By Aashna Malpani (‘21)
Rudabeh Shahbazi has trudged alone through swamps and braved unbearable heat and cold, laden with heavy camera equipment, just to get a story. She graduated from the J-School in the middle of an economic downturn but was willing to do all that work solo just to make it.
“While other Berkeley classmates had these amazing jobs in New York, and they were at the big networks…I was in this tiny town, being a one-man band and not making enough money to live,” she said, laughing.
Shahbazi graduated from Berkeley Journalism in 2007. For the past five years, she’s been an anchor at CBS4 in Miami, one of the leading broadcast markets in the country, and she recently accepted a national anchor position, the details of which are yet to be announced.
She won a regional Emmy Award in 2016 and earlier that year was named one of Miami’s most influential women by Ocean Drive Magazine. Miami News Times honored her as “Best TV News Anchor,” and she was the recipient of the Christopher Columbus News Network award for “Best Anchor.”
Even though Shahbazi is currently living a success story, her journey, she says, has been rife with ups and downs. “You have to really be willing to sacrifice a lot and do a lot of work that is not glamorous,” she said. “I love Miami, but I definitely look back and have a lot of war stories from climbing the ranks of the TV world.”
Initially a documentary student, Shahbazi experienced a slew of setbacks while at Berkeley, compelling her to restructure her plans for grad school. After experiencing a personal tragedy shortly after her first year, Shahbazi could not shoot her second-year thesis and had to forgo her summer internship. She did not qualify for the doc program and pivoted to the TV track.
Shahbazi did her thesis on the human toll of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the refugees who fled to Jordan — a trying project for a solo reporter. “At Berkeley, you just kind of made it happen,” she said. “Whatever idea, no matter how ambitious, you could just go [and] kind of do it as long as you could find a way to get it done.”
The story ended up on PBS’ international newsmagazine Frontline/World and was the culmination of her hard work as well as support and guidance from the faculty. “They [professors] were in the edit bay with me every day, working along with me on how to craft the story and which direction to go,” Shahbazi said.
She singled out Thomas Burke, attorney and media law instructor at Berkeley Journalism, describing him as the most “influential member” of her “council of elders.” They remain friends 13 years later.
Throughout her career, Burke has helped Shahbazi with her contracts, written her letters of recommendation, informed her about different media organizations, and given her guidance about how to approach those outlets.
“He taught me a lot of practical knowledge I use every day in my work. He was always a supportive and helpful mentor who I could turn to for career advice, legal questions and wise perspective,” she said.
Burke, too, had nothing but praise for Shahbazi. “Her current work as the evening anchor for CBS in Miami is her most prominent position, but she continues to work very long days,” he said. “In the nearly two decades that I have taught media law at the J-School, Rudabeh stands out… [She] remains ever curious as a journalist and grounded despite her success.”
Upon graduating, Shahbazi entered the market at a time when the economy was struggling, and reporters in the field had to meet high demands because of nationwide budget cuts. In her first several jobs as a video reporter for news stations in Washington State, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, she shot and edited all of her pieces, completing tasks that are often demanding even for an entire crew.
She recalled a time in Los Angeles when, in the middle of a live shot, Shahbazi felt a horrible pain in her upper abdomen. Wanting to get the piece in, she persevered, but the story changed last minute. So she had to drive over to Orange County, do another live shot, and then go to a hospital. She was suffering from kidney stones.
“I just remember doing the live shot [and I kept] kneeling over in pain,” she said, “and [eventually] driving myself to the emergency room right after in the news truck and then being treated by the doctor and driving home.”
At other times Shahbazi had to visit gang and high-crime areas at night to get a story or had to report in 113 degrees or freezing East Coast cold by herself. At one point, she was doing a story on fires, and reporting conditions were so harsh, other crews were getting carried out on stretchers because they were passing out from the heat.
Documenting some of the country’s most brutal stories has been a running theme for Shahbazi. She covered the shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 and won an Emmy for her coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., in 2016.
“Before I got to Berkeley, I’d never picked up a video camera, and I had never edited before,” Shahbazi said. “Just having those skills was huge. That’s what enabled me to get jobs when the economy was coming crashing down; [newsrooms] needed people who did everything.”
“I believe in paying your dues,” she said, when asked why she never gave up, especially when colleagues were leaving because of excessive demands. Shahbazi’s answer to a life of struggle is pretty straightforward: “You have to do a cost-benefit analysis and see if there are enough good times or rewarding times or people’s lives you’ve impacted or changes you’ve been able to make or exciting stories you’ve told or history that you’ve gotten to be a part of. And [see] if that outweighs the tough times. And for me, it did.”
She’s also learned key things along the way that she wishes she could share with her younger self. “Be more forgiving. Have faith that things will work out, and it doesn’t matter what people think of you. Don’t waste your time and emotions and everything on people’s judgment because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Somehow, things will all shake out.”