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Papers may soon hit Philly streets again. Life is hard without ads, movie lists, in-depth news

The prospect of an end to the 40-day-old newspaper strike in Philadelphia is happy news to area residents, businesses, and employees of the city's two major newspapers. ``Isn't there anything that lists movies?'' a woman asked at a newsstand in Philadelphia Tuesday. Sales of USA Today were brisk, as were the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and local and suburban newspapers. But the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News have been off the stands since the strike began Sept. 7.

``I am not getting the sports coverage I want,'' said a cab driver at the 30th Street train station.

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``It's terrible,'' an Inquirer reporter said last week. The reporter, who usually covers City Hall and the courts, was doing free-lance articles for a San Francisco newspaper during the public hearings into last May's confrontation between Philadelphia law enforcement officials and MOVE, a radical back-to-nature group. The confrontation ended in fiery disaster, the death of 11, and the destruction of 61 homes, and had been closely covered by the two dailies, both of which have won Pulitzer prizes.

Reporters from both the Daily News and the Inquirer have felt particularly saddened by the strike as the MOVE hearings began.

``This is our city. This was our story,'' an open letter from the Newspaper Guild to out-of-town reporters said as the hearings began. ``We were proud of the job we did bringing the story to the public. We bitterly regret that we have been denied the chance to follow through during these all-important hearings.''

At midday Wednesday, both sides reported that they were ``very close'' to an agreement. William Broom, a spokesman for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. (PNI), which publishes the two papers, said that though there were a lot of work-rule provisions to figure out, the nonwage issues had ``pretty well been thrashed out,'' and now negotiators were winding up the economic issues.

At the Newspaper Guild Office, phone committee member Ruth Magee, a circulation worker, said, ``We kind of feel like this is it.'' But she doubted that there would be a newspaper out on Sunday. ``There is still a lot of work to do.''

At issue in the strike have been technology, particularly the introduction of automated equipment for putting the papers together, and wages and benefits. The technological issues were considered the most difficult to settle, since they are considered essential by management for economic survival but are seen by unions as a threat to jobs. The technology questions were more or less settled at the end of September, leaving the economic issues on the table.

Nine unions have been involved in the strike, including reporters, truck drivers, and other employees. The two papers have a combined circulation of around 900,000 daily. The strike has meant hardship both for employees and for PNI, which is losing $1 million a day in revenues, according to Mr. Broom.

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The local economy has also felt the impact of lost advertising, but it is hard to gauge just what the effect has been, says Don Fair of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Fair guesses the large retail firms have been able to adjust by increasing television and radio advertising.

Other areas have been harder hit, particularly arts and culture, Fair says. Two major shows, a play and an ice-skating production, were canceled because of the lack of newspaper advertising.

``Movie theaters have hurt, and restaurant business is down,'' says Fair. Real estate is also off, he says.

``And we are hurt by not having a daily definition of life in the Delaware Valley,'' says Fair, referring to ongoing governmental and political issues.

``Television has done an admirable job, but if you miss a news broadcast, you have missed it,'' he says.

``Unless you are able to leave on your radio or television, I think it is really difficult to follow.''

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