Chan, the byline beast of New York

Which American journalist holds the record for the most by-lines in a year?

It's not one of the high-powered members of the White House press corps. Nor is it any of the reporters who cover the Pentagon. Nor any of the newsmen who are based these days in Iraq and make headlines virtually daily.

No, the record belongs to a young 28-year-old reporter who covers New York's City Hall for the New York Times.

Sewell Chan, the son of a Chinese-born New York City taxi driver, and a relative newcomer to journalism, has chalked up no fewer than 422 bylines in the last 12 months.

A graduate of Harvard, where he worked for the college paper the Harvard Crimson, rising to the position of executive editor, Chan also worked as a summer intern at the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Enquirer.

In 1998 he won a scholarship to Oxford. A year later he joined the metro desk at the Washington Post.

His devotion to journalism – he once asked his editor if he could have a cot in the newsroom on which he could sleep if he worked late – won him a three month assignment to Baghdad.

Back in the US he joined the New York Times – landing 23 bylines in his very first month. Of course with a headline-making mayor like Michael Bloomberg it's not too difficult to write a story virtually every day.

Not that he confined himself to City Hall. Chan also wrote stories about Hurricane Katrina, the big New York City transit strike and a boating disaster that took many lives last year on New York's Lake George.

One news room editor, Wendell Jamieson, told the New York Observer: "There are a lot of ambitious smart reporters on The Times, But he's the only reporter I know who actually pitched me a story while I've been standing at the urinal in the men's room."

At one time the news editor told Chan to stop showing up for work on his days off.

Of course Chan's drive has won him admirers – but also critics. Some say his ambitions are somewhat naked. They note he is one of the few reporters who always carries his laptop when he goes on a story or to a Press conference.

Even one of his rivals, David Seifman, who covers the same City Hall beat for the New York Post, conceded "From the moment he gets in to the moment he leaves he doesn't take many breaks" Little wonder The New York Observer has dubbed Chan "The Byline Beast of New York".

To Chan that's a compliment.

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