As reporters and staff members of the New York City Tribune packed their belongings yesterday and began looking for work, several said suspension of the paper founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon came as no surprise.

"I think we were always the stepchild," said city hall reporter Howard Reiser. "They put all their resources in The Washington Times and their Spanish paper," Noticias del Mundo.

Moon is leader of the Unification Church, which controls News World Communications Inc., owner of all three papers.

Reiser and several former staff members said the paper, which had few ads, laid off employes last fall and had an "unofficial" pay freeze for several years.

"The writing has been on the wall for a while," said Chet Marchwinski, a metropolitan reporter for two years. "The first time I really got worried was when they sent out a message about a year ago that we were using too many stamps."

Robert Morton, editor-in-chief of the Tribune, told about 50 staff members Sunday evening that News World Communications Inc. planned to resume publication next year with an expanded version of the paper.

"The action has been taken to facilitate the evaluation of extensive plans for upgrading the paper," Morton said of the paper's suspension. The layoff affects 75 to 100 staff members.

Washington Times Editor-in-Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave said yesterday that he had been told that the Tribune's suspension would not affect his paper "in any way at all."

De Borchgrave, who said he heard about the suspension from an Associated Press reporter, said that after contacting "a representative of the owners" of The Times, he posted a note on the newsroom bulletin board to reassure his staff that "it's full speed ahead" at The Times.

Times and Tribune staff members said they had heard for some time that there would be changes at their papers after Moon's release from prison. Moon was freed Aug. 20 from a halfway house after serving 13 months of an 18-month prison sentence for federal income tax evasion.

"We felt for a long time that our days were numbered but that nothing would happen until Moon got out of jail," said Marchwinski of the Tribune. "Then we heard they would reorganize their whole operation."

The Tribune was started in 1983 as an offshoot of the now-defunct The News World, which Moon launched in 1976.

The paper had a strong conservative bent, but reporters interviewed said that "on most occasions," as one put it, the paper showed little sign that it was affiliated with Moon's church.

Said one media expert in New York: "As a product, they weren't that bad . . . but they suffered from their association [with the church]."