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Up close and pretty personable: New CBS11 news director Adrienne Roark

CBS11/TXA21 news director Adrienne Roark in stations' Fort Worth studios. She's been on the job since March 23rd. Photos: Ed Bark

FORT WORTH -- CBS11's fourth news director in a little over three years says a change is needed.

Namely, someone who stays put.

"Yes, there was a bit of a feeling of being unsettled here, of people not being sure what was going to happen," says Adrienne Roark. "And yes, they definitely need stability, and I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I want to be able to put my children in a good public school system and see it through. I can do that here."

Roark, 39, joined CBS11 on March 23rd from WFOR-TV in Miami, where she also was news director. She and her husband, a "stay-at-home dad," are parents of two sons, ages 5 and 10. They remain in Miami, finishing out the school year, while Roark searches for a home and admittedly gets lost a lot while getting to know the expansive North Texas viewing area, population 6.9 million.

"I've driven all over the place," she says in her first interview since joining CBS11 while also overseeing the news operation at sister station TXA21. "This is probably one of the friendliest places I've been. Everybody here wants to talk to you and wants to help you. It's a little different than Miami. Miami's not quite that friendly."

Roark is still feeling her way and bristles a bit when asked about putting her "stamp" on the two stations at the outset of the May "sweeps" rating period, which starts Thursday.

"I don't really like that term," she interjects. "My stamp? It's not about me. I just want to be here to grow on what we already have, and help everybody here do it . . . I believe in hiring good people and putting them in the right places and letting them go and do their jobs. And then I'll do the course corrections when we need it."

Her boss, CBS11/TXA21 president and general manager Gary Schneider, doesn't mind using the "stamp" word when asked to detail Roark's strengths.

"Being from the CBS family (WFOR also is owned by the network), she knows our culture," he says. "She has a very strong news mind as it relates to journalism, but yet she has a good handle on digital technology, too. She doesn't fight that. She actually embraces it. In the short time she's been here, she's made some great connections with the staff, keeping our successes going and at the same time seeing some areas she can put her stamp on."

Roark's first priority, which she underscores during our interview in her office, is rebuilding CBS11's badly decimated investigative unit. There basically hasn't been one since reporter Bennett Cunningham resigned late last year over a salary dispute.

The head producer of the investigative unit soon followed him out the door, leaving Roark to start from scratch. In Miami, which she describes as "a target-rich environment for investigative journalism," Roark had a nine-person unit of three reporters, two photographers, one editor and three producers.

One of her investigators was hired from the Miami Herald, and Roark says she'd ideally like to find at least one print reporter to join the CBS11 unit, too. Right now she has just two positions to fill.

"These are the stories that have to be told," she says. "And unfortunately, a lot of stations have gotten away from investigative reporting. It's something that is our duty as journalists. So that will be one of the things you'll see me do . . . I'm always the blue skies type of gal. I want to get as much as I can. But right now I'm just trying to get one reporter to at least get us back in the game."

President/GM Gary Schneider says Roark has "a strong news mind."

Roark, an Ohio State graduate who carries a pair of tree-grown, nickel-sized buckeyes in her purse, is the daughter of a Kent, Ohio English teacher who demanded that his children keep up with current events. That meant Walter Cronkite's CBS Evening News on a nightly basis, weekly doses of 60 Minutes and teaspoons of Castor Oil in the form of The McLaughlin Group.

"That was how I was raised," she says. "So I don't think I ever had a chance of getting into anything else (but news). I'm curious, and sometimes nosy, I suppose, which is a good trait for journalists. I just kind of knew in the back of my mind that this was what I wanted to do. And I love writing. Put it all together, and there you go."

Roark was ridiculed in some quarters for a website declaration of her news idealism. She wrote in part, "We need people who are advocates for the voiceless, for the downtrodden. That is what being a journalist means; to give voice to the voiceless; to fight for what's right; to be an advocate for the people. This all may sound corny. But it's what I believe, and what I live every day."

"I wouldn't have written that if I didn't believe it," she says during the interview in her CBS11 office, which overlooks the newsroom. "It should matter and it's really hard to do that."

But Roark says she succeeded in practicing what she preaches in Miami, "one of the most salacious markets in the country" where rival news operations supposedly pandered to the lowest common news denominator -- flash and trash.

Roark succeeded Scott Diener at CBS11 after he left the station in January to become news director at KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, where former CBS11 president/GM Scott Mauldin had migrated.

Diener supplanted Regent "Run 'n' Gun" Ducas, whose disastrous tenure was cut short in the late summer of 2007. Ducas replaced Tom Doerr, for whom Roark worked at Miami's WFOR-TV. There also was a notable false start, with Greg Easterly from Cleveland's WJW-TV officially hired to replace Doerr in December 2006 before he belatedly reconsidered during the Christmas holidays. The station then made an abrupt U-turn toward Ducas, who specialized in the visual catnip of car wrecks and crime scenes. It didn't work, and his staff was soon in open revolt.

CBS11 enters the May sweeps as the defending champ at 10 p.m. in the total viewer Nielsen ratings, but by barely a hair over WFAA8. The station also has been running strong of late at 6 p.m., where it has a chance to pull off an upset.

WFAA8 management has insisted time and again that 25-to-54-year-old viewers are the only news audience that really matters. And advertisers are especially keen on attracting women in that age range. They consistently watch local newscasts in much larger numbers than men, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Men are more likely to opt for sports or cartoons.

Roark, who joins Maria Barrs and Susan Tully as the respective heads of the Fox4 and NBC5 news departments, is asked whether women bring a different sensibility to those jobs. Specifically, should women viewers be offended by stories about -- as her questioner puts it -- "another doctor who's got a different way of making your ass smaller?"

She laughs at the thought of stories on "the latest lypo and stuff like that."

"Sure, we're going to do stories that appeal to women," Roark concedes. "But the stories have to have substance. They can't be what you just said. OK? I'm not going to repeat that. Downsizing your derriere. There you go. I'm sure everybody in this market has done those stories. Across the country we've all done them. I mean, most of these ideas are recycled all over the place."

Roark says she plans to reach higher with stories aimed at women viewers of a certain age, but "I'm not telling you what we're doing in May . . . It's hard to put journalism in a formula. You have to let the stories dictate the format, not the other way around. You want to be No. 1, but you want to be proud of what you're doing along the way, too. It's hard."

One last thing -- her first name. Roark earlier had volunteered that she gets "Yo, Adrienne" a lot. Including on the day she first entered the CBS11/TXA21 newsroom. So how does she handle it?

"My general response is, 'Gosh, never heard that before,' " she says. Some people also have trouble remembering her name.

"They call me Andrea," she says. All it takes, though, is a reference to the Rocky movies, which Roark readily supplies.

And then they don't forget.