He discouraged her, saying that Time and Newsweek hired only men as writers. Her second choice was to become a sportswriter. He advised her to “go home and start thinking sensibly” about her future.
Nevertheless, Shah studied journalism in college, working at the Indiana Daily Student and graduating from Indiana University in three and a half years, in 1967.
After graduation, Shah began to look for a writing job. The editors she spoke with continually told her they couldn’t hire her because she was a woman.
Ignoring her guidance counselor’s advice, she arranged an interview with the Washington bureau chief at Newsweek. She struck out, being told she not only didn’t have the experience to be a writer, but she also wasn’t qualified to be a reporter, researcher or part-time librarian.
Her persistence led her to her first break, a job at Roll Call, covering Capitol Hill. After six weeks, she received a call from the National Observer, a weekly publication owned by Dow Jones. The publication hired Shah to be the sole writer for a weekly National Observer current events publication written for junior high students. She found the work dull, but she took the job in hopes that it might someday lead to a position with the National Observer itself.
It took only two and a half months. She became the youngest staff writer and one of Dow Jones’s first female journalists.
At the Observer, she covered national stories: trials, profiles of celebrities (including Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, baseball player Mickey Mantle and football player Joe Namath) and the 1972 Republican Convention.
The Observer folded in 1977. Her next job, of all places, was as a writer at Newsweek magazine. In 1979, she became the magazine’s No. 2 sportswriter and one of the first women to enter a locker room.
At Newsweek, she covered the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow — which the U.S. boycotted — and the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. She once wrote a cover story on Indiana native Larry Bird, and he reacted by telling other sportswriters, “If I ever see that girl again, I’ll spit in her face.”
In 1981, Shah became the first female sports columnist for a daily paper in the U.S., at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. She covered Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, NBA championships, Final Fours (including IU’s 1981 national championship), golf and tennis championships and boxing. When the Lakers beat the Celtics for the NBA championship in 1985, President Ronald Reagan invited the Lakers for a ceremony in the Rose Garden. Shah broke into the White House to get the story. She was the only reporter there.
In 1987, Shah left her columnist job to pursue magazine and book writing. She published stories in The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, GQ, ESPN The Magazine, Playboy, Sport, the Columbia Journalism Review and Esquire.
Shah now writes books and has published four mystery novels, and she co-wrote the book Chief: My Life in the LAPD, which made the New York Times bestseller list. She published her most recent book, Relentless, about famed sports photographer Neil Leifer, in 2016.