Empty newspaper racks gape like hungry mouths. Sports fans have been calling television stations to ask about the daily betting lines. Fall sales at the big department stores are "the pits," off by as much as 30 percent, according to city officials. Realtors' open houses are going unattended, TV programming unlisted.
"It's as though we've been aborted from the rest of the world," said an aide to Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
The major daily newspapers in this news-hungry town -- the Inquirer and the smaller Daily News -- have been shut by a strike since midnight last Friday. In a display of unusual solidarity, about 5,000 employes -- from columnists to part-time paper stuffers -- in the papers' nine separate unions all walked out.
Only six union employes -- most of them data processors -- have crossed the picket lines to return to work, after resigning their union membership, according to company spokesman William W. Broom. The papers are owned by Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., part of the Knight-Ridder chain.
Negotiations continued yesterday amid rumors of intense economic pressure on the company, and by late afternoon, the mood on the picket line was increasingly optimistic that a settlement might be reached in time for a return to work by Monday.
But such optimism is "like smoking opium," Broom said. " . . . There are so many big hills to climb" before settlement.
The issues in the dispute are various and not particularly charged. Some strikers expressed bewilderment about why they were there.
"There's not a strike issue in the lot, nothing to get anybody going emotionally," Broom said.
"You got minestrone here," said Stuart Bykofsky, a Daily News features reporter and activist in the Newspaper Guild, the largest of the striking unions. "Some of us are more interested in the legumes and others in the noodles."
Each of the nine unions had an agenda of noneconomic issues it wanted settled before wages were discussed. All but two -- the mailers and the Teamsters, which represents the porters, elevator operators and drivers -- had reached agreement on those issues by Wednesday.
"It is my sincere belief that money will be the easiest thing to discuss," said City Hall reporter Rick Tulsky, president of the Guild local. "Either it's there or it isn't." In recent days, the company has indicated a willingness to move closer to the Guild on wages, he said.
The prickliest point, labor and management officials said, concerns $18.5 million worth of new automated equipment that inserts preprinted sections into the main news sections. The new technology will greatly reduce the need for 1,630 part-time mailroom workers who belong to the Newspaper and Magazine Employes Union.
The jobs of the 194 full-time mailers are secure until they retire. But the part-time mailers have no such protection. Most of them work full time at other jobs -- "cops, firemen, teachers and PhD candidates," according to Broom, and work one or two shifts per week at the paper.
Some in management and labor grumbled about having a strike over an issue affecting "moonlighters."
"We can't stop automation, but we're not backing off our main proposals" for guarantees of a certain number of employes, said mailers union official Mike Bernstein as he walked the picket line this week. He denied reports that other unions are pressuring the mailers to settle.
For the Teamsters, a key issue is a practice called "the break," in which delivery drivers purchase their papers at three different wholesale rates based on bulk and return the unsold copies at the highest rate. Some drivers earn an extra $75 and up per week, Broom said. The company has refused the Teamsters' request to build the practice, which they consider an incentive program, into the contract. Also at issue was a $3.5 million lawsuit filed by the company against the Teamsters for an earlier, allegedly illegal, walkout that aborted publication of a Sunday paper.
After the Philadelphia Bulletin folded in 1982, the Inquirer and the smaller Daily News still faced stiff competition from 13 suburban dailies. "Obviously, they are flooding the area with papers . . . " Inquirer Executive Editor Gene Roberts said. "It's very frustrating."
Local television stations also have expanded their news coverage and have covered the strike extensively.
Management officials blame the strike on an "orchestrated" strategy by the head of the Philadelphia Council of Newspaper Unions, which represents all nine unions on economic issues. William Gullifer, council president and lead bargainer for all the unions, is a Teamsters official.
"Gullifer has negotiated four contracts with us. He's had four strikes," Broom said. "I don't think he feels he's had your final offer until he's shut you down for a day . . . . But this time we aren't reacting as we have in the past. We can't go any further and remain competitive."
Gullifer could not be reached for comment. Union spokesmen, including the Guild's Tulsky, blame the walkout on the company's failure to respond in timely fashion to issues on the table last week. They deny Gullifer is the problem.
The Teamsters and the Guild are tense bedfellows. Guild members say the Teamsters tried to halt distribution of a Guild newsletter summarizing both sides of the strike. But they also acknowledge that the Teamsters provide the muscle they lack in collective bargaining.
The strikers are to receive their last company paychecks today, Guild officials said. Roberts said he warned reporters that they should not assume an early end to the strike and should perhaps seek free-lance work.
Jim Naughton, associate managing editor, sat inside the tomblike Inquirer newsroom Wednesday with a handful of editors who glumly answered telephones.
As a New York Times reporter and Guild official during a 1973 strike, Naughton said, he had stressed the importance of getting back to covering the news -- chiefly Watergate then. He said his sentiments have not changed, and noted that hearings begin here Oct. 8 involving one of the year's most important stories -- the destruction of a Philadelphia neighborhood in May when the city firebombed the headquarters of a radical group called MOVE.
Naughton, echoing sentiments expressed by others inside and outside the building, said he hoped that consideration would "at least cause some people in the union and the company to stop going through the motions that hurt a lot of people."