Times New York Metro Desk Gives Fond Farewell To Chan, Welcomes Newman

Earlier today, we reported the news that The New York Times‘s metro reporter and bureau chief Sewell Chan was leaving the New York office — and the City Room blog — for a gig in the paper’s Washington bureau. He’s being replaced by Andy Newman.

FishbowlNY has gotten its hands on the memo that went out today from metro editors Joe Sexton and Wendell Jamieson to the staff.

In the memo, Sexton calls Chan a genius:

“…a reporter who took a mighty dare with a new genre, inhabited it, and remade it. 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.”

There’s also thoughtful quotes from executive editor Bill Keller and a heartful introduction for Newman by Jamieson. Read the full memo after the jump

Previously: Changes At Two NYT Blogs

I’m not bad with memos like this, or so I like to think. Certainly, I am rarely stumped for words. And surely, everyone knows, I kind of love the sound of my own voice.

But, really, I am at a loss — at a loss to try and calculate Metro’s loss. Sewell Chan will be off to Washington. It is great for him. It is wonderful and exciting for this paper. And I’m quite thrilled by what’s next for City Room and who is next for Sewell’s bureau chief’s chair.

But it still leaves me at a loss. So, let me borrow someone else’s words:

Michael Kimmelman, writing recently about David Levine, the genius, said “every great artist inhabits a genre, and remakes it.” He then listed Saul Steinberg and Jules Feiffer, among others.

I’ll now add Sewell Chan, genius, a reporter who took a mighty dare with a new genre, inhabited it, and remade it. 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 Mr. 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.

“It’s amazing how quickly Sewell has become the gold standard for a particular, extremely valuable kind of Times journalist. Editors who want a beat covered with industry and inventiveness will wish aloud that they had “a Sewell.” Anyone planning to launch a new venture, especially a Web journalism venture, sets out to find “someone like Sewell.” You hear things like that all the time. And I don’t think the key to it is that Sewell is comfortable with the new medium (though he is). I think his journalistic qualities are timeless. Sewell is one of the very few people I’ve interviewed for a job who was emphatic about wanting to do beat coverage. At a time when it seemed everybody was enthralled to “long form narrative,” yearning to do large, important but unspecific projects, Sewell understood the thrill of mastering a subject, developing sources, breaking stories and generally acquiring go-to-the-bank authority. What seems to drive him — more than the glory of page-one bylines or the satisfaction of literary writing — is a wide, insatiable curiosity. That, combined with a canny instinct for a story and (really important) the sheer infectiousness of this passion for news, which draws others into the project, is why City Room works so well.”

Wow. There you have it. And there’s what Dean Baquet is getting.

So, I’ll just close by saying this: Sewell is a rare journalist, a deeply fine man, a Metro legend, and, most importantly to me, a true and loyal friend.

But I am, if sad, very, very lucky, too. And happy to turn this over to Wendell:

“In pursuit of stories, Andy Newman has traveled every inch of the Staten Island shore, visited the last stop of every subway line, explored the many interlocking worlds of Coney Island Avenue and walked around his block 77 times. He even skinny dipped in the Kill Van Kull. He has covered courts, transit and night rewrite. For the last year, he helped to conceive, launch and then steer The Local, our curb-level web experiment in Brooklyn, creating a remarkable virtual neighborhood, part “Sesame Street,” part “Do The Right Thing,” that pulses with the rhythms of the streets, the voices of its residents, the shouts of its children. There was even a video of a guy playing piano on the sidewalk.

No matter the assignment, no matter the medium, Andy captures the true characters of the city with a sympathetic, even loving eye. It’s no surprise: after all, he is one of them.

Today we are proud to announce that Andy is the new bureau chief for City Room. We look forward to watching him combine Sewell’s manic and muscular breaking-news machine with his own unique voice, and then adding in a few tricks he picked up on The Local. He will be stalking the hallways and the cubicles, looking for posts. He’ll be overseeing some new features — more on this soon — that will delve deeply into the institutions that make New York City work (or not). And he’ll be getting out on the street, too. It is going to be an exciting ride.

Andy starts mid-January. Join us in welcoming him. And what better way than with a smart item or two to start the New Year?”

Joe and Wendell