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The Times audience engagement team announces new hires and moves

Clockwise from top left: Leslie Cory, Crystal Villarreal, Maneeza Iqbal, Javier Panzar and Donna Wares.
Clockwise from top left: Leslie Cory, Crystal Villarreal, Maneeza Iqbal, Javier Panzar and Donna Wares.

This announcement was sent on behalf of Director of Audience Engagement Samantha Melbourneweaver.

We are excited to announce some news out of the engagement team.

Leslie Cory has joined The Times’ audience engagement team as an editor embedded in the features sections. Cory was most recently a podcast producer and digital strategist at KUOW in Seattle, where she created multimedia content, pitched segments, wrote scripts and managed social media platforms. She has also worked as a digital outreach strategist and product lead at the Solutions Journalism Network and as a content and community engagement editor for Opinion at the Hartford Courant. Cory reports to Samantha Melbourneweaver and works alongside the features staff, focusing on project promotion and rollout and on growing audience for travel, lifestyle, plants, Image and fashion. She grew up in California’s Central Valley and got into engagement journalism because she felt her community was often misrepresented or skipped over in the news. Cory has a bachelor’s degree in communication and psychology from UC Davis and a master’s in journalism from UC Berkeley. She’s moving to Los Angeles with her dog and cat in August but began her new role June 14.

Crystal Villarreal is joining the audience engagement team as an editor in Opinion. Villarreal most recently worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she wrote, edited and promoted lifestyle and entertainment content while managing a team of producers. She has also worked as a digital editor, copywriter, blogger and content strategist. She is originally from California but grew up in Atlanta. She holds bachelor’s degrees in women’s studies and journalism from the University of Georgia. She is a twice-published young-adult author and writes scripts for children’s cartoons in her spare time. Villarreal is fluent in French and Spanish and is learning Japanese. She starts with the audience team today.

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Maneeza Iqbal joined the audience engagement team as a social media editor in December. She previously worked as a social media and online editor at TV stations in Sacramento, including KCRA and News 10. Before coming to California, she worked at KRCG in Columbia, Mo. Iqbal grew up in the Midwest and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. She has quickly become a central part of the audience team and works the morning shift, managing our full social presence starting at 5 a.m.

Javier Panzar joined the audience engagement team as an editor for the Metro desk in November. Panzar has been with The Times since 2014, when he came aboard as an intern, then as a Metpro reporter. He worked as a reporter until 2019, covering state and congressional politics and breaking news in Metro. He also worked as a news desk editor before coming to the engagement team. Panzar works alongside Mary Kate Metivier to manage the rollout of the Metro desk’s most important coverage. Together, they have helped create the workflow behind the digital team’s subscriber-exclusive initiative and guided the audience strategy of some of Metro’s most-read and most-converted-for journalism this year.

Donna Wares has joined the audience engagement team as Live Events Editor. Since she returned to the Times to start the L.A. Times Book Club, Wares has spearheaded the Times’ growth in live journalism, building a robust audience across multiple online and in-person formats. She created multiple new franchises—the book club, We Can Teach You That and the Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown— while expanding the reach of Ask a Reporter and other forums. These initiatives have showcased our excellent staff and journalism for a new audience, and fostered direct engagement with viewers, staffers, creative leaders and newsmakers.

Wares launched the Book Club in 2019 after she joined the Times Entertainment team as Book Club Editor. Since the first event in June of 2019, the book club has featured author interviews and other coverage; a highly-engaged newsletter; Facebook group and conversations with guests such as Julie Andrews, Susan Orlean, Ocean Vuong, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Luis J. Rodriguez, Alice Waters, Ava DuVernay and Barack Obama. When the COVID pandemic hit, Wares pivoted to create virtual events and now manages the book club as well as a range of forums, working with the Entertainment staff, the events team, L.A. Times Today, the video staff and many other newsroom partners.

Before returning to the Times, Wares built popular community book clubs at the Spokesman Review in Washington and at the Orange County Register, where she was the managing editor. Wares previously worked at the Times in the early aughts as an editor on the National Desk, State Desk and in Orange County. She’s also worked as a reporter and editor at The Miami Herald, Entrepreneur Media and Amazon. Wares lives in Seal Beach with her family and, in her free time, fosters rescue greyhounds. She began her expanded role in 2020.


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