Viewers tuning into the newscast on WRAL-TV have seen reports from Amanda Lamb since 1994, covering everything from crime and court rulings to natural disasters. Earning her bachelor’s in English and psychology from Duke University and her master’s in journalism from Northwestern University, this Philadelphia native proudly calls North Carolina home sweet home.
Lamb is an author of eight books, some developed from her investigative news work, while others delve into parenting and caring for mother after her diagnosis with a terminal brain tumor, chronicled in “The Living Room.” She is also is a regular contributor to the “Go Ask Mom” blog on WRAL.com.
Her home life with her husband, two teenage daughters and dog, Bella, was showcased on an episode of HGTV’s “Love It or List It,” in which the couple went through several months of extensive home renovations before deciding to “love” it and stay put rather than listing their house.
On the sun porch of her Cary home with Bella at her side, Lamb talks about journalism, writing, caregiving for her mother, her assignment in Uganda and her goals for her Second 50.
ONC: How did your love for journalism develop?
AL: I joked that I was a writer when I was 10 years old. And that’s when I started writing. I have the little books to prove it. They are notebook paper with construction paper covers, still glued together. It was always something I loved, always something I did in school. I wrote for the school newspaper and a magazine. I took creative writing classes. I went to Duke, and I majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. I always loved writing. When I was at Duke, I did an internship at, actually, my competitor, WTVD. I had grown up acting. It was a great way to marry performance with the writing. I loved it right away, and I knew it was for me. It was dynamic, it was interesting and it was a way to write every single day. I had no idea at this point in my life that I would be writing as much as I am, because I do four shows a day usually, and I write and produce all the original content for every show. So, it has allowed me to be a better writer in every other area of my writing. It’s been a good life experience. Not to mention the characters that I meet along the way. I wish I had taken more notes, because there are so many characters. It’s been a great career, just in terms of life experience. Peeking into everybody else’s world, so I know a little bit about a lot of things. It’s been a great 28 years—28 years in television and a few months in radio when I first started. My first job was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Then I was in Portland, Maine. Then I came to WRAL in the fall of 1994. Three jobs, but WRAL was the job that raised me as a journalist.
And the job lured you back to North Carolina?
I really did love North Carolina. My mother’s family is from outside of Charlotte. So, I had grown up coming to that part of the state. I thought it would be a great stepping stone, and WRAL had a great reputation, but I had no idea I would stay. I came here for two years, and that was in 1994. I ended up staying and getting married and having children. It just turned out to be such a great place to be. I’m an outdoor person. My whole family loves the coast of North Carolina. We bike, paddleboard, hike, and you can do that almost year-round here. Also, having grown up in the Northeast, I felt like this was a gentler culture to raise my children in. I feel like it’s been a good place for them to grow up.
What do you still love about community news?
When you work day in and day out in a community like Raleigh, and people think of Raleigh as a big city if you’re from outside of it, but it’s really a small town. You really make ties and get to know people, and you have a sense of responsibility and obligation to the viewers and to the people that you interview and the people you do stories on. You have this connection that you are not going to have in network news. I love storytelling. I enjoy learning something new every day, meeting new people and being in new environments. It’s always interesting, it’s dynamic, it changes every day, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you have not seen it all. There is always something new.
Which of your assignments stands out the most for you?
I have covered a lot of disasters. And that sounds like that would be such a negative, but as the same time, you really learn a lot from people who have been through a crisis. Because a wiser person than myself once said, “The thing that teaches us the most are tragedies and travel.” I have had an opportunity to be in the background or a bit player in seeing how a lot of people deal with crisis. And it’s really informed me and in my life has taught me how to handle obstacles, challenges and crisis. So I say one of the top would definitely be covering Hurricane Katrina. I went right after the hurricane with a producer, engineer and photographer, and we lived in an RV in Walmart parking lots all over Mississippi and Louisiana. So we saw the sheer destruction. Then I went back six months later, so I got to see the beginning of the rebuild. And then back a year later, and I saw how much had been done and how much hadn’t been done.
I cover a lot of murder trials. I don’t want to point out any particular one, because they are all tragedies for somebody. But at the same time, I am fascinated by the law and criminal law. I like the interplay between the attorneys and the judge and the witnesses. And I like to see how something goes from an investigation to a courtroom, where you take away a lot of the emotions and you make it just about the facts. In a way, it’s theater to me. I think it’s really fascinating. My dad was a district attorney when I was growing up. I probably saw my first murder trial when I was 13. That was pretty eye opening to me.
Journalism for me has allowed me to experience a lot of things that I would have never seen. I just came back from Hurricane Harvey, so I was in Houston. Every hurricane is different and seeing what has happened. In that area, the flooding was just overwhelming. And I had seen flooding in North Carolina. I covered Hurricane Fran, but it was beyond what I had ever seen before in an urban area.
I love a “feel good” story. I have had the opportunity over the years to do stories about children and adults overcoming hardships.
I am going to Uganda with the Duke East Africa Neurosurgery Program, too. They have a global health initiative where they are going to help train doctors to perform neurosurgery. They bring surplus supplies to the people of Uganda and to their hospitals. It’s an amazing program, and they have been doing it for 10 years. So, they invited us to go. I know that’s going to be a transforming experience. It will probably air in the first week in November.
How did reporting crime turn into writing books?
What I do on TV is a minute and a half. So, I really don’t get a chance to tell a full story. I’ve written three crime books, and basically, it has just allowed me to delve into so much more information. It gives you kind of a wider breath, if you are interested in that type of thing, to understand all the background. That being said, I have moved away somewhat from that and moved more into my humor and memoir writing. That just gives me a lot more joy. And after a certain age, joy is a lot more important. The true crimes are a lot like my job, so I like my writing to be less of a job and more of an escape and an enjoyment. I am writing my first novel that I hope to have published. It’s a murder mystery, and it’s based on a lot of the cases that I covered and a lot of things that I have never been able to report on, woven from many different cases. So, that’s kind of my next foray into writing. It’s a little scary, because fiction is more personal, and the criticism of it will be more personal. But, I figured what do I have to lose? You don’t make a lot of money writing books. So, my philosophy is I just need to write what I want to write then. I love blog writing, I write a blog for WRAL every Monday called “Go Ask Mom.” I have been doing that for close to 10 years. I have written about parenting all the way through. It gets a little complicated now that I have teenagers. There are many off limit topics I am not allowed to talk about. I really enjoy that type of writing. I enjoy that kind of quick, slice of life, philosophy, kind of relatability, trying to give people something to think about.
Can you tell us about “The Living Room” and your caregiving experience?
My most recent fully published book was “The Living Room.” When my mom got sick—she had glioblastoma, a brain tumor. She was diagnosed April 20, 2012, in Pennsylvania where she lived. She was a lawyer and worked full-time. Basically, she walked into the emergency room in high heels and a suit, and left the hospital with me three days later in a wheelchair, barely able to walk.
It’s one of those cancers that just takes you down. I called it the “Titanic” of cancers. We made the decision very quickly to bring her to Duke. She went downhill physically very quickly. Her cognitive abilities really maintained to very close to the end, but physically, she lost the ability to walk, to care for herself and to feed herself.
We put a hospital bed in my living room, because of the set floor plan of my house, that just made the most sense. And I was writing posts on Caring Bridge for her friends. We started kind of writing them together, and I would read them to her. About halfway through the process, she said we should write a book. And I said “Mom, I can’t write a book right now, you’re dying. That’s not going to work out.” A couple months after she died, I printed all of the posts out and laid them on the floor in chronological order. I took all of that, put it together and decided it would really be cathartic to write a book.
After it was published, I ended up speaking at Duke’s annual brain tumor center event. I was really able to connect with a lot of people that had gone through the same thing and reached a lot of people that way. It was an important book for me to write, because my mother was such an amazing person and taught me so much. I still speak on palliative care and caregiving from the perspective of an adult child, which all of us, at some point, will go through to some degree.
How did your appearance on HGTV’s “Love It or List It” come about?
A friend of mine had done it. The show moved from Canada to Raleigh, and they were looking for families here. They wanted some kind of fun dynamics. So, my friends knew that I am a Yankee, and my husband is a Southerner, and we have some different ideas about things. He recommended us, and we did the paperwork.
We did the show at the end of 2014. We had to actually move out, which was really hard for my husband, because he did not like the loss of control. I, on the other hand, am not domestic at all. I was thrilled to have somebody else pick everything. They did a fabulous job! The day in and day out thing that made the most difference in my life is my bathroom. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I love my bathroom. My bathroom is better than most hotel bathrooms. And a walk-in closet. The big thing that they did was take in a patio, added 300 square feet to our basement and made it a teen hangout. And let me tell you, I have a lot of teens hanging out.
Any specific goals for your Second 50?
Going to Uganda. I’ve always wanted to go to Africa, so, that’s one off the list.
Next year, a friend is trying to do a 26-mile hike for charity in the Piedmont area. I have never done anything like that. I have done a marathon, lots and lots of half marathons, two triathlons— one many years ago and one in 2014. I have done a couple bike events, a long bike event, but I have never done a long hike. That is the next big physical challenge.
I want to publish my novel and see how that goes.
As I neared 50, I started to reconnect with old friends again. I think when you’re raising kids, your life is pretty chaotic, and you just don’t have the same opportunities. Three of my best friends from college surprised me on my 50th birthday. We promised to never let the time pass again. I would say reconnecting with people who are important to me and making friendships a priority is a goal.
Then career wise, who knows. I am open to things. I am very passionate and have a lot of energy. I feel like I have a lot more years of working.
My husband and I both love to travel. Once our kids get through college, which would be eight years—not that I’m counting—we want to start looking at some travel. I would like some adventure travel. I would like to do a bike trip or some cross-country skiing or rent an RV—things I have never done—and be open to those possibilities.