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.
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.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.