Latina editor uses her magazine to reach women about more than just beauty

Damarys Ocaña Perez guest of Magazine Speaker Series

The pages of Latina magazine offer content for women who reflect a true mix of nationalities and cultures.

“In every single section we’re trying to reflect that diversity” says Damarys Ocaña Perez, director of editorial content at Latina Media Ventures. “It starts with our staff being our audience.”

Ocaña Perez spoke to an intimate crowd of 30 at the Newhouse School on March 26 as part of the Magazine Department Speaker Series.

Ocaña Perez was born in Havana, Cuba and grew up in Miami. She recalled leaving Cuba by boat. As her family fled the Communist country, her father threw his money in the water to prevent the government from taking it, she says.

This “planted the seed in me to resist authority and speak out against things that weren’t right,” she says.

Ocaña Perez launched her journalism career writing local stories for the Miami Herald.

“Literally, someone’s dog died, and I was writing about it,” she says.

She later covered crime and wrote feature stories. The Miami Herald laid her off and she began freelancing for Latina magazine in 2004. She eventually moved up to an associate editor position, then entertainment editor and writer-at-large. She was laid off again in 2008, however, and again worked as a freelance journalist, which she says she found empowering.

“(It) is pretty rewarding because you get to develop ideas on your own,” Ocaña Perez says.

She began working for Latina magazine again in 2012.

The largest challenge Ocaña Perez says she has faced during her career is being underestimated as a Latina woman.

“People just automatically think that you know less, that you’ve experienced less, and that you do less,” she says.

Ocaña Perez battles these preconceived notions by encouraging communication and establishing meaningful relationships with colleagues at work.

With her experience in both newspaper and magazine, one thing Ocaña Perez learned throughout her career is to always keep high standards of writing, regardless of the topic.

“I try to go into everything that I write or edit with the same sort of connection, intensity, and vision of having it be a quality piece, and not underestimate what it can be and the impact it can have on people,” she says.

This is evident in her daily schedule as she spends most of her time combing over every detail of the magazine.

“I take a final look. I look at every single word, every single image,” she says.  “Everything in the magazine is approved and looked over by me. So it’s very important to me to be able to make sure that everything is in order.”

When Latina was first published, it was the first of its kind. Today, Latina faces competition from magazines such as Cosmopolitan for Latinas and Glam Belleza Latina.

However, Ocaña Perez says Latina magazine offers a broader range of topics—not just fashion and beauty—including social and political stories, which she says are important to the editorial mix.

The magazine speaker series aims to bring diverse guests, says Jim Shahin, associate professor of magazine, newspaper and online journalism.

“We wanted to bring Damarys because Latina magazine represents one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America and we thought it was a very important voice to be heard,” Shahin says.

He noted how Ocaña Perez’s talk was an inspirational one as she described how her family left Cuba to pursue a better life and now she’s a top editor at a large magazine.

Ocaña Perez says too many journalists are worried about deadlines rather than quality, and because of that, content suffers.

“I think that you coming out of school with training from a place like Newhouse can really change that,” she says.  “I’m depending on you guys to do that.”

Check out the original article on the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications website, written as a part of the Newhouse Student News Team. 

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