CNN's Alisyn Camerota Talks Her First Novel ‘Amanda Wakes Up,’ Building A Career & Fighting Sexism (Exclusive Q&A)

The fake news epidemic has taken off in the U.S. ever since the 2016 election. It’s become a lot harder to stay a fair, objective and respected journalist, but Alisyn Camerota makes it look easy. From a college TV station to Fox & Friends to CNN’s New Day, where she currently anchors, Camerota’s experience gives her a unique insight into what you see when you watch the news. 

Now, she’s sharing that knowledge. In her debut novel, Amanda Wakes Up, (now in paperback!) Camerota gives a glimpse into what it means to be a journalist right now. From work-life balance to ratings-based stories, Camerota covers all the struggles and dilemmas a young reporter faces. 

Her Campus got a chance to catch up with Camerota learn more about Camerota’s years at American University, how she built her career and the advice she has for young women facing sexism in the workplace. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alisyn Camerota (@alisyncamerota) on

 

Her Campus: So, let’s start at the beginning. Why did you decide to study broadcast? And, specifically, why in D.C.?

Alisyn Camerota: When I was in high school, I would watch Phil Donahue on TV. One day, there was truly an ah-ha moment where I thought “Oh my gosh, is that a career? What do you call that job?” I only applied to colleges that had TV stations because I was so interested in doing it. I got a full 4-year scholarship to AU. That’s what made the decision for me. 

I showed up at WAVE-TV [American University’s on-campus television station, now known as ATV] like my first week on campus. The second semester of my freshman year I became an anchor, and my co-anchor was a guy named Rick Leventhal. We worked together for 16 years at Fox and we would always crack up that this was our dream when we were at AU and we actually made it happen. 

HC: That is such a cute story. I guess it’s safe to say that you would tell young journalists that the connections they make really matter!

AC: Well, for sure! The connections that you make in college are really important. Craig Stevens, who was my co-host after Rick graduated, is still the lead anchor in local news in Miami and he has been there since graduating. A lot of the kids that I worked with at WAVE-TV got jobs instantly and are still working in broadcast journalism. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alisyn Camerota (@alisyncamerota) on

 

HC: While you’re thinking about all these journalists you’ve worked with over time, are there any qualities that they all have in common that make them such successful journalists?

AC: Definitely tenacity. This is not a career for the faint of heart. These are all people who wanted to go stand in storms when a hurricane was coming in, who wanted to rush to the crime scene, who wanted to go where breaking news happened. You need to have this drive in your blood because it’s a hard job. It gets easier, but the first years are exhausting.

This is not a career for the faint of heart. These are all people who wanted to go stand in storms when a hurricane was coming in, who wanted to rush to the crime scene, who wanted to go where breaking news happened. You need to have this drive in your blood because it’s a hard job.

HC: In Amanda Wakes Up, it seems that she really struggles with maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend and trying to make it in her field. It becomes about the sacrifices she has to make to keep the balance. Is that a struggle that comes with being a journalist?

AC: Well, I think it just comes from being ambitious. I think that if you’re really ambitious, you always hear the clock ticking. You know that time is limited. In my 20s, I really struggled. I worked hard to try and get situated and to get established in my career. I felt that once I got established in my career, then I could try to put the other pieces of my life together in terms of getting married and having kids.

Ultimately, I ended up being able to manage it, but there were some nights where I questioned that. I’m here to tell everybody that I believe you can have it all. You can have what you want - the personal life, family life and career you want, but there will be days and weeks when you’re not sure that it will all come together.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alisyn Camerota (@alisyncamerota) on

 

HC: Was there a moment, throughout all of this stress and anxiety, where you felt like just giving up on your career?

AC: I always thought this was the career for me from the very first time I went out with a camera. It was this cold November day. I didn’t know what I was doing. I am not somebody who was naturally made for this, I had to learn how to do it, but the minute that the camera turned on and I spoke into the microphone, it was a total adrenaline rush. That told me that this is the right career for me. I never thought about giving up my career. I did think, “How am I going to scale back to make a personal life work?”

When I thought that, I went to my boss at Fox and I said that I was struggling with wanting to have a family and being sent all the time on these breaking news stories — sometimes I was being sent overseas. That’s when I decided that I would try to do more anchoring because that is more steady and predictable. I have to be in a studio every morning at 5:30 a.m. come hell or high water.

HC: Is there any story that comes to mind that’s either the first time or a major time when you felt the rewards of all your hard work and dedication to this field?

AC: I have a lot of those. I worked on a national show called Real Life as a national correspondent. The host of the show, a woman named Lu, was on vacation. They asked me to fill in for her. All of my jumping up for breaking news in the middle of the night, canceling all those dates and flying around the country had gotten me noticed. They came to me to fill in when they could’ve gone to anybody. That night beforehand I just felt like tomorrow is a big day and the culmination of my past eight years of working around the clock.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alisyn Camerota (@alisyncamerota) on

 

HC: In the novel, when Amanda gets an interview with FAIR News, she has a similar inner monologue about getting her chance at something bigger and her hard work paying off. It’s clear how your experiences translated into the novel, so why not a memoir instead?

AC: I felt that a novel would just give me more freedom to talk about some of the things that I didn’t like about various workplaces or the direction that some of the shows I was working on were going. I felt when I was at Fox, the show I was on was really blurring the line between news and talk radio. I wasn’t comfortable with that because of my training as a journalist. I was frustrated that, I felt, they weren’t being honest with the audience that they aren’t watching news.

A tell-all memoir would suggest that I knew all the answers and everybody around me was doing it wrong, but I don’t feel that way. A novel let me explore different things. I felt like I didn’t really want to give the answers. I wanted to pose all the ethical dilemmas that come up every day when you do work in news. A novel just gave me more opportunity to play around.

HC: In the process of exploring those questions, did you realize anything about your own career?

AC: Writing a book happens at a glacial speed. That gave me a lot of time to really spell out, process and explore what I was doing and the choices that I was making. It really helped me become a better journalist. When I would be frustrated in real life at work, I’d come home and write that scene. The process of writing the scene, but turning it into fiction, helped me be better prepared for the next time that came up. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alisyn Camerota (@alisyncamerota) on

 

HC: You’ve talked before about the “new rules” for women trying to make it in any business, including “tell everybody” if faced with any sort of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Could you talk more about how young women can find the voice to self-advocate, especially in male dominated fields?

AC: One of the things that has allowed sexual harassment to propagate throughout all of these decades that I have been in this industry is silence. The harassers rely on silence because they know what they’re doing is wrong. The victims of it suffer in silence. They feel that nobody will have their backs. What I’ve learned is that breaking the silence is the antidote to harassment.

If all of the women who have come forward in the last two years had known how many women were also struggling and suffering, it would have ended sooner. If it has happened to you, it is most likely happening to someone else. I suggest that you tell your allies, coworkers you trust, HR, your boss and then, if you don’t get any justice, call a lawyer. You don’t have to tolerate it. I thought for so many years that we had to just navigate through it because that was the culture in the 80s and 90s, but that culture has changed.

If it has happened to you, it is most likely happening to someone else. I suggest that you tell your allies, coworkers you trust, HR, your boss and then, if you don’t get any justice, call a lawyer. You don’t have to tolerate it.

HC: Will the culture continue to change? Will women, one day, no longer have to expect to face this in the workplace?

AC: From where I sit, I see that everyone is on notice. To me, it feels like we’re on the right path, but I don’t want to be so naive as to say “problem solved.” Obviously, this is going to be a problem that we have to continue to tackle. The more that young women feel empowered and feel that they have allies and the more that they speak up and explain what makes them uncomfortable and what can’t be tolerated, the better. I can’t impress that upon young women enough: You have permission to say that this is not okay and to go to a higher-up to explain what is happening to you.

Amanda Wakes Up is now available in hardcover, paperback and e-book editions at most national book retailers.