SAN FRANCISCO'S NEWSPAPER STRIKE SPURS ONLINE ACTION

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SAN FRANCISCO-For newspaper workers here, "online" has come to mean more than marching with a picket sign. It's where both sides in a bitter 2-week-old strike are showing off their skills.

One day after walking off the job Nov. 1 at the morning San Francisco Chronicle and afternoon San Francisco Examiner, the Conference of Newspaper Unions launched the San Francisco Free Press On-Line Edition.

The daily Internet service features a collection of unpublished stories from striking reporters; among the articles has been a scoop on the immigration status of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's maid.

"We hit the fiberstreets in 22 hours and 15 minutes," said Bruce Koon, co-editor of the Free Press, who when not striking is the Examiner's associate editor for new media.

The strike also accelerated development of The Gate, the online effort of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which publishes the Chronicle and Examiner under a joint operating agreement.

The Gate, originally scheduled for full-scale launch later this month, began online publication during the strike.

The unions' Free Press contains local stories, columns, reviews and reports from one Paris-based reporter, but it carries no ads.

The management news report consists primarily of wire service stories as well as local classified ads. The Gate eventually expects to offer display ads.

Mr. Koon said an estimated 25,000 readers access the Free Press online each day, while management claimed its service is visited by 20,000. The newspapers' normal circulation is 600,000.

Last week, the machinists union, which is not part of the conference, settled with the papers, though it refused to cross picket lines. Talks with the eight unions in the conference appeared to be heading toward a settlement as the weekend approached.

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