NEW YORK, NOV. 12 -- The Daily News strike, skirting surrealism as homeless men hawk the paper on crowded subways, entered its third full week today with both sides clearly wounded.
"Somebody has to sell it," said a man wearing a ripped flannel shirt but no overcoat on this frigid morning while he worked a southbound B train in Manhattan with a bag of papers slung over his shoulder. "Why not me?"
Management hired the homeless workers because it is almost impossible to find the newspaper on any city newsstand. Not a single copy of the paper could be found in a check of 55 vendors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx over the last five days. The only places where the supply of papers seems to be plentiful are Grand Central Terminal and the Daily News building.
Officials of the paper say vendors have been intimidated and threatened with violence. Union members have been assigned to hand out leaflets at dozens of stands, and several newsstand operators said it was not worth the potential trouble to sell the paper.
Many observers were stunned that, when the strike began, the News could continue publishing its normal daily run of more than 1 million papers. The unions were hobbled, and many members still feel that this crisis will kill the paper.
"It's a dance of death with no possible winners," said Marcia Kramer, the News's highly respected City Hall bureau chief, who is on strike. "There is no way to know what will happen, but I am afraid that victory for the unions will mean death for the News."
Until recently, few here foresaw the possibility of victory for unions with whom the Chicago-based Tribune Co. has resolutely refused to negotiate. But over the last two weeks, it has been clear that the paper, published by "replacement workers" and editors, has not been getting to its readers.
The paper also has suffered from resignations by two of its most popular columnists -- Jack Newfield, who left for the New York Observer, and Mike McAlary, who began a column today in the New York Post.
"I never wanted to be Mickey Mantle," McAlary wrote today in The Real News, an eight-page typographical twin of the News that strikers were distributing. "I never wanted to play centerfield for the Yankees. I dreamed instead of writing a column for the most popular newspaper of my generation, the New York Daily News."
The News has become almost completely devoid of advertising. Today's 64 page Veteran's Day issue has only four full-page ads: one for a new brand of cigarettes, one for an airline, one from the city advertising its foster-parent program and one from the News itself, seeking newspaper vendors interested in obtaining "Unlimited Income."
When asked about the defections of longtime advertisers and reports that those who continue to place ads in the newspaper are receiving rebates of more than 80 percent, a News spokeswoman declined to respond to specific questions.
"I am in the position of looking into that," Lisa G. Robinson said. "But I don't have a full complement of information on that right now."
The New York Post, on the other hand, which had virtually no ads for a long period before it almost folded two months ago, has been getting fatter every day. Major stores such as Alexander's and Hillside Bedding, which almost never advertised in the Post, fill many full pages inside.
And last Thursday, New York Newsday, the city's third tabloid, published a 176-page edition, a near-record for a weekday, filled with ads from many companies that traditionally advertise in the News.
Most of the News's major advertisers declined to comment on their plans to publish in the paper. But a representative of one advertising agency that works for one of the paper's three biggest clients said it was not surprising that companies are pulling their ads.
"This is business," said the representative, who asked not to be named. "It's not an ideological thing about supporting the paper or not. It's a tough time for many stores, and we all have to decide where to spend precious money."