Ortega graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor's degree in history. He went on to attend Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, receiving a Master's degree in journalism. 
Ortega joined CNN after a long career as an investigative journalist, most recently spending nearly six years at the Arizona Republic as a specialty writer covering the border and focusing on child welfare. He also served as managing editor for the Honolulu Civil Beat, which focuses on accountability journalism. 
Beginning his journalism career in Alaska, Ortega worked as a television reporter in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage and later moved into print journalism at the Anchorage Times, where he uncovered a military program testing deadly biological and chemical agents in a remote military base near Delta, Alaska. 
Ortega later served as managing editor of the Homer News, and moved to the Seattle Times and the Wall Street Journal where he reported on child labor and other issues. While at the Journal, Bob wrote In Sam We Trust: The Untold Story of Sam Walton and Wal-mart, the World's Largest Retailer. 
He spent ten years working overseas training journalists in investigative reporting in countries such as Paraguay, Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine, working through a military coup in Paraguay and revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. A program he led to assist independent news media in Belarus was shut down by the Lukashenko regime, which revoked his visa and forced him to leave the country. 
Ortega is the recipient of the Hillman Prize for social justice reporting, and the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. In 2013, he also received the Sidney Award for reporting on a deeply flawed and widely used screening test for Cervical cancer.