New York Magazine's Parent Paper Picketed Before It Even Exists
May 19, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 31
The Newsmen: Where Do They Go from Here?
By Stan Fischler
M. David Levin, his blue windbreaker stained by a brief drizzle, leaned against the delivery ramp of the Journal-American and refused to curse the paper that three weeks ago had fired him.
"I'm not P.O.'d," said Levin, a short, thin rewrite man who had touched bases at the World-Telegram and Sun and the Post before striking out at the Journal. "All I want to do is stay in the newspaper business."
Levin is 31 years old. He has a wife and a child and it's a wonder his wife hasn't told him to get the hell out of the newspaper business. Newsmen like Levin were out of work for 114 days during the 1962-63 printers' strike. There was another strike last September. And now members of the Newspaper Guild of New York are picketing the World Journal Tribune which still is in its prenatal state. What manner of masochists are these?
Levin and his fellow guildsmen have been striking the Journal-American, the World-Telegram and Sun, and Herald Tribune since April 24, the day Hearst, Scripps-Howard, and Whitney interests finally consummated their menage a trois. Levin receives $61 a week in Guild benefits, providing he walks the picket line. He could make three times that figure if he took a public relations job, but he has turned down several offers.
He began walking slowly in the direction of the Fulton Fish Market a few blocks past the Journal building. "If you're a newspaperman," he continued, "you're not a fishmonger, you're not a newspaperman. I happen to think I'm a good newspaperman. So, what am I going to do, quit the business? I can't...it's in my blood."
Levin adjusted the black-on-white cardboard signs that girdled his chest and back, signs that proclaimed: "Newspaper Guild of New York on Strike." Levin works a 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift on the picket line. Even in spring it's not much fun. A stiff, chill breeze slices in from the East River across South Street where the pickets parade. "It gets you right down to the bone," said Levin.
The wind. The strike. It's getting to everybody. In the beginning pickets made jokes. They would check in at Guild headquarters nestled comfortably in a little store on Catherine Street. Then they would gather their picket signs and walk. When it was over they'd have a beer at the Knickerbocker Tavern down the block from headquarters and indulge in some gallows humor.
At the beginning of the strike a man shouted, "I hear whistles, I hear whistles." Then, a pause. "It's all those gravy trains pulling into the stations...last stop."
"Nobody's laughing anymore," said rewrite man Al Robbins, who has won more prizes than most Journal writers. "We're not mad -- just depressed."
A thick fog of weltschmerz enveloped Guild headquarters last weekend. A striker plucked a wax-paper wrapped sandwich from a little mountain of delicacies on the table and filled a container with coffee. "This stuff's better than the slop we got at the Journal cafeteria," he carped.
...Times reporters average about $200 a week, some more, some less, which is more than any other New York newsmen, but even the Times man knows he can make more in public relations where the black cloud of strike never threatens. To other newsmen, the vast, sterile city room of the Times still is the end of the rainbow in the publishing business, but not to Times men. Once upon a time, reporters wanted their children to work for the Times the way Jewish mothers prayed that their sons would become doctors. Now it's different.
...Meanwhile, the unborn World Journal Tribune is facing the loss of potential circulation to the Post, Times, and News. Some observers believe the new paper would have attracted 900,000 buyers if it had opened on time. "Now," said photographer Albert Robbins, "I bet they don't get 700,000 -- and that's only if they're lucky."
All of which is academic to Harry Demarsky, Bob Gesslein, and the hundreds of other good men who've put in years at the Journal or even months like Perry Young who came to New York from North Carolina. A week after he drew his first paycheck, the merger was announced and he was fired. "For him," said writer Al Robbins, returning his picket sign to headquarters, "it was like getting aboard the Titanic in mid-voyage."
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]