HOTSEAT- New gig: Stephanie Cornwell leaves her desk
Sitting behind the NBC29 news-at-6-and-11 anchor desk, she's the consummate professional, but there's one way to get a rise out of Stephanie Cornwell Keppich. Tell her you want to go into journalism so you can be on TV.
Keppich vents about Miss America candidates, the ones who say they want to be "in communications." "They don't say, 'I'm going to be a journalist,'" she says. "[Communications] means 'I want to be on TV.'"
When she left her anchor job recently for a promotion to managing editor at the station's new CW29 channel– the WB/UPN offspring– "A lot of people said, 'Why would you get off the air?'– as if celebrity is a reason for being on TV," she says incredulously. "There are a lot contributions you can make behind the scenes if you're a true journalist."
Keppich has had the news bug since high school. She took a TV/radio broadcasting elective, and in 1989, when she was a sophomore, she encountered Hurricane Hugo. Her family had to ride out the storm in a small town in South Carolina.
"I thought it would be so neat to be telling people the information they needed," she says. "I wanted to be the one who had the information, telling viewers."
She also confesses to being "mesmerized" by big weather events. "I probably should have been a weather girl," she jokes.
Broadcast news also meshed with Keppich's interest in theater. "It's a similar medium, performing in front of an audience," she notes.
News won out over drama. At her first station in Victoria, Texas, Keppich lived two blocks from the fire station and slept with a scanner on. If there was a call, she followed it, even without a camera.
"There was no competition," in that small Texas town, she says. "I was obsessed. That was my life."
Married in April, Keppich now finds herself less interested in 15-hour days. The wedding just happened to coincide with her departure from the anchor desk– she says she'd been trying to move to a different position for the past 18 months.
"I needed a chance to grow as a journalist," she says. "I was getting bored just reading the news for four years here and several years before that. It's less creative. I wanted to get my mind flowing again, think about news angles and interact with reporters at the beginning of the day."
She'll get to do all of that in her new job as managing editor at CW29, creating a look for the 10 o'clock news and an edgier, more fast-paced broadcast that grabs the CW's 18-to-34-year-old target audience.
Only a month offscreen, Keppich says it's too early to tell if she misses the anchor desk. She doesn't hesitate to say what she doesn't miss: "I don't have to do my hair and make-up. I can be myself– and I don't wear as much make-up."
Why here? Isn't it the cool, trendy thing to do? Move to Charlottesville? I was looking for a job that would bring me closer to my ailing grandparents and put me within driving distance of my parents. Charlottesville did that.
What's worst about living here? The lack of affordable housing
Favorite hangout? Mas, the Expresso Italian Villa
Most overrated virtue? Temperance
People would be surprised to know: I look thinner in person!
What would you change about yourself? I'd learn to relax more. It took meeting my husband and seeing the world through his eyes to realize that whatever is worrying you, as long as you have love and family, it just really doesn't matter.
Proudest accomplishment? It's a tie: graduating from Virginia Tech in three years with no AP credits going in, and traveling to New Zealand for two weeks by myself.
People find most annoying about you: I'm a quarter Hungarian and can be a bit hot-headed and stubborn. I call it independent.
Whom do you admire? Susan B. Anthony (ironic considering my above "virtue" answer)
Favorite book? Follow the River by James Alexander Thom– or anything nonfiction
Subject that causes you to rant? Ignorance, our President, the lack of respect for elders
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The 150th anniversary of the Civil War
What do you drive? 2000 Honda Accord
In your car CD player right now: REO Speedwagon—The Hits (gotta love the '80s)
Next journey? Reveling in my life that exists outside my career
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? My mom was a substitute teacher in my eighth-grade English class, and I pushed the limits talking and she sent me to the principal. I was the SCA president, and when I got there, the principal laughed and sent me back to class. (I showed mom!) I also got detention in 9th grade for being late three times to Spanish class. I was a bit out of place sitting in the room in my cheerleading uniform writing "I will not be late to class" 75 times. I'm a real troublemaker!
Regret: I didn't follow my first love, musical theater.
Favorite comfort food: Cake and ice cream
Always in your refrigerator: Apples and coffee
Must-see TV: Lucky Louie. It's the first sitcom I've really laughed at since Seinfeld.
Favorite cartoon: Tom and Jerry
Describe a perfect day. Sleeping in, having coffee with vanilla creamer, making a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with strawberry jelly (try it), lounging on the beach with my handsome husband, shucking crabs on the porch, taking a walk on a perfect 65 degree day with low humidity, sitting on our glider with Kitty watching a thunderstorm roll in at night
Walter Mitty fantasy: Starring as Christine opposite Michael Crawford in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
Who'd play you in the movie? Reese Witherspoon
Most embarrassing moment? I was the lead in South Pacific in my high school production. After I had "Washed that man right outta my hair" (with water) I slipped on stage in front of the entire student body. They thought it was part of the show, but I was mortified.
Best advice you ever got? I wouldn't say it's really the best, but over time it's the one that stuck with me. A photojournalist I worked with at my internship in Houston told me, "No one will ever care more about your career than you."
Favorite bumper sticker? "What if the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?"
Stephanie Cornwell Keppich
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
#[In the print edition of this story, the maiden name of our subject was misspelled; it has been corrected here–editor.]