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Take Five with Jolene and Michael

Listeners share their questions of WVXU Reporter Jolene Almendarez and WGUC Weekend Host Michael Grayson.

Ronny Salerno

Jolene Almendarez
Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.

Jolene spent several years as Managing Editor of The Ithaca Voice where she enjoyed the city's gorges and restaurants but missed San Antonio tacos constantly. She's tried Cincinnati chili and thinks anything served with a side bag of cheese is exceptional.

David asks, “What journalist inspired you or still inspires you today?”

David, I'm not sure if I really have a great answer to your question.

I got into journalism because my grandfather, Genovevo Ramirez, came to this country as an immigrant. He learned English, in part, by reading and watching the news. So, he always had newspapers and news magazines around his house, and my mom carried on that tradition to me and my siblings. So I kind of grew up reading a little bit of everything.

Of course, there are plenty of reporters from my old stomping grounds at Alaska Public Media, the San Antonio Hispanic Journalists Association, and The Ithaca Voice who do great work. Plus, the reporters here at Cincinnati Public Radio have equally helped shape my understanding of the journalism industry and the kind of impact our reporting can have on the community.

But as a journalist, I'm most inspired by people like my grandfather (immigrants, farmers, blue collar workers) who do not often have a voice in the news. When I am frustrated with the industry or my job, I always bring myself back to my grandfather so I can remember why I'm doing the work I do. It's for people like him and others who deserve to have their stories told.

Carl asks, “How does (WVXU) choose what topics and material to explore each day, and what is the time frame for this? For the most part we are very impressed, but occasionally, one wonders how a topic was given airtime. What kind of staff oversees this?

Carl, thanks for the question. I'm not an editor (just to be clear!) but I am happy to share the process of choosing stories from my perspective.

I like to say stories come from five main sources: news releases, public meetings, tips from readers and listeners, localizing national or state stories, and CURIOSITY! I can't stress how important curiosity is to reporting . So on any given day, we generally tap around those five areas for stories.

Then, we have a daily news meeting to briefly pitch our story ideas to everyone else in the newsroom, including our editors. You can basically think about this meeting as a peer review process. If something makes sense as a news story, it essentially gets a nod of approval from the group. But if people have questions about a story – Why is this news? Are enough people interested in this? What's the point here? — then a story may get scrapped. Ultimately, our editor Maryanne Zeleznik has the final say on what we cover. She's been in the Cincinnati, NKY area for decades and has a great sense of news values.

As far as editing goes, that's a peer editing process for on-air stories. Our web editor takes a look at almost every story we're writing for style and questions.

We can't cover everything, (wouldn't it be cool if we could?) but we do try to have something for everyone.

That said, feel free to send us any news tips.

Rachel asks, “As a professional journalist, what do you think can be done - if anything - to counter or correct the lack of accountability that prevails on some digital platforms, where it seems that almost anyone can have a podcast and disperse unchecked, unsubstantiated content?

Rachel, you are asking the million dollar question. Billion dollar question? Maybe even the trillion dollar question?

So in an ideal world, I would love to see news literacy taught at all public schools. People should learn the basics of identifying reliable news sources, such as stories written by journalists who use their real identity, news sites that publicly display their "about me"section, and accurate URLs. It would also be great if people knew about the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. It's essentially a rule book for journalists that shows the dos and don'ts of the trade.

But without a major shift in understanding the importance of journalism, I don't think that's happening any time soon.

I know there are many articles and social media campaigns aimed at educating people on best journalism practices, but I'm not sure how successful those efforts are.

It would be great if social media companies took a stand on investigating truly fake news sites and maybe even labeling posts as opinion, commentary, or news. That process would, of course, have to include former editors and journalists working at social media companies and lead the charge. But I don't think social media companies are invested in news to the extent they should be.

Fake news is truly a sad reality. I hope better minds than mine are working to address the problem.

Debbie asks, “Are you from Cincinnati, if not, what brought you to Cincinnati and what would you tell people about Cincinnati?”

I'm not from Cincinnati or anywhere, really. My dad was in the Army, but I always call San Antonio home because that's where my family lives and it's where my parents are. But my home away from home, Ithaca, New York, is really how I ended up here in Cincinnati.

A friend's girlfriend moved here, and he followed her to NKY and married her. Then, his sister moved here during the pandemic. The three of them always raved about Cincinnati and I visited them a few times. New Yorkers in love with the midwest? It's true. They all really like it here.

I eventually saw Cincinnati Public Radio hiring and thought I'd give the midwest a chance, too.

I've truly loved the area since moving here.I tell people all the time how surprisingly fun the city can be, about the delicious local food, and about how friendly the people can be.

Laura asks, “Why do you think the questions you ask are important?”

I am going to interpret this as, "Why is reporting important?"

Imagine you are working and your boss walks right into the room. They're not really there to say you are doing a good or bad job. They're just checking things out.

In those situations, people tend to stand up a little straighter, mind their Ps and Qs, and do what they're supposed to be doing.

That's essentially journalism. We are the only profession considered the fourth branch of government because, without reporters, all kinds of illegal or discriminatory shenanigans could take place in the governments, at schools, and at businesses.

But with reporters keeping an eye on things, taking notes, and asking questions, it really discourages bad behavior. Why? Because shame is a powerful thing.

Learn even more about Jolene.

Michael Grayson

Michael is WGUC’s weekend host. He also fills-in during the week on WVXU when the regulars are on vacation or busy with news matters, and he covers additional shifts on WGUC when needed.

Carol asks, “How do you prepare for your on-air shifts?”

We always have the playlist several days in advance. I look through it and then find some interesting information and “fun facts” about the music and artists.

Did you know that pianist Simone Dinnerstein frequently performs in women’s prisons, elementary schools and other non-traditional venues?

Or that Felix Mendelssohn was one of the first conductors to use a baton to beat time when he stood in front of the orchestra?

Then I go over the pronunciations of the composers, artists and conductors.

Try this one at home: Mieczyslaw Kalowicz. Or this one: Einojuhani Rautavaara. (!)

Laura asks, “What do you want listeners to know about what you do?”

That I believe that music (of all sorts) has the mystical power to inspire, heal and illuminate.

In The Magician’s Nephew, book six (or book 1 if you are a chronological purist) of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan brings Narnia into existence by singing and then creation sings back to him. I believe the Big Bang may have actually been a cosmic symphony and we are just singing along.

Dan asks, “What has been your biggest surprise as a host for WGUC?”

The fascinating stories behind the men and women who composed the music.

Corey asks, “Is there a particular piece of music you love to see appear on your playlist?”

Anything by Pieta, featuring Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau. She has devoted herself to making music understandable and accessible - reaching across borders, generations, and backgrounds and frequently stepping outside the box.

“I like to think that music is a universal treasure that almost everyone can share.”
- Angèle Dubeau

Robert asks, “What other type of music do you listen to?”

All kinds. I know, everybody says that. I was Program Director and on-air host at WNKU for many years. Our format was that we didn’t really have a format. Over the course of a day you might hear everything from Alison Krauss to U2; Arlo Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen; Blues, Celtic, bluegrass, rock, reggae, Americana and whatever falls in between the cracks. The hosts were amazingly skilled at blending it all together (Brian O’Donnell, Elaine Diehl, Pam Temple and Oakley Scott were also part of it). I liked that every day brought new discoveries, just as it does for me with the classical music here at WGUC.