Randy Rohrbaugh: C-SPAN Video Journalist

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host, Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. I am extra excited for our guest today, Randy Rohrbaugh. Randy is a photographer and field tech for C-SPAN covering Capitol Hill and the White House. He’s traveled the country covering presidential candidates, former presidents, historians, and authors. I worked with him at my first television station on the eastern shore of Maryland, many years ago. And I can tell you, Randy is one of the best video journalists in the business. Hi, Randy, how are you?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  00:55

I’m good. How are you?

 

Angela Tuell  00:56

Good. How are things in DC?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  00:59

Hot right now. And…

 

Angela Tuell  01:02

That’s good. It’s cool here. So I miss the hot.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  01:07

You know, you just, there’s the East Coast, humidity, you just can’t. There’s nothing like it.

 

Angela Tuell  01:14

That’s true. That’s true. I remember those days and almost I shouldn’t say how long ago was 20 years ago that we worked together. And you know, wearing the suits and trying to look nice for TV and the humidity just dripping. And you carrying the cameras and everything.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  01:29

Oh, yeah, it was and it was even worse because we were at the beach. So you know, we had that the beach sun is just brutal sometimes.

 

Angela Tuell  01:35

Yes. Oh, my goodness. So what made you decide to have a career in television news, you know, and specifically videography?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  01:43

So I took, I was kind of in limbo after, after high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was taking some classes, just general classes at a community college, and I took an intro to broadcasting class and was hooked. The instructor was fantastic. The way he taught how, how everything works in a TV studio. He just had me hooked, in a minute. And that was it. I decided that’s what I wanted to do. And the rest is pretty much history.

 

Angela Tuell  02:15

Yes. You know, and unless you are in the industry, many people don’t know that it’s really the video journalists that actually make it all happen. Now it is teamwork. But it’s such a vital part.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  02:27

Yeah, yeah, no, you’re right. I mean, it’s it is, it’s truly it truly is a team effort. I mean, then, you know, you’re responsible for your part. And then somebody else is responsible for their part. And collectively, it makes this final product. But if you’d lose one of those components, your final product is hurt.

 

Angela Tuell  02:44

Right. You were in local TV news. So as you had mentioned in Maryland, Pennsylvania, in Baltimore, for I think a little over 10 years. So how did you transition to C-SPAN?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  02:55

It takes local news takes a toll on you, I think. There are a lot of bad things that you have to cover. In fact, I was, I remember the moment when I decided that I needed to make a change, which was a story in Baltimore, there was a woman that went missing. And she was found two weeks later, she was she had died. And we call the family of this missing girl, this missing woman, and asked if we could you know, have some pictures, you know, the typical what you do when there’s a missing person, and then you call the family says, Hey, can we come to talk to you? Do you have some pictures to tell us some stories about the individual? And we did all of that. And they invited us over to their house. And we were sitting in the living room while they were in the kitchen. And they were planning the funeral with the funeral home. And we could hear bits and pieces. And it was they were very, very nice, very welcoming. But the moment that they asked if they could have an open casket, they were told no, because she had decomposed too much they couldn’t, didn’t have an open casket, and hearing them cry and wail. And that was the moment where I said, Okay, I need to make a change. And shortly thereafter, I started to look around and I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. But I knew that I didn’t want to do local news anymore. In fact, I even thought about making a career change altogether. But my hang-up was I loved the business. But there were just certain parts of it I didn’t want to deal with anymore. And I just I’m kind of embarrassed to say I had not really I didn’t really know too much about C-SPAN until I started looking for a job and I saw the product that C-SPAN put on the air and I really liked it and I thought you know what, I need to keep an eye on this place and see if they have an opening and eventually they did and everything kind of fell in place.

 

Angela Tuell  04:44

That is great. What was the change like you know, there from local TV news?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  04:49

I was sure it was gonna be a big change because you’re going from working in local news where you’re, you have to get a package shot and edit it, and get a live shot set up and get it on the air within a certain amount of time.

 

Angela Tuell  05:01

Right. And several stories usually.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  05:03

Yeah, sometimes. Yeah, absolutely. So one from this life of running around to a little bit slower pace, which is, which was very nice. The one thing that I really enjoy is that everything is planned out. Yeah, that’s just been I mean, I think the last breaking news that we, that I covered personally, was when Steve Scalise was shot at the baseball practice before the congressional baseball game a couple of years ago, right? And I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the running around the running gun, as we call it, going from one story to the next. You know, we come in, we do our assignment, which can either be on Capitol Hill, or it could be at the White House, or it could be a think tank, and we do it. And that’s it. We’re done.

 

Angela Tuell  05:53

Yeah. And the other is a lot of, I guess, breaking news happening in those spots or things you know, that that is happening that way, but it’s not like running around trying, you know, following the breaking news sort of thing.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  06:05

Right. I mean, you have enough people in DC that I’ll give you the I’ll give you an example. Um, when Sean Spicer now I can’t remember, what did he resign? Or was he fired from his position?

 

Angela Tuell  06:16

I believe resign.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  06:18

Well, so when he resigned, you know, I happen to be at the White House covering the White House that day. So that became you know, that became the story today, but we didn’t have to shuffle crews around we already had somebody at the White House. So it’s like, you kind of have people positioned, in case there is breaking news so that when there is there’s not this crazy, chaotic day. So when Sean Spicer resigned, you know, we knew that we were going to have a busy day, but we were already there, we didn’t have to fight traffic, find a place to park, all that stuff that we normally would have to do local news for breaking news downtown or something. We were already there and set and in place.

 

Angela Tuell  06:50

Yeah. So a typical day, tell us what you do you know, what you do with the cameras, what your role really is, and is it recorded live usually, or give us a little bit of information on that.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  07:01

So the C-SPAN’s bread and butter is Capitol Hill, the House, and the Senate. So if we’re covering a hearing we’ll normally come in three to four hours before the hearing is scheduled to start. 99.9% of the time, we’ll set up three cameras, depending on how big the hearing is, we might set up a fourth or even a fifth camera. The big hearings like the Benghazi hearing, the impeachment hearings, those were multiple, those were four or five, even six cameras, sometimes setups. But typically we’ll do a three-camera setup and set everything up. Well, we don’t have to run audio. Thankfully, you know, all the hearing rooms have audio will each Senator or Congressman has a microphone that they can turn on and off. So all we have to do is plug it in, and then we direct it on-site. And then we send it back to C-SPAN. And everything almost everything is fiber optics. So cabling is very, very easy. The infrastructure has been switched over from copper to fiber, which makes life a lot easier. And we send it back and it will, if it’s not live at that moment. it’ll be, it’ll air later on in the day. But a lot of what we do we try to air live depending on how big the story is, or how big how big the hearing is. Sometimes we’ll air it on multiple platforms, you know, the web or the radio or one of our other three networks, and make it as available for everybody.

 

Angela Tuell  08:27

So you mentioned technology a little bit. How has that changed over the years?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  08:30

It’s gotten so much better. The cameras have gotten smaller and lighter. The fiber optic that we use now is just, is great. It makes cabling so much easier. I would say a good portion of the Hill has fiber infrastructure that makes our lives so much easier. But I would say the biggest change in technology is, is transmission. You don’t see as many satellite trucks or microwave live trucks out there anymore. Because a lot of people are using the bonded cellular technology to transmit which are the live view packs or the Dejero packs go pretty much anywhere in the world and bring that as long as you have a cellphone signal you can transmit back to your home base, which is crazy remarkable.

 

Angela Tuell  09:20

Compared to when we started.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  09:21

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we had that live truck in Saulsbury that was a beast and you know, 20 years later we’re walking around with backpacks to transmit.

 

Angela Tuell  09:31

And some places we couldn’t even go. I mean, obviously, then if you had the satellite truck but you still had to get it a signal. It was…And also editing, right? I mean the stuff has gone from tape editing to digital.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  09:45

Yeah, I mean everything is almost, everything is nonlinear editing, which is great. You know, you can, it’s so much faster I think than tape to tape and you can you know be a lot more creative than then you can then you could have been with the old days when DVC pro and data.

 

Angela Tuell  10:02

Right? I know you’ve been you know, you mentioned some of it in the midst of a lot of news happening in Washington DC. What are some of the events you’ve covered over the last few years that stick out?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  10:13

Let’s see. Well, I was at the Benghazi hearing. I was there for that. I was. I was there for both of the Trump impeachment hearings in the House. Yeah, so I mean, those are pretty neat things. I mentioned Sean Spicer when he resigned. That was, that was a big day. Those are just some of the more public ones that I’ve gotten to be a part of. But there’s other stuff that C-SPAN does that a lot of people might not know about us. You know, everybody knows about the Benghazi hearing or the impeachment hearings. But you know, C-SPAN also does different series. And one of the series that I got to work on was landmark Supreme Court cases. And one of the cases that we did was Tinker versus Des Moines. And which is a free speech tape that went before the Supreme Court. And I got to meet one of the Tinker children. And we went back to his house, and he took me through that whole day. Are you familiar with Tinker versus Des Moines?

 

Angela Tuell  11:08

A little bit? But why don’t you give us a little bit.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  11:10

All right. So during the Vietnam War, in Des Moines, Iowa, there was a family and children. They wanted to wear armbands as a wet form of silent protest against the Vietnam War. And John Tinker, we met at his house that he grew up in, in Des Moines. And he told me about the morning when he got dressed and, and he put the armband on and the last things that his dad said to him as he walked out the door, and then we went to the school, where he went set, he showed me in the cafeteria where he sat and some kids were making fun of them, calling them a communist. And then the football team came over and said, Look, let him go. He’s fine. He’s just, you know, he’s doing his own thing. And then we went to the principal’s office. And we’re, we sat where he was, was being talked to by the principal about, he needs to take the armband off, otherwise, he’s going to be suspended. And just spending the day with him and reliving that experience was really awesome. And I did a story with them. And yeah, that was one of the more memorable ones that I did. Absolutely.

 

Angela Tuell  12:16

Yeah. And you mentioned. So that one sounds, as you said, memorable. Something that’s not, that’s memorable, but not in a positive way. January 6. What happened? You were there that morning, right?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  12:29

Yeah, I was I was there. I was in the Cannon Rotunda in the morning doing interviews with Congressman, and talkback interviews with somebody back in, in the in the C-SPAN studio. We finished our interviews, finished the show, and left and went home. And I didn’t know about anything that was going on. Until I got a text message from a former coworker asking me, you know, are you okay? What are you talking about? And she sent some said something along the lines of, you know, there’s like a mob or something outside of the, outside of the Capitol, and I flipped on the news. And I was just, I was speechless. And I still sometimes look at the images and still can’t believe that that actually happened.

 

Angela Tuell  13:12

Yes. Was everyone okay at C-SPAN?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  13:14

Yeah, we had some people that were locked down with Kevin McCarthy for a couple of hours. And then they were evacuated to one of the congressional office buildings. And I think they had to stay in the Rayburn House office building. I think they were able to get out of there at about 10 o’clock at night.

 

Angela Tuell  13:36

Wow. Wow. Yeah. What’s it like being right, where, you know, the American political history is being made? I bet sometimes you don’t know how big it is while it’s happening, right? I mean, besides January 6, obviously, but other types of events?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  13:51

Yeah. No, it’s it’s it’s kind of cool. And it’s interesting to think that when my son gets into high school and is looking at history books, um, you know, I’ll be able to maybe say, I was there for that, or I was there for that. And that’s kind of a cool feeling.

 

Angela Tuell  14:09

That is. I mean you’re in, a lot of times you’re in the White House, too, right? I mean, in the rooms of the President.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  14:15

Yeah. haven’t been there in a little over a year because of COVID. But pre-COVID Yeah, I was there once or twice a week. Usually. You go into sometimes you go into the Oval Office for an announcement of some sort. Sometimes you’re in the East Room, or the State Dining Room, and yeah, and the majority of your time you’re sitting in the briefing room waiting for something to happen. And it’s still when you walk through that gate after you go through security. You’re walking up the driveway towards the West Wing. It’s still a pretty incredible feeling to know, you know, I’m walking up the driveway to the White House. That’s Yes, it’s pretty freaking cool.

 

Angela Tuell  14:55

Yes. During college, I interned with NBC at the White House. And I just remember, especially being in college, just how surreal it all is. So and I can’t imagine that that gets, it doesn’t get old probably.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  15:06

No, it doesn’t. And I know that there have been a couple of times when I was in the Cabinet Room or some or the Roosevelt Room. And you just kind of think, wow, there’s a lot of history about, you know, things that have happened here. And I remember the first time I was in the east on the East Room, which is, you know, that’s really had Kennedy was that was there. LBJ signed the bill, civil rights law there. And you just think about all the history that happened in this room. And, you know, here I am, you know, getting to see some of it. And I’ll tell you, though, that one of the greatest things about covering the White House is getting to witness a Medal of Honor recipient, given his award, or given his medal, and seeing just the amount of respect that is given to that individual. When they get that medal and the round of applause. And to hear the story. It’s just there, you know, I just want to kneel down, like, I’m not worthy to be in the same room as this person, you know, the, what this individual did to receive this award, and here I am, you know, 15 feet from him, I just, sometimes it’s very surreal.

 

Angela Tuell  16:20

Wow, I can imagine. So, you know, something else is there’s been a lot of negativity towards journalists in recent years, you know, more so than ever before, at least in recent history, especially in the political realm. You know, what has your experience been like? And how have you dealt with that?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  16:35

I’ve been very lucky, believe it or not, the first event that I did, after Trump became president, it was a, it was a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. And by that point, he had been president at least probably maybe a year and some change. And a lot of the anti-media rhetoric had really, really kicked up. And I was a little bit nervous going to it, and not sure how his supporters were, how I was going to be treated by his supporters. So I decided to cover myself head to toe and turn into a walking C-SPAN Billboard. And, you know, I the shirt, the hat, the jacket, I had, you know, C-SPAN stickers on the camera, on the tripod, you know, anything that I could put a sticker on, I tried to put…

 

Angela Tuell  17:25

Do you have a photo of this? I need to see it.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  17:28

I don’t think I do, unfortunately, but um, the way I was treated by his supporters was amazing. And, and it was a trend that I saw from all the other Trump events that I covered after that. Where I heard almost exactly the same thing every single time, which was, we love watching the President speak on C-SPAN. And I’m gonna want Why do you say that is because you show the President speak. And that’s all we want to see. We want to see him speak. We want to hear what he has to say. We don’t want to hear the commentary. We don’t want to hear opinions. We want to see him speak. And that’s it. That everyone says and C-SPAN is the only one that does that. And that’s what we want to watch. And I was treated very well by everybody.

 

Angela Tuell  18:09

Wow, that’s great.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  18:11

Yeah!

 

Angela Tuell  18:11

That’s great. That’s great that people realize that about C-SPAN, you know, because um, on both sides see, see some outlets biased and others not, you know.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  18:23

And that was, you know, that ranged, the people that I talked to would talk to these events. I mean, they were, you know, as young as you know, 18 or 19, maybe, and as old as somebody in their 80s. I mean, it was, then it was, it was almost always the exact same thing, which is we want to watch the President speak and you show the President speak from start to finish. And that’s what we want to see.

 

Angela Tuell  18:43

So you continued wearing C-SPAN gear when you’re out in everywhere?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  18:48

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I, I will cover myself as much as I can, in C-SPAN gear that I stand out. And you know, it’s nice to stand out for everybody else, and then hear those positive words back from somebody who might dislike me because of where I work, or where I don’t work.

 

Angela Tuell  19:10

Right. Have you seen it happen other ways with other journalists around you?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  19:16

Thankfully, I’ve never seen or witnessed it. I’ve just, I’ve heard stories. But I’ve never, I’ve never witnessed it.

 

Angela Tuell  19:22

That’s good. So you mentioned a little bit ago that you know, pre COVID traveled a lot with C-SPAN, hopefully again, right? Once we’re, once we’re better, but tell us about some of those work trips. You mentioned the one that you went through. I know you’ve said one day you had planes, trains and automobiles all in one day.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  19:40

Yeah, I missed my, my flight home. I can’t remember. I think I was flying home from…

 

Angela Tuell  19:48

Minnesota, wasn’t it?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  19:50

No, I think it was Kansas. My departing flight out of Wichita was delayed. And then I got to…I ended up getting to Philadelphia, but I still had to get to BWI or DC. I can’t remember which. So yeah, I ended up taking a train someplace. And then I had to take a cab taxi to the car or something. Yeah, that was one of those days. But yeah, no I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve gotten to do a lot of traveling, and I got to go to Alaska for two weeks, which was incredible. That was part of our C-SPAN tour of all 50 state capitals, and they took the C-SPAN bus to

 

Angela Tuell  20:30

That was what you were in Indianapolis, for too?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  20:32

Exactly. Right. Right. Well, we got to hang out for a little bit. Yeah, we went to Alaska. And that was an incredible trip. And then the trip that I was talking about earlier with the Tinker versus Des Moines. Yeah, everything that went along with that trip. That was really interesting. It’s been crazy. And back in the fall, I covered the debates, and, so I was in Salt Lake City. And the plan was for me to drive from Salt Lake City to the next debate, which was in Miami, Florida. And so I got to drive, you know, through Nebraska. And I mean, it was beautiful. Such a beautiful drive. And then once I got to about St. Louis, I think is when I found out that the Miami debate had been canceled. So I ended up heading west or heading east back home. Well, yeah, that was an incredible drive that I got to, I got to do. That was, there was, the country out in that part of the Americas just it was fantastic.

 

Angela Tuell  21:30

Yes. A lot of a lot of flat but beautiful, too, right?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  21:33

Yeah, it was very flat.

 

Angela Tuell  21:36

So I’m sure you come in contact a lot with PR communications people, you know, how, people that work with the different senators and the White House. How can they help you do your job? Is there anything that, you know, is more helpful?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  21:53

I wouldn’t say that we run into them too much with Congress or the White House. I mean, they all have spokespeople that are responsible for getting the word out. But as far as, like a lot of the think tanks that we deal with in DC, you know, they have PR people, I think, that will send out letters and advertisements for upcoming events that they want us to cover. And so they’re very important, just letting us know what’s going on. You know, what’s what, what is this think tank talking about this week? And what are what’s another one talking about next week? So I mean, they keep us in the know, I mean, without them, we would have a difficult time trying to figure out what to cover.

 

Angela Tuell  22:32

Sure. What advice do you have for budding TV news photographers?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  22:37

Hmm? Be flexible, and be willing to sacrifice a lot. Be willing to learn something new, and embrace technology. And if you can do all that, and you’re good at what you do, it’s totally worth it.

 

Angela Tuell  22:55

Yes, yes. Be willing to start off with not a lot of pay.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  23:00

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think there’s a misconception that when you start in this business, you’re getting paid a lot of money. And you’re really not. I mean, you’re really your first couple years in the business, you’re really pinching pennies and trying to make ends meet. But if you can stick it out long enough, and it pays off in the end, but it is you do have to work hard and sacrifice to get there.

 

Angela Tuell  23:26

Yes, yes. So what’s next for you? What are you looking forward to over the next few months?

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  23:31

I don’t know. That’s, I’m hoping that COVID continues to go on the decline. And we can get back to something a little bit normal. I hope to get back to the White House soon. I hope to start traveling again. It seems like presidential elections start earlier and earlier. And you know, there are already a few people that are testing the waters.

 

Angela Tuell  23:52

Yes. Oh wow.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  23:54

Yeah. And it’s like man, I can’t wait to get back out there. And, you know, talk to people and meet people and just see the country. See more parts of the country I haven’t seen yet.

 

Angela Tuell  24:06

Thank you so much, Randy. It is always great to talk with you. I missed our time working together. Doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  24:14

Can you believe it’s been almost 20 years, though?

 

Angela Tuell  24:16

I cannot.

 

Randy Rohrbaugh  24:18

That’s just yeah, that told on me today. It’s been 20 years that I’ve been doing this almost 20 years that I’ve been doing this and I swear, last week and you and I were in Rehoboth covering.

 

Angela Tuell  24:31

Yes. Oh, my goodness. Well, thank you. That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined, available anywhere you get your podcasts. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

In today’s episode of Media in Minutes, Angela Tuell interviews long-time friend and videographer, Randy Rohrbaugh. The two covered stories together during their first years in journalism.  Randy shares about the differences in working for local network news stations and finding his dream job with C-SPAN as a photographer and field tech. Check out the links below for coverage Randy references during this interview.

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