'Times' journalist David Gonzalez wins prestigious award


By Kate McNeil

Two years, 50 reporter's notebooks and a "zillion" edits have paid off for New York Times reporter David Gonzalez. The Riverdale resident recently won the American Society of Newspaper Editors award for Distinguished Writing on Diversity for his 15,000-word, three-part series, "House Afire," published in January 2007.

For the series, Mr. Gonzalez spent a year with members of a small storefront church in Harlem, shedding light on a new wave of Pentecostalism among immigrants in the city.

While serving as Central America bureau chief for The Times, Mr. Gonzalez became fascinated with Pentecostalism, the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world.

"I've always had an interest in religion and how it plays out in a city of immigrants like New York," he said.

"Serendipity" led him to the storefront church, where he would spend 15 hours a week observing, absorbing and eventually, reporting.

"I spent the first two weeks without taking a note," he said. "I just sat and watched."

As part of a bigger picture, the series illustrated a change in New York's religious and racial landscape, he said.

"I speak Spanish on my job about as much as I did in Central America," Mr. Gonzalez said. "I use it when I go shopping on Riverdale Avenue."

Although modest about his award-winning writing, Mr. Gonzalez said he is proud that he "presented something with complexity that's been in plain sight all these years" and was "able to bring [his] readers into this world."

Mr. Gonzalez's piece also earned him the New York Associated Press first-place award for feature writing.

"Awards are nice but it's better to write a story that people read and has impact," he said. "I'm very, very happy. But it's more important to have the respect of your colleagues and write something that matters."

A Riverdale resident for more than four years, Mr. Gonzalez, a Yale graduate, has written for The New York Times since 1990, serving as Bronx bureau chief, Caribbean and Central America bureau chief, Metro religion reporter and general assignment reporter.

Before joining the Gray Lady, Mr. Gonzalez worked as a correspondent for Newsweek in Detroit, Miami and New York from 1983 to 1990.

The annual ASNE awards attracted almost 500 entries from news organizations around the country. Mr. Gonzalez won a cash prize of $2,500 for his work. His winning entry will be published in Best Newspaper Writing by The Poynter Institute.