STAFF REVOLT! IT'S JUST LIFE AT N.Y. POST Rogue edition slams would-be owner


NEW YORK -- By yesterday, editors and reporters at the New York Post were in full-scale revolt.

"We've got control of the newsroom," said a reporter, Don Broderick. "Now all we need is control of the courtroom."

Abandoned by the paper's new would-be owner, the staff of the nation's oldest daily newspaper showed up for work without pay yesterday, while its deposed editor marched past security guards to head the jubilant newsroom. Staffers ignored their new boss -- who had no intention of publishing -- and carried on putting out New York's grittiest, grimiest newspaper.

But saving the Post may take more than a fired-up staff. The sad truth is that no one seems serious about buying the Post, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 but is now just one of four newspapers published in New York City. The Post draws just 5 percent of the four papers' total advertising.

The proposed buyer, Abraham Hirschfeld, acknowledged that he didn't really want the tabloid when he was awarded control of it by the bankruptcy court Friday. "Actually I don't know anything about publishing," he said. "I wanted the building."

The staff, however, had also developed an attachment to the downtown waterfront property, which set up this week's confrontation. While the uncertainty stopped the paper from publishing Monday, staff members decided to use yesterday's rogue edition to blast away at Mr. Hirschfeld in their own inimitable style.

The Post is still officially owned by Peter S. Kalikow, a real estate developer who filed for personal bankruptcy. On Monday, the Post itself sought bankruptcy protection.

The paper was to have been bought by Steven Hoffenberg, but he lost it to Mr. Hirschfeld in bankruptcy court Friday. A judge is to rule on the matter this week and could decide to seek other potential buyers. New York city and state politicians have pledged support in helping the Post find a serious buyer.

In the 22-page diatribe against Mr. Hirschfeld, Post staffers castigated him for cutting 60 percent of the newsroom staff, including the popular new editor, Pete Hamill, by comparing Mr. Hirschfeld to Freddie Krueger, the nasty horror-movie murderer. A caption underneath photographs of four fired editors read: "Abe the Ax cuts through the top staff of the The Post with a vengeance, leaving in his wake a host of rolling heads."

Describing a Miami reporter's 1990 experience of being spat on by Mr. Hirschfeld, the Post fired off a classic headline: "Part of her job was taking a gob from angry slob."

For all its humor and sarcasm, yesterday's edition also offered some hints as to why the Post is not every New Yorker's newspaper. A proposal by Mr. Hirschfeld to hire a black publisher, Wilbert A. Tatum, the publisher of the black-oriented Amsterdam News, was attacked in inflammatory prose that probably did little to improve the city's strained race relations. Headlines referred to Mr. Tatum, whose own paper has been accused of antisemitic and racially inflammatory coverage, as a "disgrace to journalism" and his hiring as "slime time."

Mr. Hirschfeld, who is best known around New York for his countless failed tries for public office and his millions made through developing parking garages, seemed befuddled about his new possession.

"I am a little insane," the 73-year-old Mr. Hirschfeld conceded on a local television show.

And yet in what may be a display of his business acumen, Mr. Hirschfeld did not cut off the Post's electricity or telephones, and he urged New Yorkers to buy the paper. "This is a historic issue," he said.

Many New Yorkers agreed, and circulation shot up from an average 430,000 a day to 500,000 yesterday.

"It may be the last one," Frank Necker, a passer-by, said as he picked up a copy from a Broadway newsstand. "Suitable for framing."

The staff has other ideas.

Mr. Hamill, the deposed editor, said the Post would slog on until a new owner was found. The staff, he said, will try to make today's issue as normal as possible -- the one-headline front page is due to focus on a tailor-made Post theme: the verdict in the trial of four youths accused of raping a mentally retarded woman.

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