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Feature Stories

It's Just a Name

Cinnamon Stouffer
Cinnamon Stouffer

Call her Cinnamon, if you like, or Linda, if you must. Or just call her what everyone else does: CNN rising star.

Doesn’t matter. It all fits.

Cinnamon Stouffer may have dropped her first name for her middle one to appease a cable news network concerned over the name Cinnamon being too, well, distracting to viewers, but talent doesn’t have a name. It’s either there or it isn’t.

For Stouffer, an alumna from the University of the Incarnate Word, it was always there. It was just a matter of being able to uncover it.

The big discovery came during Stouffer’s sophomore year when a professor suggested she try television news. How odd that this communications major from San Marcos had never given it much consideration. Her world was print journalism and theatre; her goal was to be a writer for Time Magazine or an actress on a New York stage.

“Funny how sometimes it takes someone else to put things in perspective for you,’’ says Stouffer, who graduated magna cum laude in 1992. ``I’ll be forever grateful.”

That’s because since the first day she walked into a television newsroom, she has wanted to work no place else.

Now one of the more recognizable faces and voices of CNN, Stouffer is co-anchor for Headline News, the network’s fast-moving, newscast designed to give viewers quick, informative updates of ongoing news events every half-hour.

Sitting alongside Chuck Roberts in the midday shift each weekday, Stouffer has found Headline News a prime spot for news of the eclectic kind. She updates everything from the War in Iraq to a lost puppy that tied up traffic at a busy intersection during rush hour.

When need be, Headline News tosses out its format to be more explanatory, whether its the coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the post-election saga over the disputed presidential ballots in Florida or the election of a new pope.

Stouffer began her career as a news writer. In 1993 when the news broke of the Branch Dividian standoff with government agents outside Waco, she earned her stripes in a trial by fire situation. When the news director of KMOL (WOAI-News 4) in San Antonio looked into the newsroom and saw only a rookie reporter sitting there she got the break of a lifetime.

Stouffer was so green that she was star-struck by the national reporters parachuting into Waco to cover the story. She didn’t even have a station-issued earpiece. She picked up a knockoff at a Radio Shack and taped it to her back.

“It was one of those life experiences where you have the opportunity to learn so much on fast forward,” she says. ``But I constantly felt that I was way in over my head. That I never should have been there.’’

Not according to KMOL. They kept Stouffer out there for weeks, bringing her back for a breather before dispatching her again to report the actual raid of the compound and subsequent fire where a number of Branch Dividians, including leader David Koresh, were killed.

Stouffer had found her journalistic backbone, and love, too. Waco is where she met husband Mark Strassmann, who now works for CBS. They have a two-year-old son, Wyatt, and an eight-year-old daughter, Aidan.

“Odd, huh,’’ says Stouffer. “In a weird sort of way, David Koresh was our matchmaker.”

Where Stouffer goes from here is hard to say. She’s not one to make five-year roadmaps’ in search of The Next Big Thing.

In fact, CNN came along because Strassmann, then with NBC, was transferred to its Atlanta bureau. Stouffer was an anchor in Miami and the move to Atlanta was a kind of marital tradeoff. He had previously moved to Florida for her.

She worked part-time first, anchoring the news updates travelers see in airports, before co-anchoring a morning news program and then Headline News.

While UIW was part of a grand plan - small and comfortable were her collegiate criteria - what happened there merely fell into place.

“It was such an encouraging, warm place,’’ says Stouffer, who, by the way, got the name Cinnamon from parents who simply liked it, although family folklore has it that it also came from Barbara Bain’s character name from the original Mission: Impossible.

“They let me explore journalism and theater, and at the same time do voice lessons and get into ethics and religion classes I loved,” says Stouffer of her experience at Incarnate Word. “You don’t get those sort of opportunities to study as a freshman at the bigger schools,” she continued.

“And the professors affected me for a lifetime. It wasn’t just about getting grades and getting your degree; it was about the person you are when you get your degree. They taught me to take each opportunity, each job, each situation and make the most of it.”

Even when it’s just a name.