Cross Country Checkup

Veteran journalist Anna Maria Tremonti reveals the key to good interviews — and her love of opera

Anna Maria Tremonti will sign off of The Current for one last time after 17 seasons in the host chair. Ahead of her departure, she took phone calls about her career, journalism and the challenges facing Canadians on Cross Country Checkup.

Ahead of her departure from CBC Radio's The Current, Tremonti answered questions from listeners

Anna Maria Tremonti spoke directly with callers during a special Ask Me Anything segment on CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup on Sunday. (Jason Vermes/CBC)
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Most mornings on her way to work, Anna Maria Tremonti warms up with some opera — Andrea Bocelli, to be exact.

"I sing in the car … get my voice ready. You know, so it doesn't crack," she revealed Sunday during a special Ask Me Anything segment on Cross Country Checkup.

The veteran radio host will sign off of CBC Radio's The Current for the last time on Thursday after 17 seasons in the host chair.

Tremonti, 61, will develop and produce new podcasts for CBC, slated to launch in the coming months.

Ahead of her departure, Checkup put Tremonti in the guest seat and gave listeners a chance to ask the questions.

Tremonti reflected on her decades-long career with CBC, the biggest challenges facing Canadians and her upcoming projects. Here's part of what she told callers.

On asking good questions

Tremonti told Checkup host Duncan McCue that curiosity and listening are the key ingredients of a good interview — and journalists need to do their homework.

"It's not a fishing expedition," Tremonti said. "I need to know something about their story or the issue — sometimes so I can push back, sometimes so I can just understand the gravity of what we're talking about."

When an interviewer is prepared, then they can focus on listening to their subject in order to draw out more information, either with a follow-up question, a partial question, or a well-placed "hmm," she said.

Nicole D'Entremont called from Pubnico, N.S., to ask Tremonti how she would handle an interview with U.S. President Donald Trump, given his well-known anti-media rhetoric.

Tremonti said she wouldn't want to argue with Trump. "I would be interested to hear how he thought about certain things and I might try to challenge him."

She added that sometimes, reporters have to "let people give the answers they want to give."

On becoming a radio host

The Current was a departure for the award-winning journalist, she said.

It wasn't long after she began her career at CBC as host of Fredericton's morning show that she realized she wanted to be on the street.

"I wanted to be out reporting. I didn't want to be a host — I didn't want to be in the studio; I wasn't ready to do that," she told McCue. "I wanted to meet people and hear their stories."

Over 19 years with CBC TV, Tremonti covered world-shaping major news events including the Bosnian War and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

"When I came to The Current, it was the idea that I could keep doing reporting but in a different way," she recalled.

"I did not think it would be as fulfilling as it, in many ways, is better than being on the street."

Anna Maria Tremonti took phone calls Sunday with Duncan McCue on CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

On the biggest issues Canadians face

In response to a question from Rene Linklater in Thompson, Man., Tremonti said climate change and the welfare of Indigenous communities are two of the most important issues facing Canadians today.

Issues such as cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women have taken greater public prominence in the past few years as more voices come to the forefront.

Still, she recognizes that grasping the issues facing Indigenous communities across the country can be a challenge.

"I'm one of those Canadians who was not properly educated on what has happened to the Indigenous people on these lands," she said.

"It has been a learning curve for me personally as well as journalistically."

As for climate change, Tremonti said it's important to consider how journalists can best cover the science and "hold politicians' feet to the fire on these issues."

On her move to podcasting

In light of Tremonti's future projects, Crystal Semaganis of Ottawa asked what's behind the popularity of podcasts.

"It's the fact that you can just put your earbuds in and it's appointment listening," she said.

But beyond the ability to tune when and where listeners want, there's a "freedom" that comes with podcasting, she said, adding that there's no set format.

"You can tell other stories with it — which is what I hope to do. I hope to explore a little bit of that," she told Semaganis.

While mum on the details, Tremonti told Checkup that her upcoming podcast project will feature long-form conversations with a set number of episodes.

Written by Jason Vermes and Justin Chandler

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