ink-stained wretches

Will the Journal Be Pleased by Sewell Chan’s Departure From the Times ‘Metro’ Section?

For the past few months, The Wall Street Journal has been marshaling staff and resources for its fledgling New York bureau. Editor John Seeley and hiring manager Deborah Brewster have been interviewing all over town, and have already hired some reporters who are set to start later this very month. While originally reported to launch in April, it looks like the bureau will begin reporting its own stories by February. Its goal is to compete with the Times on its own turf: the news, politics, and culture of New York City (and State!). Starting with a reported staff of twelve and a budget of $15 million, obviously that’s a tall order. But news today that Sewell Chan, one of the Times “Metro” section’s powerhouses, is transferring to a Washington beat, has got to have at least some people at the Journal smiling.

Really, I am at a loss — at a loss to try and calculate Metro’s loss,” wrote section chief Joe Sexton in a memo to staffers today. “It is great for him. It is wonderful and exciting for this paper … But it still leaves me at a loss.” He went on to describe Chan, who helped found the paper’s popular and prolific City Room blog in 2007 and continued to oversee it ever since, thusly:

City Room, sometimes called a blog, was and is, of course, way more than that. And Sewell, its creator and conscience and beating heart from Day 1, was no less than all of that.

Sewell was brave, relentless, generous, mercilessly competitive, religiously careful, wholeheartedly committed. He was a pioneer, a trailblazer, an evangelist, a warrior, a mentor, a student. And always, utterly, a Timesman.

He’s left me nonplussed before. At one of those many moments, I sought out [Times Executive Editor Bill] Keller (he really is good at these kinds of memos), and he found some words to capture what Sewell is, and what he has been so central in creating.

Pretty high praise, eh? Veteran Journal staffer Nikki Waller, who will be overseeing the online development of their new bureau, has got to be pleased she’s not competing with that. “Sewell actually exceeded people’s expectations for how long someone could do that,” one newsroom staffer said today, noting that his replacement, Andy Newman — who currently runs the Local blog for the paper — will not have much choice about keeping up the pace. “The job sort of demands 24-hour attention. Whoever’s going to do it is probably going to have to keep the same metabolism.”

Chan’s departure comes on the heels of his friend and fellow City Room big-name blogger Jenny 8. Lee last month, but in recent months Lee had not been viewed to be as critical a part of the reporting team. As for whether the Times is yet worrying about their upcoming new rival, reporters say there’s not a lot of talk about it in the newsroom. “The Times already has the apparatus to dominate city coverage,” said one staffer. “That takes years to build, and the Journal doesn’t have any of that.”

Changing of the Guard at City Room [City Room/NYT]

Will the Journal Be Pleased by Sewell Chan’s Departure From the Times ‘Metro’ Section?