he has been named by theme park industry trade publication Blooloop as one of the top-50 most influential voices in the sector.
Paula Mejía is a Colombian American writer and editor from Houston. She is the arts editor at the Los Angeles Times and teaches arts writing at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Formerly a senior editor at Texas Monthly, she has written about the retail apocalypse, literary hoaxes, the streaming economy, demolition derbies, midcentury modern architecture in the Instagram age and more for the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Rolling Stone and other publications. She is a co-founding editor of “Turning the Tables,” NPR Music’s Gracie Award–winning series about centering women and nonbinary artists in the musical canon, and the author of a 33⅓ series installment on the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 album “Psychocandy.” She holds a bachelor of arts degree in English and creative writing and a master’s degree in English literature from the George Washington University.
Before taking on the faith, spirituality and joy beat in 2021, Deborah Netburn worked on the science desk, helping cover the pandemic, and before that handling a wide array of stories including space exploration, medicine and ecology. She’s a regular contributor to Column One, a feature in which she specializes in profiling some of Southern California’s most interesting people and places. Netburn began at The Times in 2006 and has pioneered much of the online storytelling and real-time reporting that became a foundation for our digital growth. She graduated from Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in religion and religious studies.
Laura Newberry joined The Times five years ago as a news intern in Metro. Since then, she’s been a general assignment, breaking news and education reporter, and more recently the author of the weekly mental health newsletter, Group Therapy. Newberry previously worked as a staff reporter at the Reading Eagle and MassLive, both in Massachusetts. A graduate of the University of Central Florida and UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she joined the Features team this summer.
Jessica Roy started at The Times as an intern when she was a student at UCLA, where she graduated with a degree in art history. She did stints at Current TV, Fusion and Entertainment Tonight before rejoining The Times on the audience engagement team in 2015. She was one of the founding members of the Utility Journalism team when it launched in 2020. She’s written about things like her identity theft nightmare, where you can scatter ashes in L.A., how the last century of pandemics ended and where to bring tourists when they come to town, and a successful newsletter about how to make and stick to a budget. Roy won L.A. Press Club and Best of the West awards for social media coverage of Kobe Bryant’s death and received an honorable mention from SABEW and other citations this year for her identity theft series. You’ve most recently seen her corralling Taylor Swift coverage and sharing safety tips for the summer COVID surge. She is rejoining the Features team, where she worked as an embedded audience editor to launch the Plants section in 2020.
Lila Seidman is fresh off her role as reporter for the Los Angeles Times’ yearlong initiative exploring various facets of mental health. The project united her long journalism career and ongoing graduate studies in clinical psychology. Since joining The Times in 2020, Seidman has served on the breaking news and Utility desks, where she has written about Indigenous communities reclaiming their land, wildfires threatening giant trees and fishing the L.A. River. Previously, she covered Glendale city politics for Times Community News. A native Angeleno, Seidman cut her teeth as a freelancer at LA Weekly, Patch and other local outlets. She’s reported for a variety of publications, including the Daily Journal, a statewide legal publication, and the UB Post, an English-language newspaper in Mongolia, and her work has appeared in Gawker and Vice. She briefly deflected from the sun and smog of L.A. to attend Reed College in Portland, Ore., where she studied Russian and psychology.
Ada Tseng was the assistant editor on The Times’ Utility Journalism Team, where she worked on guides for Hollywood up-and-comers, Asian Americans looking for culturally specific mental health advice and anyone searching for their go-to karaoke songs. She was previously the entertainment editor for TimesOC, the Times Community News Sunday Features section. She co-hosts the Asian American pop culture history podcast “Saturday School” — a nod to the morning Mandarin-language classes she went to as a kid. Tseng graduated from UCLA and received her master’s in writing and literature from Bennington College.
As The Times’ visual arts reporter for the past decade, Deborah Vankin has chronicled the city’s new museum boom and gallery expansion (touring so many construction sites, she now owns her own hard hat) and the varied art emerging in response to our quickly shifting world. She’s interviewed or profiled many of the leading artists of our time, including Mark Bradford, Catherine Opie, Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman, Ai Weiwei and many others. Vankin has also written about TV, film, comedy, books and nightlife for The Times and has been a correspondent at the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes. Her deeply reported, colorfully told features and profiles have won nearly two dozen local and national awards, including from the Society for Features Journalism, the California News Publishers Assn. and the L.A. Press Club. In 2021, she was named a finalist for the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference’s Best American Newspaper Narrative. Prior to The Times, Vankin was the books editor and food editor of LA Weekly and a lifestyle features editor at Variety. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times and numerous anthologies. She’s the author of the graphic novel “Poseurs,” and teaches at Emerson College. Originally from Philadelphia, she is a graduate of Penn State University and has a master’s from Emerson. Vankin will be exploring the ballooning, more than $4-trillion wellness industry.
Steven Vargas is an arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Prior to joining the staff, he was an Entertainment and Arts intern. His areas of focus include theater, dance and social change. He previously reported with such outlets as E! News, USA Today, L.A. Sentinel and BuzzFeed News. During his time at USC, he co-founded the Equity Board with Annenberg Media through a Poynter Media Project and penned the newsroom’s “Guide for Equitable Reporting Strategies and Newsroom Style.” His short documentary, “Dancing at Home,” earned first place in the L.A. Press Club’s Life in the Time of the Coronavirus contest in May 2020; he was also awarded the PPAGLA student videographer of the year. In 2021, he took part in the second cohort of Jose Solís’ BIPOC Critics Lab with the Kennedy Center.
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