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New faces set anchor at local news stations

Thursday, July 08, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Reporters come and go, but in TV news anchors tend to stick around a little longer.

This spring Pittsburgh viewers were introduced to three new anchors at local stations, with a new weekend anchor and weathercaster arriving soon at WPXI.

Already Channel 11 has added Newlin Archinal as co-anchor of the morning team. She came to Pittsburgh from the CBS affiliate in Richmond, Va., where she anchored in the morning for about a year. At WPXI she's anchoring bright and early and reporting during the day.


"I like getting out," Archinal said. "It's a good way for a new person to learn the community very quickly, plus it's a great creative outlet. I love to write, and it helps me develop a rapport with viewers."

Archinal's husband still works in Richmond as vice president for a paging company, so for the time being she commutes to Virginia on the weekends.

Her interest in Pittsburgh was motivated by a chance to return closer to home (Archinal grew up in Tyrone, Pa., in the central part of the state), but the move also gave her a nice jump in market size (Richmond is No. 61; Pittsburgh is No. 19).

"To come back to Pennsylvania was always kind of a wish," she said, "but I didn't realize I'd get here as quickly as I did."

For Sam Merrill, the new morning anchor/reporter on WTAE, coming to Pittsburgh was also a homecoming. He lived in Beechview for six years as a child.

"It's a little overwhelming," Merrill said. "Be careful what you wish for. Now that you've got it, you don't want to screw it up."

Merrill, who is single, worked most recently in Saginaw, Mich., as the 6 and 11 p.m. anchor for the CBS affiliate. He has a unique background for a TV anchor/reporter. At one point he got out of the business and worked for the mayor of Flint, Mich., writing speeches and press releases.

"You have a much greater empathy for them, and you know what they're going through," Merrill said of dealing with political flacks now that he's back on the other side of the fence. "You also have a better idea about what they're saying to you and what it might actually mean."

Merrill worked in the mayor's office when Michael Moore's "Roger & Me," a 1989 documentary about the town, was released.

"I was in my little office in city hall getting phone calls from reporters in Australia," Merrill recalled. "It's a hilarious film, but ultimately it probably did the city more harm than good."

Ted Koppy anchors the weekend evening and late news with Shawn Yancy on WTAE and reports Wednesday through Friday.

Before Pittsburgh, Koppy spent two years in Rochester, N.Y. He's a native of southern Minnesota, and he's faced the same trial by fire as TV newcomers before him: learning the proper pronunciations of area towns.

"The photographers are really the best about helping you out," Koppy said. "Most of them are from here and they make sure you know what you're saying before you open your mouth."

Koppy settled with his wife and 16-month-old daughter in Mt. Lebanon, and yes, Koppy is his real last name.

"One of my first bosses thought my name was too similar to Ted Koppel and told me I should change it," Koppy said. "I didn't. I was working near home at the time, and my parents would have been crushed. But you'd be surprised the number of times I've gone out to interview people and they've been surprised I wasn't Ted Koppel. I'm sure I disappointed them greatly."

SIGH OF RELIEF: Local TV stations fared poorly in the Project for Excellence in Journalism study released in January, but now they can broadcast all the irrelevant, poorly sourced stories they want.

This year's follow-up study will not include the Pittsburgh market; however, Pittsburgh stations may come under scrutiny again in the future.

MOVIE TIE-IN: Anyone who's heard the positive buzz about the upcoming spooky movie "The Blair Witch Project" (opening July 30) will be interested in "Curse of the Blair Witch," a one-hour faux documentary airing at 10 p.m. Monday on the Sci-Fi Channel.

The movie is supposedly made from film discovered after three college students disappeared in the Maryland woods while making a documentary about the Blair Witch. The disappearances and the myth are elaborately constructed fiction.

"Curse of the Blair Witch" goes one step further, presenting itself as a documentary about the entire phenomenon. I've seen the film already (yes, it's terrifying), and my advice would be to tape this special and watch it after the movie. The film will leave you with questions and hungry for more details, the kind of insights "Curse of the Blair Witch" eagerly provides.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

Thursday, July 08, 1999

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