Save the Daily News

FOR those of us in the trade, newspapers are more than just a product. A paper is a voice and often the conscience of a community: a bulletin board, bazaar, classroom, and town meeting all combined, alchemized from a little pulp and ink. In today's electronic world, newspapers share with TV and radio their job to disseminate information; but in a way still uniquely their own, newspapers - spread on a lunch counter, scanned in a bus or subway, or just tucked under an arm - tangibly symbolize their readers' civic connectedness. So it's always with misgiving that we watch a newspaper struggle - and sometimes die. The New York Daily News is in the throes of a battle from which it could emerge fatally weakened.

Last week the unions representing 2,400 Daily News editors, writers, pressmen, advertising and delivery workers went on strike. The walkout comes after months of inconclusive contract negotiations in which management has asked for sizable concessions on work rules and benefits.

Nonunion editors have continued to put out the paper, and management has been hiring permanent replacements for some of the strikers. The unions have fought back by trying to mount a boycott by advertisers. Unfortunately, some union workers or sympathizers have also resorted to inexcusable goon tactics. They have damaged delivery trucks and have used violence and threats to intimidate vendors from selling the Daily News.

Victory, for whichever side, may be Pyrrhic. Once the highest-circulation daily in America, the News has suffered a long decline. The strike and advertisers' doubts could cripple it irrevocably.

The Daily News isn't a ``great'' paper in the sense of usefulness to movers and shakers. It's a blue-collar tabloid, brassier, more irreverent, more sensational than suits some palates. Yet with its sensibilities so closely attuned to the man and woman on the street, its rock-'em, sock-'em sports pages, its cartoons, its mid-market ads, the News is one of those city dailies that are useful in threading a town together.

It's to be hoped that a combination of overreaching, miscalculation, anger, and shortsightedness doesn't bring on the end of the Daily News.

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