Warning a newsroom to look out for suspicious packages is like telling National League pitchers to be careful with Barry Bonds.
"We get crazy mail all the time," says April Thomas, assistant to KOIN-TV news director Rick Howard. "We get mail without return addresses. We get suspicious packages. We get stuff from the Earth Liberation Front that we think is a hoax."
It was easy to dismiss the anthrax scare when it was connected to a couple of Florida tabloids. But the revelation that anthrax letters--real anthrax letters--were sent to NBC and ABC sent a chill through Oregon's Fourth Estate. Now rubber gloves are joining notebooks as standard newsroom equipment.
Salem Statesman-Journal reporter Steve Law says he isn't worried...exactly. "It's a little scary," he says, "but I don't want to be paranoid."
Last week, the paper held a meeting on mail handling. Editor Steve Smith, however, believes the threat from bio-terrorists is minimal. "The biggest fear we have is of a hoax or prank," he says. "Some bozo sending a sugar or flour package could shut down publication for a day."
Over at KATU-TV, General Manager Jim Boyer says only a few employees handle incoming mail, and they've been well-briefed on what to look for.
"They're armed with FBI advisories and internal advisories, and we've got some rubber gloves on hand if they see anything out of the ordinary.
At the Big O, the manager of the mailroom didn't want to give her name but did say that mail sorters are following the U.S. Postal Service guidelines to stop, drop and leave alone any suspicious-looking packages.
"We're just not panicking right now. We're handling things as best we can. The option has been given to wear gloves," she says. "I don't know if it helps."
Even here at WW, we're not immune to the jitters. On Monday, we received a check (unusual in itself) from an unfamiliar address in Winter Park, Fla.--FLORIDA! Further investigation determined that the check came from a legitimate business with no connection to the anthrax scare.