CNN’s Alisyn Camerota talks new book — and real news
Before she was coanchor of CNN’s “New Day,” Alisyn Camerota worked at Fox News Channel. And before that, she was on the air at WHDH-TV Channel 7 in Boston. In other words, Camerota knows a thing or two about TV news, and some of it shows up in “Amanda Wakes Up,” her first novel. The book is about — wait for it — a young female journalist and, yes, it’s inspired by Camerota’s own experiences in the news business. The other day, we chatted with the author on the phone.
Q. When and why did you decide to write a novel?
A. I started writing things down around the 2012 presidential election, a kind of crazy race filled with all sorts of colorful characters. At that time, I was a weekend morning host on “Fox & Friends” on the Fox News Channel, and I was interviewing all of them. There were times that it was kind of a challenge to get them to be fact-based and to get the straight story. I started going home, and for posterity, writing some of the interesting exchanges or funny moments — just a few vignettes, to collect my thoughts. I started taking notes during that time, but not thinking it would turn into a book — mostly trying to process what was happening. And then, after about a year, it kind of started forming itself into a book.
Q. Describe the main character, Amanda, and how she’s similar to you.
A. She’s an idealistic, young journalist and she’s trying to climb her way up the ladder of success. She has various challenges and misadventures, and she has to determine what she’s willing to sacrifice for success. I think all of my experience over 25 years was condensed and has informed Amanda — except she figured it out within the year-and-a-half-long trajectory of the book.
Q. In the book, Victor Fluke is a nontraditional candidate in the presidential election Amanda covers. What inspired this character?
A. A lot of Amanda’s experiences in the book were my experiences, with creative license. Most of the characters are composites of funny, interesting people that I’ve met behind the scenes in TV news. Victor Fluke was born out of, originally, the Herman Cain archetype. Cain was an outsider candidate — a successful entrepreneur with lots of fun quips who popped through the screen in a way that some of the others didn’t. I thought he provided a lot of great material. My boss at the time, Roger Ailes, really liked Cain because he was outside and shaking it up, and wasn’t a bureaucrat. So, Cain was the germ of the idea for this outsider candidate, Fluke. Cain was also accused of sexual harassment, which was good material for Amanda because, what do you do when you want to cover a story one way and your boss wants you to cover it another way? What do you do with your personal convictions when your boss has other convictions? Donald Trump was flirting with getting into the race and I was interviewing him at the time, so some of him also colored Fluke. But really, the person that I most channeled and most envisioned when I was writing it was Burt Reynolds. I was just imagining that Fluke would look like a previously popular TV star and macho guy who was past his prime by the time Amanda encountered him.
Q. What will readers learn about the journalism industry after reading your book?
A. I’m glad that this can be a conversation about journalism, because I think we are all due for a refresher course about why the stakes are so high. One of the things I want to remind people is that real journalism with real news and with real tried-and-true news outlets that have been around for decades — there are rules that we all adhere to. You don’t ever take any of this lightly, you never rush a story on the air without your sources being ironclad. You have to be fact-based at all times. Accuracy is paramount. You never burn a source, you protect your sources. There are all sorts of rules that we’ve all studied and that still apply. And they don’t apply for random, weird websites, strange blogs and your Facebook page — and all of the other places people are getting information. Not all news is created equal, and not all information is created equal. I don’t blame people for being confused about it with this proliferation of information out there, but pick your favorite trusted news source — it’s been around for decades and has an excellent track record. If they ever get something wrong, they retract it and apologize. That’s where you should be going for your information because I can assure you that the new crop of websites and blogs don’t adhere to all those same things.
Q. What message will young, female journalists get from your book?
A. I think that you’ll get the impression that it’s a thrilling career. If you have this in your blood and if you love trying to find the truth and the facts and getting people’s stories, trying to be a witness to history and all of the things that journalism is, it is the greatest career in the world. It is never dull. I’m so encouraged by how so many young women do want to get into it and are now into positions that were previously only held by men, breaking the glass ceiling in journalism.