BOSTON -- Jubilant employees shouted 'we're alive' and began preparing today's editions of the Boston Herald American following an 11th hour agreement that allowed publisher Rupert Murdoch rescue the ailing tabloid.
The Hearst Corp., owner of the paper, said it would shut the paper down at 5 p.m. EST Friday, but Murdoch's News America Publishing Co. completed negotiations with mailers just seven minutes before the deadline.
The mailers were the last of 11 unions to reach agreement on consessionsMurdoch said were necessary for the purchase.
Murdoch, who described the 2 weeks of talks that led to the agreement 'the toughest negotiations I ever experienced,' declined to discuss specific plans for the newspaper or its management, pointing out Hearst will retain ownership until the agreements are formally ratified next week.
He said he hopes to make the tabloid 'entirely different, but not a mirror alternative' of the rival Boston Globe, which holds the lion's share of advertising lineage and circulation in New England's largest city.
He labeled as 'propaganda' suggestions the Herald would feature crime and sex, a description sometimes applied to the New York Post and other newspapers he owns.
The Globe, which had been blamed by many of the Herald employees for interfering in the delicate negotiations, immediately issued a statement applauding the agreement.
'The Globe will continue its efforts to expand and improve in order to serve the widest possible range of readers and advertisers. In the meantime we want to welcome to Boston the new team at the Herald American. We wish them well,' publisher William O. Taylor said.
Within minutes of Murdoch's announcement, the Herald newsroom was back in full swing. Several hours earlier Hearst officials had closed the newspaper's rambling plant and ordered all employees to leave.
Murdoch braved dozens of photographers and reporters outside the plant to visit the newsroom and meet his new employees, who hugged and pounded each other on the back as they began putting Saturday's editions together.
'It's like waiting for someone to come out of the operating room,' said one editor.
'I think it's wonderful,' said reporter Paul Corsetti. 'Eight hundred people who would have been out of work tomorrow will have jobs. I think (Murdoch's) going to bring a lively, vibrant paper to New England.'
Murdoch was flanked by smiling union officials when he summoned the media to a hotel negotiating room at 4:53 p.m., and said, 'It is with great pleasure that I can announce that we have made a deal for the future of the Herald American.'
He said the newspaper will keep its name, at least for the time being, after suggesting earlier in the week he was considering changing the name to the 'Boston Post.'
The negotiators did not immediately disclose details of the mailers' agreement, but Murdoch, who wanted to trim $7 million from the newspaper's expenditures, said about 180 of the newspaper's 800 jobs would be cut.
'Murdoch, unions close the deal -- You bet we're alive,' read the header prepared if an agreement was reached.
'You'll miss us (And we'll miss you),' was the more pessimistic headline.
But with the talks continuing, the paper decided to roll its presses in one limited edition distributed only around the Greater Boston area with the front-page headline: 'Going down to the wire.'
Some 180,000 copies hit the street -- down 60,000 editions from the normal days publication run.
'People are just waiting and seeing what's going to happen,' said City Editor Allen Eisner. 'I think most people are optimistic now.'
The Hearst Corp., which owns the Herald, has lost $1 million a month on the paper this year and planned to shut it down at midnight - meaning today's editions would be the last -- if Murdoch and the unions failed to reach agreement on new contracts.
Murdoch negotiators met throughout the day Thursday with the pressmen, paper handlers and mailers unions -- the last three holdouts of the paper's 11 unions, which represent 800 employees.
The pressmen and paper handlers, which represent 90 workers, settled at about 2 a.m. EST, but negotiations continued with representatives of the 51 mailers. The paper's Teamsters also joined the flurry of negotiations seeking last-minute renegotiation on a tentative agreement reached earlier in the week.
Murdoch officials previously said there would be no further negotiations and the deal would be off if the unions didn't meet concessions by midnight, but then extended that deadline.
Murdoch, publisher of newspapers in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, including the Times of London and the New York Post, had demanded drastic manpower and other concessions as part of a plan to cut expenses at the paper by $7 million a year.
He said under the terms of his purchase about 580 of the 800 union employees would stay on.
Closing the Herald would add Boston, New England's largest city which once had nine dailies, to a growing list of one-newspaper cities. The Boston Globe is the city's other daily.
A shutdown would make the Herald the eighth newspaper in the nation this year to fold.
Murdoch, who arrived in Boston Tuesday to help in the final negotiations, said he is prepared to sink 'in excess of $15 million' into the Herald American initially if the deal goes through.
He said he may rename the paper the Boston Post.
The Herald has been struggling with declining advertising dollars, union troubles and persistent rumors of its demise for several years. In the fall of 1981, it launched a new tabloid look, saying 'It's Alive.' But its problems continued to persist.