Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Poison Pen' Takes on a Whole Other Meaning

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Poison Pen' Takes on a Whole Other Meaning

Article excerpt

With the anthrax scare in full swing, letters to the editor are screened not for content but for contents

For most daily newspapers, the letters- to-the-editor section is the only place for readers to express their opinions. But, due to the recent spate of anthrax poisonings, such as the one at the New York Post confirmed at E&P's deadline Friday, the vox populi is in danger of being silenced.

Whether it's the Tucson-based Arizona Daily Star refusing to accept letters to the editor via snail-mail or the Boston Herald setting up a trailer in its parking lot to screen all incoming mail, newspapers' access to readers' opinions has been diminished.

"At the moment, we're sort of in limbo," said Rachelle Cohen, editorial page editor of the Herald, which halted mail distribution for several days last week while the new procedures to separate mail into "safe" and "suspicious" categories were put into place. "They're even considering X-raying packages," Cohen said.

Similar efforts involving more careful review of letters and packages - - as well as the use of latex gloves and surgical masks -- are under way at many major and midsize papers across the country, according to editors. Because of the anthrax attacks at NBC News, The New York Times, and a group of Florida-based supermarket tabloids, newspaper executives said employees are concerned about the current wave of bioterrorism.

"We can never be sure whether it is enough," said Paul Greenberg, the editorial page editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, where the two staffers who open letters to the editor have been given gloves and masks. "It is better to be safe than sorry." The Democrat- Gazette's parent company, Wehco Media Inc., also has banned employees at the daily and its six sibling papers from traveling by commercial airlines, offering them the use of two company jets instead. …

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