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CNN's Alisyn Camerota Tackles Integrity of News Industry in Debut Novel

People

At 15 years old Alisyn Camerota decided she wanted to see herself on the small screen as a television reporter. Alisyn has dedicated over 25 years of her life to the news industry. All this experience is what influenced her to write a novel based on her own life about the ins and outs of being a successful woman in a male dominated career.


Alisyn has worked with many different news programs including NBC, ABC and most notably FOX where she worked for 16 years. After leaving them in 2014 she began her career at CNN where she is flourishing as a co-anchor on New Day. She has covered some of the most talked about stories in the media including the Pulse nightclub shooting and the attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Camerota’s first book is a fictional story inspired by the events of her lively career. The protagonist, Amanda, deals with similar things that Alisyn herself has dealt with in this line of work including a presidential campaign with a TV celebrity and waking up before the sun goes up everyday. Below is our inside scoop on Alisyn’s new book.

Amanda Wakes Up

1. What inspired you to put the pen to paper on this subject of cable news?

I've always been struck by the funny, juicy, and important things that happen behind the scenes at every TV network, off the air – all the crazy characters and decision-making and relationships that the viewer never sees. Ever since sitting in my first story pitch meeting years ago, I've thought: if only the audience could see this. So those are the things I've tried to capture in the book.

2. What are your favorite things about your job?

I love the front-row-seat-on-history I get as a journalist. I love having access to powerful people and asking them questions and getting them to explain themselves. I love having a fresh opportunity every day to try to move toward solutions.

Alisyn Camerota

It's very rewarding when viewers come up and thank me for the work I do, which happens a lot. Still, the questions I get most often are: Where do you get your clothes? Do people do your hair and makeup every day? And what time do you wake up?

3. The book’s protagonist, Amanda Gallo, goes straight from the backwater of local TV news to becoming the face of a national morning show. What was your own journey like as a broadcast journalist?

My trajectory was more unconventional and circuitous than Amanda's. My first job was working for Ted Koppel's production company, helping to produce his primetime documentaries on ABC called The Koppel Reports. From there I became a reporter on the national crime show America's Most Wanted. I was the person who, after the fugitive was caught, would go into the jail cell and ask why they did it. Sitting across from murderers and rapists was baptism by fire for how to challenge intimidating people. From there, I became a correspondent on NBC's morning magazine show called REALlife. When that was cancelled, I did a short stint for about a year in local news in Boston and Providence. From there, I became the New England correspondent for the FOX News Channel, and ultimately a host on the morning show. I joined CNN in 2014, where I became the co-anchor of the morning news program, New Day, which you can watch from six to nine a.m. every day. Set your alarms!

4. Like Amanda, you have to start your day at the crack of dawn. What does your morning routine look like?

My alarm goes off at 3:15am and every morning it still surprises me. I'm still like, "what is that?" The time between 3:30 to 4:30 a.m. is one of my most intense hours. That's when I cram for the exam, catching up on all the developments that have happened overnight while I was sleeping (and nowadays there are a lot). God bless my producer, who comes in even earlier than I do to start prepping all the research I need for the show.

She and I begin exchanging emails at 3:30am and I send her requests for graphics, soundbites, facts and statistics — all the evidence I'll use to challenge officials who may not be interested in telling the truth. At 4:30am, I arrive, get changed into my on-air outfit, get into hair and make-up, stuff some food in my mouth and run to the set in time for the 6:00 a.m. start.

5. Sparks start to fly between Amanda and her co-anchor Rob on the set of Wake Up, USA! What was it like writing their romances?

The relationship between Rob and Amanda was fun to write because the chemistry of co-hosts is always a "thing": a tangible commodity that viewers pick up on. Spending hours next to someone first thing in the morning every day is a pretty intimate experience, even though it's in front of millions of people. You learn their mannerisms, speech patterns and moods. Plus, I was single during my first ten years in TV news, so, let's just say, I'd acquired some material to draw from in terms of the thrill (and the downsides) of office romances. Rob is a composite of several guys I've worked with at various stations — all of whom think he's based solely on them.

6. What’s it like to cover a political campaign, and was it strange to see some of your predictions come true in 2016?

If being a newscaster doesn't work out, I'm going to become a boardwalk psychic because I'm that good. It was frankly bizarre how many of the scenarios I'd written years ago in Amanda Wakes Up became reality during the most recent presidential election. Rarely a week went by that my editor, agent and I didn't exchange emails about one of these prescient situations with the heading "Whoa! Did you see what just happened?" But the truth is that I've realized, when you cover presidential elections, some issues and events come around again and again, and I think I fastened on them.

7. Amanda Wakes Up is a comedy, but Amanda also has to grapple with serious issues like fairness and integrity in news, and how to get the story right in a ratings-driven climate. Why did you want to write about these issues?

Journalism feels more important now than ever, and I think this is a good time to have a conversation about how and why we do what we do. There's a lot of confusion out there about what constitutes news and which outlets can be trusted. Having worked at four different networks, I've seen the difference in approaches and missions, particularly when it comes to ratings versus information and I wanted to tell that story. And what exactly does it mean to be an "objective" journalist? Amanda has to figure all that out.

8. What advice do you have for people — especially young women — interested in broadcast news?

If you're willing to work around the clock, get very little sleep, stand outside for hours in hurricanes and snowstorms, drop all your plans for breaking news, and for the first few years (at least) make poverty line wages, then broadcast journalism is the field for you. Oh, and a love of finding facts and searching for justice helps too. If those things appeal to you, being in broadcast news is the best job in the world.

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Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.