Slate Fare

How I Won the Pitch Slam

Slate Plus member Diana Martinez on her first piece for Slate.

Diana Martinez and the Medellin Cartel in the Netflix show Narcos.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo courtesy Diana Martinez, Daniel Daza/Netflix.

A month ago, we invited Slate Plus members to pitch us stories for Slate. We thought our members would have some great ideas, and we weren’t disappointed. Our editors gave several of your pitches the thumbs-up, and the first to make it into the magazine was Diana Martinez’s insightful review of Netflix’s Narcos, which looks at the show in the context of “narco cinema,” the wildly popular Latin American B-movies about the drug trade. (You can see Diana’s original pitch for the story here.)


We’ll be running more pieces from Slate Plus members in the coming weeks and hosting another pitch slam before the end of the year. In the meantime, Diana answered a few questions about her first Slate piece.

Tell us about yourself and your background. What do you do? Do you have any experience in journalism or writing about TV?


I’m a graduate student at the University of Oregon. Though I’m housed in the English department, I work on film and television. This year I’ll be finishing up my dissertation about female comedian filmmakers and showrunners (women like Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, and Whitney Cummings). I also teach undergraduate classes—college composition as well as some film and TV courses.


How did you come up with this idea? Was it something you’d been thinking of writing before you saw our call for pitches?

I try to keep track of trends I see in pop culture. To me, it appears to be the moment of the narco. Cropping up at the same moment are: Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape, the new movie Sicario starring Benicio del Toro and Rachel McAdams, a rumored Ridley Scott adaptation of Don Winslow’s book The Cartel, and a silly documentary spoof about searching for a notorious drug lord on Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s Documentary Now! Narcos is just one of a number of current pop culture products interested in the drug war.


I wanted to explore this more, but it didn’t fit into my academic research. The pitch slam came at the perfect moment.


Do you have a personal connection to the Latin American drug war? 

I don’t know anyone directly affected by the drug war. However, after the escape of El Chapo, I watched a brief interview that Univision’s Jorge Ramos did with Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez. She writes about the drug war and Mexico’s political corruption. The way she describes the violence in Mexico is affecting. That really spurred me to learn more.

What I do have a personal connection with is narco cinema—I watched these films as a kid and I didn’t even realize it until a couple years ago! When I started reading articles about narco cinema, I was surprised to recognize a lot of the movie titles and names of actors. I remembered that in the ’90s, these films played late at night on Spanish-language television and my parents would have them on in the background. Narco cinema is maybe not the most suitable fare for kids, but I’m glad I was exposed to them.

What was it like working with Slate editors on this piece? 

The editor of the piece, Laura Bennett, was fantastic. She was encouraging, honest, and gave me full control over the content of the piece. It was the best first editor/writer experience I could ask for.

Do you plan to pitch us again? 

I do! I’m doing research for my next pitch right now