At age 15, Alisyn Camerota watched a doomed infant get a reprieve on live TV—and she knew she wanted a career in broadcasting.
Two-week-old Jesse Sepulveda had been born with an underdeveloped heart. His parents made a national plea for help on the Phil Donahue Show. In a surprise on-air phone call, a nurse from a California hospital gave the parents the stunning news that they had found a heart donor. "Everyone erupted crying," Camerota recalls. "I was crying, too. It was this incredible scene, where the couple grabbed their stuff, mid-show, and left. That was a moment where I thought, Oh my god, the power of live television!"
Camerota, who studied broadcast journalism at AU and now cohosts CNN's New Day, transplanted her personal story to Amanda Gallo, the heroine of her debut novel, Amanda Wakes Up. The novel tracks the ambitious Gallo's quick rise from local news reporter to national morning show host and her struggle with issues of accuracy, fairness, and complicity in the rise of an unlikely candidate for president. Gallo also grapples with relationships strained by her work and expectations about her appearance that bedevil female anchors.
Writing fiction was a fun challenge for Camerota. "I'm a reporter," she says. "We record real events, we don't dream them up." Her work of fiction portrays the press as truth tellers. As her protagonist navigates fast-moving exchanges and dubious claims, Camerota recalls the words of her mentors. "That voice in Amanda's head is a composite of my journalism professors," she says, and it represents "the notion that journalism has changed—but really the rules haven't: searching for the truth, making sure your sources are credible, double-checking your work."
It's a challenging time for the media, but Camerota remains optimistic. "There's a lot of heated rhetoric about reporters and journalists, but I think people also value journalism more than they have in the recent past."