Hena Doba went on-air for the first time during 9/11.
Visiting family in her hometown of Queens, New York, the UB alum and former Spectrum features editor immediately jumped into action.
“I just picked up a camcorder and started walking the streets of Queens,” she said. “And lo and behold, that’s when my on-air job began.”
At the time, Doba was working as a TV news producer in Watertown, New York, a “tiny little [media] market,” mere months after graduating from UB with a degree in psychology and English.
“I was told growing up my whole life I was going to be a doctor, or go to med school, or [be an] engineer…that’s why I ended up there [at UB],” she said. “But then one day walking down the hall… I saw The Spectrum’s poster and who knew that day would change the course of my career?”
While she chose to pursue a career in television after graduation, she never thought she’d be working on-air.
At the turn of the century, TV news wasn’t very diverse, meaning Doba, a Pakistani woman, stuck out — and not necessarily in a good way.
She says she was grateful to have a news director who “stuck to his guns” and had her back, but that didn’t protect her from the racism.
Her news directors used to get emails that said things like “Why is the terrorist telling us the news?” Once, during a live shot, a passing driver rolled down their window and called Doba a “very derogatory term.”
“I think it was ignorance and anger,” she said. “I don’t hold on to it in any way, in any negative connotation.” After the developments she’s seen during her more than 20 years in the industry, Doba remains optimistic about the future despite her past experiences.
“When I got my first TV job, I was asked not to use Zulfiquar [her maiden name] because it was too ambiguous… I don’t think anyone would tell any employee that now,” she said. “I think we have come a long way… I’d like to say things are slowly changing.”
Doba has worked all over the country since leaving Watertown, including at stations in Atlanta and Hartford, Connecticut. She currently works in New York City, her goal since the start of her career due to the city’s status as “market one,” allowing her to reach a larger audience of people.
Doba currently works as a host and anchor for Cheddar News, a financial news network where she highlights the experiences of successful female leaders.
Although she’s achieved her goal of returning home, she credits leaving the “New York City bubble” as one of the best decisions she’s made, especially during her time as CBS news’ national correspondent.
“I was traveling all over the country,” she said. “Whenever there was breaking news, I was on a plane and I was on the scene. I think moving and meeting all these people is what makes me so empathetic and so willing to tell other people’s stories outside of New York City. I’m so grateful I had the chance to leave the city and come back.”
Doba has covered a lot of major tragedies in her career, including the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings. As a journalist, she’s learned to put her feelings aside and focus on doing her job.
“I might break down later off-air, but it’s not going to happen on-air,” she said. “I always try to remember what I’m doing there.”
She still keeps in touch with some of the parents from the tragedies.
“You see the changes that these communities are making within not only with themselves, but in their school,” she said. “It’s just nice to see at the end of the day, on some of the worst stories that you can think of — you do see people coming together, and that never gets tiring.”
Jasmin Yeung is the senior features editor and can be reached at email@example.com