From QJ to the New York Times: A conversation with Shivani Gonzalez

How Vol. 145’s Lifestyle Editor is forging her path in journalism

How Gonzalez accomplished her dream of working at The New York Times.
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Four years ago, Shivani Gonzalez was spending her Thursday nights in the Journal office, frantically editing lifestyle articles and preparing layout for the next day. Now, Gonzalez is living every creative’s dream in New York. 

She’s a news assistant for The New York Times—the very newspaper she dreamed of working on her entire writing career. 

The Journal sat down with Shivani to talk about her journey in journalism, from her first internship at 13 to the first time she walked through the emblematic glass doors of The Times. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you decide you wanted to be a journalist? 

I’ve known that I wanted to be a journalist since I was seven, which sounds silly, but it’s true. I remember my dad had moved into this old Victorian house and I went to the attic and found newspapers from 1906—they literally crumbled when you picked them up. That’s when I decided I wanted to see myself in print.

As a 25-year-old, it seems crazy that a decision I made at [age seven] determined my life, and that I followed through with it. 

At 13, I had my first internship at my small-town newspaper called The Troy Record. Then, at 14 or 15, I started an internship at a slightly bigger newspaper called The Albany Times Union. This is where I fell in love with politics—it was so cool being so young but going into Senate, listening in, and interviewing Senate members. 

Why did you attend Queen’s, and how did your writing career continue at the university?

I’m a dual citizen—I know, I’m winning. 

My college counsellor knew someone at Queen’s, and I applied but kept putting the process off and wouldn’t send in my documents. When I finally did get in, my mom drove me to tour the University. 

We played hooky from school and toured, and I instantly knew I was coming here.

I could tell the sense of community just from stepping foot in it. We stopped at a Tim Horton’s on the way out and I accepted my offer from Queen’s there, connected to their Wi-Fi because I had an American phone plan.

Then, I started at The Journal in my first role as Features Editor. 

I almost didn’t accept. I wanted to go to Throwback Thursdays […] and press days were and still are on the same day. I missed the songs, but it was definitely worth it in the end.

Features reignited my love for writing and collaborating, and in fourth year, I was Lifestyle Editor. Having a section and seeing through the entire process from start to finish cemented the fact that this is what I wanted to do with my life. 

How was your experience as an aspiring journalist post-grad?

When I graduated, I spent a summer in Kingston gallivanting and day-drinking.

Then, I started a six-month internship with Business Insider, where I saw my first modern newsroom. After that, I was unemployed for a little bit and pivoted into politics. 

I was the director of communication for a politician, and the role taught me how actual issues affect your average person. The politics job allowed me to go back into journalism, understanding the impact of the stories that were being told and how stories can really garner support for legislation. Politics and journalism are really cyclical. 

I spent a year and a half in that role before starting at The New York Times. Over the course of my life, I’ve applied to The New York Times like 25 times, and finally something stuck. I started in June as a News Assistant.

Is the NYT everything you dreamed it would be?

I was worried the job wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it’s even better than I always dreamed. I was reading an article about me online from when I was 15, and my dream was to have an article published in The New York Times. I never thought it would come true.

The job has been so exciting—every time I walk into the building, I wonder why they let me in. I’m in shock. 

Right now, I’m a floater, so I go between different desks. Each desk is completely different in terms of what you do and what you write, and in the last four days I’ve been on four different desks. It’s always exciting and new. Most recently, I worked on live coverage of the Grammy’s winners. 

What’s your favourite and least favourite part about living in New York?

My favourite part about New York is that literally no one cares, in the best way possible. You can leave your house in pajamas, and no one will bat an eye; you can wear a ballgown on the subway and it’s the same thing. You really have control over your life, and no one cares how you live it. There’s a lot of freedom in that.

My least favourite part is the giant rats.

How do you think your writing style has evolved over time?

What’s been interesting about my journey is experiencing a lot of different writing styles. I really loved creative writing, and I’ve had experience with pure news writing. 

I would also get up to shenanigans when I was Lifestyle Editor, from ranking pumpkin spice lattes to editing a point/counterpoint on hard shell versus soft shell tacos. I’ve also done speech writing in politics, and though at the time I was worried about all these different forms of writing, none of them led me off course.

Each writing gig has added to the richness of what my voice is and could be. 

What would your biggest piece of advice be to young journalists?

I remember listening to advice from a lot of people in journalism who said they “fell into the industry,” and that was always really frustrating to me because I felt I was working so hard. Some people are lucky and can just get into it, but I really put the work in.

What I’ve realized is that I was working hard, but not necessarily smart.

Be critical and specific about what your goals are, but also be flexible about the opportunities that are coming your way. Networking is genuinely so important, and I think I ignored that for a long time. Talk to people who can give you perspective. I wasn’t seeking out advice about what the field would be like, so put yourself out there whenever you can.  

Also, write as much as possible. When I was unemployed, I wrote the articles I was interested in on my own website. Put in time—but make sure it’s thoughtful time.

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