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Big News, Little News, No News in Strike Against Pittsburgh Papers

July 9, 1992

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Big news: Pirates lead pack; man gets baboon liver; economy yo-yos; Ross Perot ponders the presidency.

Little news: Newspaper strike upsets the routines of thousands and chokes search for jobs, apartments and a buyer for Joe Mixter’s 1980 Chevy Impala.

The top stories in sports, health, business and everything else are missing along with Pittsburgh’s two daily newspapers, the Press and Post-Gazette. Delivery drivers walked out May 17 over a new distribution network.

People can get their news elsewhere. But in the dark are the faithful followers of a few lines of type - the buyers of homes, owners of lost puppies, fans of the foreign films and scanners of wedding notices and batting averages.

″What we’re missing is the casual fan who sees the box score in the paper and says, ’Get the kids, we’re going to the ballgame,‴ said Pittsburgh Pirates spokesman Rick Cerrone.

The major-league team may create a telephone information service because attendance is down 15 to 20 percent during the strike.

Mixter, a car buff, is getting fewer calls without a classified ad touting his $1,000 sedan. Christine Weck got her college degree in May, then learned it’s tough to find work with no Help Wanted section. Fred Bruckman, who’s recovering from colon cancer, was frustrated without a detailed newspaper report on a new drug briefly mentioned on a TV newscast.

Paperless mornings and afternoons are unsettling loyal readers, including Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff and four retirees who gather each morning at PPG Place, a downtown shopping center.

″Without that Sunday paper, I have nothing to look forward to,″ said Charles Schultz. ″We fight over the sections at home.″

He and coffee-drinking partner Joe Schrello like to pore over the obituaries to ″see who died, this and that.″

Florist Herman Heyl likes the obituaries, too, but for a different reason. He skipped summer hiring this year because without death notices, people don’t know where or when to send flowers.

Business at six suburban stores is off 10 to 15 percent, even with the help of brief TV obituaries that scroll by with meditative piano music.

″I’m going to have to wait it out,″ Heyl said of the strike.

Consider what else is missing, either on the front pages or buried deep inside the folds:

- Big news in sports: The Pittsburgh Penguins win hockey’s Stanley Cup, prompting the Post-Gazette to publish keepsake posters and books instead of a souvenir edition.

Little news: Roslyn Sachs sinks her second lifetime hole-in-one and can’t read about it in the Press, which once chronicled feats of golf. ″It is my one claim to fame,″ said Ms. Sachs, whose Press clipping of her first ace in 1982 has yellowed on her refrigerator door.

- Medicine headline: Man gets baboon liver at University of Pittsburgh in life-saving operation. The filler: Two-year-old Jared Stahlman inserts finger into pickup truck and is stuck for two hours before doctors free his jammed digit.

- Politics: Perot gains momentum toward three-way presidential race. The kicker: Information about candidate, including the opening of his Pittsburgh headquarters, dries up like a Texas stream bed in summer. ″Who is he?″ some voters ask during a petition drive.

To be sure, alternatives abound. Some suburban newpapers are sold at city newsstands, and USA Today is boosting circulation. The Press mails a thin broadsheet three to four times weekly and the Post-Gazette sends a news summary by fax. Its cartoonist reads ″The Far Side″ and other comics on public TV.

Newspaper unions are using ex-Press youth carriers to deliver their weekly paper. The Post-Gazette has laid off all but 60 of 155 newsroom employees, while 200 Press editorial employees are still working.

Finally, some big news about the media: The Pittsburgh newspaper strike will enter its third month July 18. Talks continued in Pittsburgh Wednesday with no signs of an imminent settlement.

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