Digital producing for Cross Country Checkup

Cross Country Checkup is one of CBC’s oldest currently running programs. It began in 1964 as a revolutionary project — and one that has yet to be replicated — an open-line program that airs live in six time zones. Canada is one of the few nations to span so many time zones and to have such a vested national interest in public radio — there has yet to be a program such as Checkup in the world.

I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘open-line’ prior to this opportunity, but all it means is that the channels of communication will be open to the public. Traditionally for Checkup that has meant the telephone lines, but coming into the twenty-first century, “the lines” have expanded. A number of years ago Checkup began accepting emails to be read on air and even more recently the Checkup Twitter was conceived. However, the Twitter was solely used for live-tweeting during the program and for comments to be sent in with minimal inclusion into the show.

And here’s where I come in. In 2015, the long time host of Cross Country Checkup, Rex Murphy retired from radio and the show began its journey of redefinition, which, as of posting, it’s still working on. I was brought on board to help the show redefine its online presence. Maybe it’s my demographic or maybe I made a reputation for myself in the four months of my Gzowski internship, but somehow I got this amazing opportunity to create change at the CBC.

Part of what I’ve been working on is making sure that the show engages and includes its online audience. So far this has meant using the show’s Twitter to start conversations and foregrounding audience contributions there, building a following on Facebook, using Storify to keep a record, and making sure at least once per show the host reads tweets, Facebook, and emails on air.

But probably the most exciting part is that I get to read some remaining comments on air in a prerecorded roll that plays at the end of Cross Country in an Hour (the show’s Monday rebroadcast). Here’s one of them:

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Following the show I do all of the web updates. Previously, Checkup posted one long (rather ugly, in my opinion) web page with the full two hour audio and the entire script for the live intro. They didn’t want to change the format completely so I adapted it to look a bit more pleasant. You can see the old version here, and the updated version here.

Additionally, I suggested we segment exceptionally good callers and guests for their own posts online. So my job is to write these posts. Checkup does often get some really interesting callers with singular experiences that make for great current affairs stories. Our callers are often the people that journalists look for but just can’t find. Checkup has the real advantage of getting their stories firsthand and in their own voices.

Lastly, I promote the show after it airs on social media pages by creating interesting graphics and quote boards that highlight a taste of the discussion. They look like this:

Overall, this is an incredible experience for me that really lets me explore my creative side, do some writing, as well as participate in the radio broadcast of a historic program. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. The cherry on top is that everyone at Checkup is wonderful to work with and I really feel like part of a neat project.

I have a list of ideas that I hope to implement in the coming months so look out for a follow up post on that!

Published by Ayesha Barmania

Ayesha Barmania is a journalist-entrepreneur and audio documentary maker, living and working in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

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