Times Metro Section’s Big Flatbush Wake

On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 4, several dozen of the past and present staff of The New York Times’

On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 4, several dozen of the past and present staff of The New York Times’ Metro desk made their way out to the increasingly trendy Victorian part of Flatbush, with its leafy streets of big, big houses, in one of which lives their leader, Metro editor Joe Sexton.

Big as the house is, it was packed. Veterans like legendary rewrite man Bob McFadden, former Metro editor and current deputy managing editor Jon Landman, current staples like City Room wunderkind Sewell Chan and newcomers like court reporter John Eligon crossed the pretty porch and the threshold to receive their commemorative buttons. “B1!” the text on the black-on-white buttons read: the old page number of the dress page of the Times Metro Section.

This was like the house party after a wake. On Monday morning there would be no “B1” Metro Section; in fact, no Metro Section at all, by that name at least. The reporting marshaled by Mr. Sexton was to move to the back of the A-section, after foreign and national news and under the heading “New York.”

Past the door, guests got a look at the bit of occasional interior décor Mr. Sexton had arranged: He’d covered the hallways with Metro front pages from throughout the years.

At a certain point in the living room, Mr. Sexton presided over a dance party—mostly hip-hop.

“He spent a good amount of time dancing,” said a staffer present. “He’s able to lose himself—for a guy who’s under so much pressure, he can lose himself admirably.”

Mr. Sexton is known for this: He was a big one for the dance floor the last night at The Times’ old headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street.

But that was a happy night: The Times was moving onward and upward, into its brand new building on Eighth Avenue!

This time?

“Like a child tending to a parent in late-life decline,” he wrote in an e-mail inviting staffers to his house, “i thought i’d do my best not to leave anything unsaid that needs to be said before oct. 6.”

It all turned around so fast this year for Mr. Sexton’s department.

In March, the Metro department scored a once-in-a-lifetime scoop: They took down Eliot Spitzer in two days, after they broke the story that he was involved in a sex ring.

But since, Metro has lost more than any other department in the building; they took a hit in the 100 job cuts the paper exacted earlier this year; they’ve been forced to virtually close their bureaus in Jersey, Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut. And then late this summer, the Metro team learned they would lose their stand-alone section for six days a week (sports will merge with the business section four days a week).

If that weren’t enough, the paper is about to begin revamping copy flow—the process of when and how stories get from reporter to editor to copy editor to design editors to your hands—and new and earlier deadlines are being put in place as a result.

It’s a large undertaking, and, not surprisingly, Metro is the first department that has been assigned to implement the new rules.

On the same day, Oct. 6, that Metro lost its display front, Mr. Sexton (who one staffer described as the “Jim Cramer of our department,” a guy getting used to delivering bad news) wrote a memo to staffers informing them that new deadlines were being put into place.

“it’s with some embarrassment that i concede this has been done before,” he wrote. “implemented by metro editors as serious about the issue as me. and then again by me. it never much stuck.

“the simple truth is,” he continued, “we don’t have any more time or excuses. it’s no b.s. overstatement to say our collective future depends on meeting such an elementary, if demanding requirement.”

jkoblin@observer.com Times Metro Section’s Big Flatbush Wake