With one of the year's biggest stories about to break a few blocks away, today should have been one of eager anticipation in the offices of this city's two major newspapers, The Inquirer and the Daily News.
Instead, an atmosphere of quiet gloom pervaded their all-but-deserted offices. For the 30th consecutive day, the newspapers' presses stood silent. No direct talks were under way between management and nine striking unions.
So neither Philadelphia newspaper can report what happens Tuesday, when a special mayoral commission begins hearings into one of the city's worst disasters: a fiery police confrontation May 13 with the radical group MOVE that resulted in 11 deaths and destruction of 61 houses.
The televised hearings by the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission are expected to last four weeks and pose a political challenge to Mayor W. Wilson Goode, whose handling of the incident has raised questions about his leadership.
A poll of 300 Philadelphia area residents for WCAU-TV last weekend found that83 percent of those polled gave Goode a favorable job rating and 62 percent said they thought he did a good or excellent job on May 13.
Each newspaper has spent thousands of hours investigating the incident, which put Philadelphia on front pages around the world. Reporters and editors said that they anticipated the hearings as a time when the two papers could show off the kind of journalism that won them Pulitzer Prizes last spring.
Today, reporters manned picket lines outside newspaper offices.
"This is our city. This was our story," the Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters and editors, said tonight in a newsletter. "It is painful to think people in Washington, New York and Los Angeles will read about the investigation, while people in Philadelphia will not."
James Naughton, associate managing editor of The Inquirer, said: "It's really terrible. We have people who have invested a lot of time and energy in this. We're not able to do what we're trained to do best. We're all suffering."
William K. Marimow, a Pulitizer Prize-winning investigative reporter who has followed the MOVE story for The Inquirer, said: "I'm one frustrated hombre. This is a complex, sophisticated story where you really need the printed word, so you can sit back, sift through and analyze."
Meanwhile, Sam S. McKeel, president of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., sent a letter today to 4,700 striking full- and part-time employes outlining what had been secret negotiating positions. He said the company has proposed a $133-a-week salary increase over four years, while the unions sought a $145 increase over three years.
"Please look at the facts as they stand today, and ask yourself: Is one more day of this strike necessary? I don't believe it is, and I know many of you agree," McKeel wrote.
PNI, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Miami-based Knight-Ridder chain, runs both the Inquirer and Daily News.
The strike began Sept. 7 as a rather low-key, unemotional affair. But tension escalated Sept. 28 after negotiators had resolved most non-economic issues with the nine unions, who bargain as one, and an end to the strike seemed in sight.
At that point, company negotiator Ted Riley denounced union wage demands as "not serious" and walked out of a bargaining session. The unions then were asking an additional $170 a week over three years; the company proposed $90.
Riley's walkout angered many employes.
"The mood changed radically. The anger that had been focused on both sides turned on the company," said Rick Tulsky, an Inquirer city hall reporter and president of the Guild local. "We the unions were no longer the bad guys."
Almost 2,000 members of the unions, often divided in the past, attended a joint rally Wednesday.
No face-to-face talks have been held since Sept. 28, although a mediator has met separately with both sides.
William Gullifer, lead bargainer for the nine unions, said today that "very, very little progress" has been made toward a settlement.
The company "is trying to starve us out," Gullifer said. "It's confusing to us what their real issues and aims are."
The unions are asking an end to the company's anti-nepotism policy, enacted five years ago. McKeel, who has characterized union wage demands as "totally unrealistic," said that the nepotism issue "has no place" at the bargaining table.