Terror May Still Go Postal

By: Joe Strupp

If you need proof that last fall’s anthrax poisonings are still on the minds of newspaper people, take a peak inside the mailroom of Newsday in Melville, N.Y. There you’ll find a handful of employees in gloves, masks, and coveralls resembling spacesuits carefully opening each postal item and checking for dangerous substances. Not far away, an X-ray machine screens all packages.

The review procedure, including the relocation of the mailroom from the paper’s main building to a separate site nearby, was instituted shortly after the anthrax attacks became known in October. It remains very much in place despite the fact that no tainted mail has been discovered in the United States for months. “It’s still the prudent thing to do,” said Newsday Publisher Raymond A. Jansen. “It seems like a good idea at this point to keep going because they still haven’t figured out who sent those other letters.”

Newsday is not alone. Editors and publishers at a number of newspapers contend that security is still needed.

At the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, all mail is opened in a parking-lot trailer before being distributed. “There is no reason to go back to the old system,” said Debbie Kornmiller, reader advocate at the paper.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale built a new facility with an X-ray system that scans all mail as well as a separate room for “suspicious mail.” Also in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel has been opening all mail at a formerly unused storefront a couple of blocks from the paper — and The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach continues to sort mail at a nearby warehouse it leases to refurbish news racks. At The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, employees wearing masks and gloves sort mail off-site in a portable building.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution employs two full-time security guards who inspect mail deemed suspicious. At the Los Angeles Times, all mail is still opened in a central location before being forwarded to employees. And The Washington Post continues to require postal items to be screened as they enter the building.

The Boston Herald and The Miami Herald both had placed trailers in their parking lots to allow supervised mail-opening, but removed them several months ago. “Anything that looks suspicious is still set aside and opened with gloves,” said Rachelle Cohen, the Boston Herald‘s editorial page editor. But Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said his paper had returned to the same mail process used prior to the anthrax attacks, with no new security precautions. “We felt it had run its course,” he said.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch instituted additional training requirements, detailing what to do with suspicious packages, for new clerical employees who sort mail. But at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, mail sorters are “no longer exercising the level of scrutiny they did,” said Editor Douglas C. Clifton. “We still have the rubber gloves, but I don’t think people are using them that much.”

For most other newspapers, procedures that were put in place following the anthrax attacks consisted only of separating “suspicious” mail and allowing it to be opened by employees wearing protective wear. Although this process may seem minor, many editors believe it is worth continuing.

Dave Astor and Wayne Robins contributed to this report.

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