There they are, grown men released from the prison of respectability reliving the newspaper days of yesteryear when gin bottles rattled in bottom drawers and fast-talking reporters demanded, "Hello, sweetheart, give me rewrite."
At the City News, the first of the interim dailies to hit the streets after New York's newspaper strike. Bill Federici and Maurice (Mickey) Carroll - two men who in real life are respected New York Times and Daily News pros - run the show.
Federici - dark handsome, glib and possessed of a rat-a-tat delivery - yanks, open his bottom drawer to expose the requisite White Label Scotch bottle.
He and Carroll shout into phones, crack jokes irreverently twit their short, bow-tied 33-year-old publisher Chris Hagedorn. We call him the L.P. - little publisher - doesn't he look like a fat Woody Allen?" (The answer is yes.) "The other day" says Federici "I said 'Hey L.P. write out a check for 56 bucks' and he says 'What for?" I said "For the four cases of Heineken for Christsake.' He wrote out the check."
When told that a competitor on another interim paper, the Daily Metro, calls The City News "absolute schlock," Federici says. "Nahh, what the hell do they know? They're getting the crumbs from our advertising.
"And everyone wants to come play with us. Theo Wilson called from the coast begging to come back," says Federici. "We do everything - lay out pages, write captions. The other day I swept the floor. I told Hagedorn 'I don't do windows.' Don't step in the trash honey. . ."
City News sign is Scotch taped to the door of their impermanent home in the Gramercy Park area near the garment center. No one knows, or cares, what was there before. Even as reporters grab phones ringing off the wall, a sign painter, oblivious to the din, is etching "This Space for Rent" on the windows.
"Every time the landlord comes in with someone, we get nervous." says Federici. (The City News has a already moved twice.) "We have a day to day lease."
And a day-to-day lease on fun. One Friday night, as they made up their very fat (over 270 pages) Sunday paper, a gorilla and an alligator strolled in and started chasing each other around. It was only the two top adsalesmen, in rented costumes, on leave from the staid, gray New York Times.
"Can you beat that? Guys like that at The New York Times ," says one of the Daily News, almost in awe.
In one corner, the discussion is not whether Hagedorn is making money on the ad-choked City News, but just how rich he's getting Hagedorn doesn't tell. Asked if they would request raises (from their $400 a week, plus $100 expenses) as Hagedorn's wealth grows, one reporter cracked, "Hell no . . . we'll just strike."
Now that New York Post publisher Rupert Murdoch has negotiated a separate settlement and the Post hit the streets yesterday for the first time in 57 days, the feeling in Manhattan is that the interim days of "Front Page" journalism will soon come to an end.
But not this second.A front-page box in yesterday's City News notified its readers that it would retain "the dominant role in the morning field" until the Times and News returned. With esprit de chutzpuh, the City News welcomed the New York Post to the "interim newspaper field" and wished the "newcomer" success.
For nearly nine weeks during the Big Strike of 1978, there were all those little personal incidents to add to newspaper strike folklore: Chutzpah and Folklore
One reporter's psychiatrist is giving two seasons for the price of one during the strike . . . Ike Calfus, chief clerk in the New York Times' Washington bureau, has mored his moon-lighting as a cashier at area race tracks into full-time work. Editors expect he'll come back unless he's made a lot of money on the ponies . . . Dave Anderson. New York Times sports writer, was one of the New York Sports heavies who had enough of a job to get to the Ali-Spinks fight, writing a freelance piece for one of the interim papers. As the Friday night fight progressed, he sat at ring-side opened his list of instructions on how and where to file-and found out the paper didn't come out on Saturday...
New York Times fashion writer Bernadine Morris, sandwiching in time to flak a book, pulled up at the grubby City News to hand in some copy-in a publisher-provided limousine...
Fred Ferretti of The New York Times translates his deft touch to New York's radio. What he misses in the strike tabloids are the Times obits. The trouble with People magazine, he says, is that all the people in People are alive...One day, on deadline, City News reporters were greeted with a singing telegram - from the grateful theatrical would for reviewing some opening shows. Rampant Rumours
For those lucky enough to find jobs, the strike has been a respite from routine, a time for fun, secure in the impermanence of it all. But for many others of the 12,000 striking men and women - from pressmen to star columnists - it is a time for suffering, for worrying about rents and mortgages, college and dental bills. About half the idled people have found work.
"It took me six years to recover financially from the '62-63' strike (which lasted 114 days)," said one reporter, grateful for a desk job at the substitute Daily Metro. In an unwitting parody of George Allen, he says, "To not work is like dying."
As the world's most news-hungry audience is left without The New York Times and Daily News and, until yesterday, the New York Post, people are reading anything to fill a void. The four interim dailies have a circulation totaling about half the average 3.3 million daily circulation of the struck papers.
The strike has taken some toll on many businesses. "Macy's and Gimbels are up to their (necks) in merchandise," said one editor at one of the interim papers already so loaded with ads that it had to limit Macy's space. And as books debut practically in silence, the book publishers association has been forced to spawn a book review magazine.
It is one of those ironies of life that, in a profession of fact-gathers, nothing seems quite real or the true during a strike. Trying to find out exactly what went on is like watching Roshomon. Rumors are rampant, circulation figures of strike papers swirl outrageously, bitter and acrimonious accusations are hurled by striking reporters at publishers, publishers sneer at strikers.
"It's a real class struggled. I could feel the arrogance of the publishers across the bargaining table," said a well-respected New York journalist. They are out to break us. The nastiness will last a long time on both sides."
One major editor is dismissed consistenly as "bonkers" and a "madman". And every negative adjective imaginable is thrown at Rupert Murdoch, the international press tycoon and gadfly of Gotham journalism.
People say, "What are you doing supporting the pressmen" , said one Time guildsman, "but what is a guy like Punch Sulzberger doing running with Murdoch? Now Murdoch's double-crossed everyone and it serves them right."
Murdoch is definitely not hurting. The Australian's fat Village Voice and New York magazine combined gross income is reported to be about $100,000 more a week during the strike. And now he will make hay while the Times and News remain idle. It was no accident that the Post returned in time to cash in on this huge Columbus Day advertising money-making weekend. A Gray Catacomb
Meanwhile, at the paper of record, Times Executive Editor A.M. (Abe) Rosenthal sits in a silent catacomb. Desks are vacant.Phones do not ring. Typewriters are stilled. Five top-level editors sort mail.
The gloom is palpable. "There is no fun being on the inside," said one editor. Rosenthal, hobbling with a cane (teen-age osteomyelitis, improperly, treated in a squalid New York hospital, still causes pain at times) is tormented by many things these days.
"It is a period of high tensions. The fact we are not all divorced is a to the strength and tolerance of our wives. We're all become very nervous, unpleasant, tense," said Rosenthal, sinking into a couch in a small room behind his conference room.
A man described as brilliant and sensitive, driven and vindictive, insecure and complex, Rosenthal is often frustrated in normal circumstances. But now he has the torment of the Myron Farber case and the strike. Each day he sees global stories forever lost to the New York Times - the installation and then death of a pope, the Camp David accords and subsequent stories, the GSA scandals, political campaigns, Ali's regaining the championship.
The stories about Rosenthal abound - how he screamed at dinner at Washington Bureau chief Rick Smith (he did, but it was not strike-related): how he threw reporter Marty Tolchin out when he walked into the bureau. (He verbally - not physically - threw me out," says Tolchin.) "I yell a lot, but I have very little animus, says Rosenthal. "I said, "What the hell are you doing here? and threw him out."
"Actually I didn't throw him out - I just said I thought he should leave.
"I think it is entirely improper for people on strike to come in and use the facilities as if there is no strike," says Rosenthal. Tolchin says he was picking up mail and returning phone messages.
There is also much talk in newspaper circles, sometimes in an amused manner, of Rosenthal's daily news conferences - where editors sit around the long sleek table and discuss the stories they cannot print.
It's a "cheap shot," Rosenthal says, to make fun of this. "We do the daily conferences because we plan for WOXR (The Times radio station) and our news service is continuing. But let ask you something. Suppose we had nothing? And we were editors and wanted to get together and discuss the news? Would that be funny? No."
Rosenthal pauses. "It's not fun here, it's not fun anywhere. You know, I used to have a nightmare . . .I used to dream . . . Another pause . . . "It was an anxiety dream and I dreamt it was always a Wednesday morning for whatever reason and that I would woke up and there was no New York Times. The feeling of utter desolation. I felt overwhelmed by desolation. And now the dream has come true. And it takes place every day." 'If It Rains, Forget It'
On crisp fall mornings, commuters huddle at a Third and Lexington newsstand, buying magazines, the interim tabloids, some suburban papers.
"You're telling me its terrible," says the woman behind the counter, in a plaid coat and graywig. "We are here, at this stand, 15 years, but I been at newsstand for years. I'm past 70. So what can I tell you, the papers from the strike I used to get 5,600 New York Times and 5,600 Posts, I get 200 or 300 of the other papers now. If it rains, forget it. Sometimes they send us nothing. Or don't come until 9:30 a.m. People are reading any kind of junk they can get." She said she has lost at least a coulle of thousand dollars since the strike began.
The range in New York readership is enormous - from those who hyperventilate when they can't get their morning Times to a cab driver who said, "I don't miss em. You read one paper a week' that's enough. They're all alike." One man said, "It's bettah. The streets are cleaner without all the papers blown' around." Money and Murdoch
The strike bred at least one curious liaison. It has also lifted Frederick Iseman, 26, from obscurity as a former summer temporary assistant on the Times op-ed page to Manhattan's brashest young publisher.
His press notices have been many, if unfavorable, since it was revealed that Iseman, publisher of the Daily Metro, had neglected to tell his staff he borrowed "several thousand dollars" from Murdoch. (It has been estimated at around $500,000 but Iseman refused to say.) He also gave the Australian press tycoon an option to buy the strike papers. The word was that anti-union Murdoch would try to then put out a permanent non-union paper. (Murdoch had initially bought 150,000 copies for his Post subscribers to keep the home delivery system afloat and gave Iseman start-up money.)
Many of Iseman's guild staffers took a walk, with about half-returning only after Iseman raced out after them and on the sidewalks of New York hastily agreed to close the Metro when the strike ends and saw to it that Murdoch surrendered his option to buy.
One who walked, but later returned is Metro managing editor Richard Roberts an assistant night editor at the New York Times. "Iseman lied and dissembled and was evasive but I believe he should have a second chance" said Roberts.
"I'm perfectly willing to concede I made a mistake in judging their sensity to the Murdoch involvement but never lied" said Iseman. He admits, "I did not go out and tell the staff "Hey I'm going to borrow more money, and from the Posts." (He refrains from using Murdoch's name when referring to the transaction.)
One philosophy attributed to Iseman while he was a Yalie is: "You have to understand that half the world is asleep, and you won't disturb them if you step over the bodies," Iseman says, "That's pure garbage" and could only come from "my enemies."
One recent afternoon, Iseman, padding around the office in black stocking feet, argued with Roberts about publishing on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when m tsoof New York shuts down.
One third of the newsstands would close, Iseman said, and they couldn't afford to publish.Roberts argued that the playoffs were coming and the day's Red Sox-Yankees game would be a big reader.
Iseman, who intends to publish a magazine called "Moving UP" for striving young executives, was not interested in the big readers.
"All I want is to pay the bills-and newspapers are supposed to make money."
The eredo determined yesterday: death of the Metro - to be remembered generally by New York journalists as Murdoch's paper." Wednesday afternoon, Iseman was insisting it would still publish. By 6 p.m. he "decided to bag it," when Metro "lost a ton of ads," dropping from 94 to 64 pages in one afternoon.
Iseman brought out the champagne and toasted his staff and yesterday's last edition. The man who looks on newspapering as strictly a business, seemed not to comprehend why his staff-who had toiled for two months on a paper so fragile that the months on a paper so fragile that the mail boxes were merely old shoe boxes-was so "remarkably sentimental." Catch - 22' Problems
The four initial New York interim papers had absorbed about 25 percent of the reporters. Others are on local TV news programs, work for public relations firms or foundations, are writing books for freelance magazine articles. Guild benefits were a scant $45 a week for those with no dependents, $65 with, and unemployment benefits only came into effect last week."
In the Washington's New York Times Bureau 18 are at work and 39 are out. The striking staff has been hired by other newspapers, including the Washington Star or radio and TV. Others are lecturing and some are working for the government.
The working for the government say they saw this as a "potentially touch conflict-of-interest situation" and took jobs in areas they do not cover.
Bob Rheinhold is working in a "limited area," on a project for Rep, Les Aspin (D-Wis.). He usually covers urban affairs. Warren Weaver, who has covered the Justice Department and politics, is now working on speeches for Brock Adams at the Department of Transportation, an agency he has not covered.
"Unfortunately most of the contacts are beats you cover, which presents a Catch-22 problem. I could have worked for the DNC (Democratic National Committee), and there was an opening to write speeches for Republican congressional candidates but i could never do that." Not only is Weaver finding out that "there are a whole lot of people out at 8 a.m., going places and doing things. I'm learning something about transportation."
Adam Clymer, who has "written a press release or two" and has an office in the public affairs department of the Environmental Protection Agency, says that agency is a new world for him as well.
We've taken some care to end up in places we never write about, but I wouldn't fault someone of he couldn't find any other way to feed his family and pay the mortage. There's no way I'm compromising myself."
One of the few to work for an agency he has covered is Ben Franklin, who is writing "very limited" reports for the Appalachian Council. "I've written critical things about them in the past and expect I will do so in the future," he said. 'We-They'
The hard feelings in this strike will not go away immediately.
For many in newspaper management, the strike has been a time of conflict. Many editors were guild members until their jobs took them into management. They try to find jobs for their friends. Some on the outside are bitterly taking notes on the few colleagues who cross the picket lines.
One member of the New York Times management says, "Unfortunately, unlike most of us, Rosenthal sees this as a we'-they' situation and doesn't understand why nearly everyone, including the stars, stayed out."
"My father, a housepainter, died as a union man, died as a result of a fall off a scaffold," says Rosenthal. "I remember as a boy, my father was not gentle about scabs. A scab was about the dirtiest work you can think of. I don't feel that way anymore."
He begins to talk quickly and abruptly. "There still are strikes that might be justified - but a strike for a featherbedding issue is to me and immoral strike."
Outside the Times, a blond and blue-eyed young man on the picket line said, "We feel we need the manpower. The press run increases everyday. You can go deaf from the noise in the place. It's very real bad conditions. There's no way you can take it without breaks. If you had a straight eight-hour shift you'd go nuts. We're human beings too."
The issue of cutting down the number of pressman is almost incidental as to why the journalist are so solidly behind the strike.
"The main thing is they tried to pull the same thing on the guild earlier that they did on the pressmen," said one Times management member. They posted work rules against the guild first." (In July, when the guild struck the Daily News for four days. The work rules were later rescinded.)
Rosenthal says, "The Times is not a union-busting paper. That's silly. They had 24 hours to make up their minds and resign from the guild.Very few had the combination of speed and guts to do it in 24 hours."
But another management member says the guild was discouraged from returning. "To all effects and purposes, it was a lockout. If ever there was a case of publishers looking for a strike, this was it. They tried to emulate The Washington Post, which broke the guild and the unions, and they blew it." Celebrating Work
Returning New York Post Staffers were jubilant. "There's a lot of joking, hugging, kissing, my lips are all worn out," said assistant city editor Pat Smith. "After 56 days, it's just so nice to be at work." The Post put out a 128-page paper today and will have one of those hernia-making blockbusters on Sunday.
And over at the City News, things are as manic as ever. "We're going pell mell, now that we have real competition," says Federici.He says the Sunday edition will be nearly 300 pages.
"The Post guys didn't want to leave." Basking in the ultimate satisfaction of his "Front Page" days, Federici, said with a wide grin. "Hell, they even asked if they could still write for us - under assumed names." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Drawing by Chas. Addams Copyright (c) 1978 The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.; Picture 1, Frederick Iseman.; Picture 2, Abe Rosenthal.; Picture 3, Maurice Carroll; Picture 4, Bill Federici:, photos by Karis Epstein for The Washington Post