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Newspapers, Strikers in S.F. Try to Make Do : Labor: Scaled-down Chronicle and Examiner are published. Some reporters appear on radio or file stories on the Internet; others patch together a makeshift Free Press. City's mayor helps restart negotiations.

November 04, 1994|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — As the San Francisco newspaper strike plowed through its second full day Thursday, reporters thwarted by the lack of their traditional news outlets turned to other methods to disseminate scoops.

On a local public radio station, a San Francisco Chronicle political reporter now working for a makeshift strike paper, the Free Press, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein had hired an undocumented immigrant as her housekeeper in the early 1980s. The INS later said the story was based on incomplete information. Nonetheless, earlier in the day the report had found its way onto the Internet, the increasingly popular on-line web of computer networks.

Meanwhile, unions and management were buoyed by the intervention of Mayor Frank Jordan, who arranged through meetings and phone calls for the two sides to resume negotiations with a federal mediator at 7 a.m. today. Jordan offered his City Hall office as a meeting site in the hopes that bargainers could reach "a resolution as quickly as possible so that we can get everyone back to work."

Picketers continued their round-the-clock vigil at printing plants, distribution centers and the main offices of the Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. On Tuesday night, 2,600 workers--from truck drivers to sportswriters--walked off the job after negotiators became deadlocked on salary and job security issues.

The San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which runs the business operations of both papers under a 1965 joint operating agreement, reported sporadic attacks against guards and replacement drivers. One striking worker was arrested in the East Bay on charges that he hit a security guard and used his car to force a vehicle full of other guards off the road and then struck one of them with a can of chrome polish.

The newspapers' management sent registered letters to striking employees warning that they will be permanently replaced if they do not return to work by Wednesday.

Jim Hale, the newspaper agency's chief executive, said more than 230,000 copies of Thursday's Chronicle and 90,000 copies of the afternoon Examiner were distributed. Both editions were anemic versions of the usual papers.

"Each day, we gain more experience in producing and distributing papers," he said.

The strike also impelled the early debut of the Gate, a joint electronic service of the Examiner and Chronicle, which was not scheduled to appear on the Internet until later this month. The strike moved its debut up to Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, dozens of striking editors and reporters, operating in a chaotic office in an alley near their newspapers' offices, joined forces to publish the first post-strike issue of the Free Press. Aiming for a 6 p.m. deadline, workers tapped away on a few borrowed Macintosh and laptop computers, coping with incompatible equipment, balky photocopying machines and a dearth of telephones.

"This is a grand experiment," said Dick Rogers, an Examiner assignment editor doubling as one of the Free Press' metro editors. "There are dozens of talented and creative people all smashing themselves into one room and trying to put out a paper. It's the spontaneous production of a newspaper."

If all goes smoothly, about 100,000 copies of the eight-page tabloid will be distributed this afternoon. A special pre-election issue is planned for Monday, the day before voters go to the polls.

Much has changed since the city's last newspaper strike--a doozy in 1968 during which Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and others marched off the job for 52 days. For starters, news hounds have more options, including computerized on-line services, for seeking up-to-the-minute reports.

Knowing that, the Free Press quickly established a presence on the Internet. Carla Marinucci, an Examiner reporter, said on-line users from as far as England and Scandinavia had phoned to offer their support after reading stories about the paper.

The strike paper's first major story--put out over the Internet and local public radio station KQED--was a report by Chronicle staffers Susan Yoachum and Pamela Burdman about Feinstein's hiring of a Guatemalan woman as a housekeeper. Throughout the day there was continuing uncertainty about the housekeeper's legal status. By the end of the day, Burdman said the paper was revising the story for today's edition "based on the fact that we now know the information from the INS is incomplete."

In the issue due on the streets today, Examiner columnist Stephanie Salter bares her soul and her finances to readers and Internet surfers to give an idea of the toll on striking workers. "Unlike management," she said, "I will gladly share my 'books.' Otherwise, I can't expect people to believe me."

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