Driven by passion

Doug Rohrbeck at the site of the Jan. 19 Republican Presidential Debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., sponsored by Fox News.

Doug Rohrbeck at the site of the Jan. 19 Republican Presidential Debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., sponsored by Fox News.

From the Roanoke College Magazine, Issue Two, 2012. View the entire Roanoke Magazine online.

Doug Rohrbeck '97 had just returned home from a gym workout, when he heard the sound of a door swinging shut. He thought someone had barged into his Arlington, Va. apartment. He soon figured out that less than a mile away, a plane had slammed into the Pentagon.

Though it was his day off as a producer at Fox News Channel, Rohrbeck hopped on his bike - traffic was bad and roads were closed - rode to the Pentagon and found a Fox camera crew shooting the disaster. He threw the videotape into his bag and took off by bike to the cable television network's offices near the U.S. Capitol. The footage was on air in minutes.

Rohrbeck spent the rest of that historic day, Sept. 11, 2001, biking from news conference to news conference on Capitol Hill and calling Fox's newsroom with information that anchors would broadcast to the nation.

It was one of the defining moments in Rohrbeck's career. And it reflects the way he continues to approach his job in the fast-paced world of national television news.

"It's a passion and if you're passionate about what you do, then I think you give 110 percent," Rohrbeck said in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C. office.

Rohrbeck, 37, is executive producer of the 6 p.m. Fox News show, "Special Report with Bret Baier." He directs a staff of news writers, bookers and producers in the network's D.C. bureau. Each day his team plans the show's news lineup. The hour-long weekday broadcast, one of FNC's top news programs, has about 2.1 million viewers every evening.

The job is custom fit for Rohrbeck, a D.C. native and a Roanoke English major, who thrives on creating ways to condense stories into on-air news content that relays valuable information to viewers nationwide. Most days, he leaves his home in Alexandria, Va., where he moved in 2004, at 7 a.m. He often returns at 7 p.m. or later.

Rohrbeck also travels for the news. He and his team spent much of the past winter months in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, covering the Republican primaries and GOP debates. Rohrbeck also is FNC's executive producer of several politics-related news events, including presidents' state of the union addresses and election coverage.

Rohrbeck said he finds covering election news especially exhilarating.

It "is such as an amazing process of democracy and watching folks vote," he said.  "When we announce winners and losers...that moment is just a special moment."

A year after he graduated from Roanoke, Rohrbeck landed his first gig at Fox, where he booked guests for news shows. That was 14 years ago. Since then, he has worked his way up the network's ladder as producer for a variety of news shows. He was promoted to executive producer at Special Report in 2010.

"It's an extremely competitive business," said Bryan Boughton, chief of Fox's Washington D.C. bureau. "Doug is always looking for that next thing he has to come up with or change to keep the show exciting."

That includes creating Special Reports' online Wednesday evening news shows and bumping up the show's story count to pack in as much news as possible. Stories must be concise, yet still have a high news quality, Boughton said.

Before Baier, Rohrbeck worked closely with former Special Report anchor Brit Hume to create ways to draw more television viewers.

Nationally, Fox commands the largest audience of cable news networks. In 2011, Fox outpaced CNN and MSNBC in total viewers during the primetime hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Rohrbeck's love for the news business stems from his affinity for telling stories. But television news initially was not in his career plan. By his last year at Roanoke, Rohrbeck had decided to try his hand at teaching high school English.

Dr. Paul Hanstedt, a Roanoke College English professor, remembers Rohrbeck's irreverent yet insightful personality. He was the kind of student who performed best when challenged and did not take easy answers, Hanstedt said.

"We specialize in people who come searching for who they are," Hanstedt said.

Rohrbeck also was a good storyteller, who weaved humor into one story in particular for Hanstedt's creative writing class about a child who pretended to be a superhero. The story was an engaging read, Hanstedt said.

After Roanoke, Rohrbeck worked as a student teacher at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County. At the same time, he landed an internship at WSLS 10, the NBC TV affiliate in Roanoke and Lynchburg region. Rohrbeck quickly discovered his passion - the news business.

At WSLS, "I liked the idea that every day there's something new," he said.

That was a turning point for Rohrbeck. He moved to the nation's capital in search of a television news job. Fox hired him, and his career at the network took off.

Rohrbeck, who now is married with a young daughter and son, maintains that his focus at Fox is staying ahead of competitors and finding innovative ways to deliver the news via social media and on television. He's also skilled at delegating social media tasks to staffers who understand the mediums and can fit the work into their day, Boughton said.

"I think his role at Special Report has been one of his defining roles here," Boughton said.

Rohrbeck compared working at Fox with the close environment on Roanoke's campus, where classes are small and professors are excited about teaching.

"I have a team. I'm looking to motivate them and get them excited about their job," Rohrbeck said. "We want to push ourselves to break stories. We want to get news first. I learned that sort of passion at Roanoke."

-Jenny Kincaid Boone '01