Roberts, Deborah 1960–

views updated May 29 2018

Deborah Roberts 1960

Television journalist

At a Glance


ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts is one of the most visible AfricanAmerican women in television news. As a correspondent with the toprated ABC News program 20/20, the Georgianborn journalist is known for her hardhitting interviews and quiet cool under pressure. Roberts is a darkskinned beauty in an industry that prefers its women fair, if not blond, remarked Essence writer Audrey Edwards on difficulty of achieving such status as Roberts in broadcast journalism.

Roberts was born in 1960, in Perry, a small town near Macon, Georgia. She was the seventh of nine children in an impoverished family, but Roberts has noted that she experienced no genuine hardships in her youth. My parents definitely struggled, she told Edwards in Essence, but since we always had money for whatever we needed, I thought we were well off.Fascinated by television newscasts, Roberts harbored ambitious plans from an early age, though they were nebulous. Ive always had a sense of direction, she told Edwards. I even saw myself in New York City, though Id never been there. I just knew I was going to do something bigger than Perry, Georgia. I had this restlessness, this yearning to be somebody.

A degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Georgia helped Roberts start on that path. During her summers off, she interned at a television station in Macon, and for a local Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate as well. After graduation, she was hired as a news reporter and correspondent at WTVMTV, a Columbus station. My family thought I was a star, she recalled in the Essence interview, for they were thrilled to be able to see her on local television. In 1984, after two years at WTVM, Roberts moved on to a Knoxville, Tennessee station as a general assignment reporter. Three years later, she stepped up to a bigger market when she began reporting stories for WFTVTV in Orlando, Florida. At that station, she served as field anchor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) when it made space shuttle launches, and occasionally coanchored the weekend news as well.

NBC News executives liked Robertss style, and hired her to report from its bureaus in Atlanta and then Miami. She was also sent to Spain to cover the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. It was during this period in her career that she met her future husband, Today Show meteorologist Al Roker, when she was tapped to serve as a guest anchor on NBCs venerable morning news show. There was no romantic spark initially, but after relocating from Miami to New York City in 1992, when NBC News made her a correspondent for its primetime news magazine Dateline NBC, the two became friends. When she went out of town once for an assignment, Roker housesat for her. When I got back, Roberts told People magazine, he had left flowers, stocked the refrigerator and written a really nice note.

Roker proposed to Roberts on a visit to the Grand Canyon. They married in September of 1995, just three months after Roberts had jumped ship to ABC News. Her NBC contract was coming to an end, and Roberts was shocked when she received a phone call from veteran broadcast journalist Barbara Walters,

At a Glance

Born September 20, 1960, in Perry, GA; daughter of Ben (a business owner) and Ruth (a homemaker) Roberts; married Al Roker (a TV weatherman), September 16, 1995; children: Leila. Education: University of Georgia, graduated 1982.

Career: WTVMTV, Columbus, GA, reporter, 1982-84; WBIRTV, Knoxville, TN, general assignment reporter, 1984-87; WFTVTV, Orlando, FL, bureau chief, field anchor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and coanchor of the weekend news, all 1987-90; NBC News, bureaus in Atlanta, GA, and Miami, FL, general assignment correspondent, 1990-92, then Dateline NBC correspondent, 1992-95; ABC News, New York City, 20/20 correspondent, 1995.

Awards: Distinguished Alumnus award, University of Georgia, 1992; Emmy award nomination, c. 1992, for coverage of the 1992 Olympics; Orlando Sentinel award, top local female anchor; Clarion award, for 20/20 story on Amish community.

Addresses: HomeNew York, NY. Office20/20, ABC News, 147 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10023.

longtime 20/20 correspondent, inviting her to interview for a job. That first year, Roberts delivered a profile of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, and interviewed Yolanda Saldivar, incarcerated for the slaying of Tejano star Selena, from prison.

The RobertsRoker union was notable for bringing together two top names in broadcast journalism who worked for competing networks. The ceremony took place at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, where the Boys Choir of Harlem sang. A reception at the Essex House hotel followed, which was attended by many luminaries in broadcast news, including rivals from the respective ABC and NBC morning news shows. The couple honeymooned in France.

Roberts garnered a solid reputation for her 20/20 assignments. A 1997 story about sexual abuse in a Pennsylvania Amish community won an industry award, she traveled to Africa with a group of African Americans on a genealogical mission to visit sites where their ancestors were shipped off into slavery, and toured wartorn Rwanda to report on the plight of its refugees. Along the way, she perfected a quiet, yet formidable interview style. Deborahs magic is that she comes across as a very real person, but doesnt pull any punches when it comes to interviewing, former NBC colleague Matt Lauer, cohost of the Today Show, told Edwards in Essence. She asks every single question that she should, which is sort of unnerving because people dont expect her to be as tough as she is.

Roberts also hosts a show on cable network Lifetime, Lifetime Live, and serves as the occasional anchor for ABCs World News Weekend; at other times, she cohosts Good Morning America, which airs at the same time as Rokers Today Show. The busy journalist added a new duty to her schedule when she and Roker became parents in 1998 to a daughter, Leila. They reside in a town house on Manhattans East Side, and despite the hectic pace of her career that often takes her away from home, husband, and daughter for days on end, Roberts remedies it in small but meaningful ways. She telephones often, as she told Edwards in Essence. I want to peek in on my husbands and my childs life all through the dayhow did his meeting go? What happened at my daughters school? I call them from the cab on my cell phone on the way to the airport. I call from the office. If I cant be home for something important, Ill send my husband flowers or balloons to my daughter.

The demands of Roberts career intensified on September 11, 2001, with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. She put in many long days. As sad and tragic as the terrorist attacks are, covering them can be sort of invigorating, she told Edwards in Essence. It gets to why I love the business. Im covering this historic, monumental story. Such a positive attitude, claim Robertss friends and family, was evident even in her childhood, and she concurred. I guess Ive always just assumed that things will work outthat I can do and that I will do, she told Essence. Now, thats not to say Im totally naive about failures and challenges. Id be living in a dream world if I thought theres never been an occasion when something negative happened to me because Im Black or a woman. But I never saw that as a reason to fail.



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Volume 26, Gale, 2000.


Entertainment Weekly, June 19, 1998, p. 16.

Essence, March 2002, p. 128.

Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), September 17, 1995 p. E6.

People, October 2, 1995, p. 72; June 22, 1998, p. 181.

Carol Brennan

Roberts, Deborah 1960–

views updated Jun 08 2018

ROBERTS, Deborah 1960


Born September 20, 1960, in Perry, GA; daughter of Ben (a business owner) and Ruth (a homemaker) Roberts; married Al Roker (a television personality), September 16, 1995; children: Leila, Nicholas Albert; stepchildren: Courtney. Education: University of Georgia, degree in broadcast news, 1982.

Addresses: Office c/o 20/20, ABC News, 147 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10023.

Career: News reporter and correspondent. WTVMTV, Columbus, GA, reporter, 198284; WBIRTV, Knoxville, TN, general assignment reporter, 198487; WFTVTV, Orlando, FL, bureau chief, field anchor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and coanchor of the weekend news, all 198790; NBC News, bureaus in Atlanta, GA, andMiami, FL, general assignment correspondent, 199092; intern at television stations; public speaker at various venues.

Awards, Honors: Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Georgia, 1992; Emmy Award nomination, c. 1992, for coverage of the 1992 Olympics; Orlando Sentinel Award, top local female anchor; Clarion Award, for 20/20.


Television Appearances; Series:

Correspondent, Dateline NBC, NBC, 19921995.

Correspondent, 20/20 (also known as ABC News 20/20 ), ABC, 1995.

Host, Lifetime Live, Lifetime, 2000.

Also appeared as a substitute anchor in various series, including Good Morning America (also known as GMA ), ABC; NBC News, NBC; and World News Weekend, ABC.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Anchor, Im Not a Racist but ... Small Steps toward Healing the Hate, Lifetime, 1999.

Correspondent in Orlando, ABC 2000, ABC, 1999.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

The 24th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, 1997.



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 35, Gale, 2002.


Entertainment Weekly, June 19, 1998, p. 16.

Essence, March, 2002, pp. 13844.

People Weekly, October 2, 1995, p. 72.