The Touchable

Even on the Metro desk, many reporters arrived Monday morning with no idea that the story of the year was breaking in cubicles all around them.

“Everything seemed normal,” said one staffer who would, hours later, be assigned to the story.

By 11 a.m. Mr. Sexton knew for sure that he was sitting on top of the biggest break in his tenure as editor of the section, but he’d left the third-floor newsroom to conduct a previously scheduled annual State of Metro meeting up in the executive offices, in a 15th-floor room with views across the Hudson, with his team, acting for all as if nothing were happening.

Two sources who were present said Mr. Sexton seemed a little nervous and distracted. But he was on point.

“Someone asked, if you break everything from the Web, don’t you take away something from the newspaper?” one staffer in attendance said. “Joe defended breaking news on the Web—he argued for its importance. In some ways, [the Spitzer article] was a perfect illustration of that point.”

The meeting lasted more than an hour, and it was shortly before 12:30 that Metro reporters who weren’t in the loop took note that something was happening. Mr. Sexton, Ms. Ryan, Mr. Flynn and Metro editor Jim Dao group were making up for lost nail-chewing, pacing gravely in a third-floor hallway and “huddling up.”

“People were like, ‘What’s going on here?’” said one Metro reporter.

“The secrecy was pretty intense—I don’t even think they were telling their reporters the exact depths of it,” the source continued. “We had the scoop and a lot of secrecy within the newsroom up until soon before the press conference was announced.”

Meanwhile, assigning editors were already dispatching reporters and stringers to stake out Mr. Spitzer’s apartment, where the paper had sent a stringer, a photographer and a video unit—all before the story ran on the Web, and without any of them being told why they were there, according to a person who was present.

At a little before 2 p.m. Ms. Ryan, an immigrant from The Times’ sister paper The Boston Globe who took over the Metro section’s political coverage last April, was looking at a final draft of a piece filed by Danny Hakim. The story—headlined “Spitzer Linked to Prostitution Ring”—was sourced to an administration official—pay dirt!

Ms. Ryan, satisfied with the story, shouted over a row of desks in the third-floor newsroom to Ms. Abramson, “Can we go with it?”

Ms. Abramson, standing about 20 feet away, took a breath, nodded and shouted back, “O.K., hit it.”

The story was on the Web right around 2 p.m., about 15 minutes before Eliot Spitzer was scheduled to speak. Over the course of the next 45 minutes—roughly the time that Mr. Spitzer was late for his meeting—the Metro section’s encampment on the third floor became the rendezvous-point of the entire newsroom.