Friday, July 12, 2013


By Brett Wilson Sr.
     Maury Vasquez is the Public Information Officer for the Somerset ISD. However, in addition to that position, Maury covers local news and sports using virtually every mass media outlet available. He can be found at different times on radio, television, authoring articles in various magazines, newspapers, and on the internet. Maury also volunteers for many local events, acting as game official, announcer, or as the local celebrity lending credence to the event. One event Maury donates time to is the Miracle Network, where he is the game announcer for special needs children playing baseball. As busy as he is, he took time to answer questions for this interview.
     You have a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, where did you get your degree, and do you feel it's a natural progression from being a journalist to your current position as the Public Information Officer (PIO), for Somerset Independent School District?
     “I received my Bachelors of Journalism at UT-Austin, graduating in December 1988. My journalism and media background is one of two paths that districts use with their PIOs; the other being a person with more of a corporate communications background. The districts that use someone with a media background do so in order to always have someone who is able to confidently and concisely deliver the appropriate response to questions and inquiries from the news media.”
     As a PIO, what do you feel are your primary responsibilities?
     “First and foremost is to be available to answer questions from the media whenever they come calling. That includes being informed of what is happening either at campuses or departments where news of note might be taking place.
     It's my job to promote the outstanding work that Bulldog students and staff produce whenever the chance arises. San Antonio news outlets won't always come out to Somerset to cover positive news when we send out a press release seeking their coverage, but they will never come if we don't ask or inform them about the good news happening at SISD.
     The other major portion of the PIO responsibilities is to manage the districts communications, both internally and externally. That includes the "Bulldog Bulletin", the SISD newsletter that gets produced about four times a year. The "Barks-n-Bytes" is the district newsletter that is produced monthly for the staff members of SISD.
     My job is to also supervise and maintain the district website, and handle Somerset ISD social media accounts with Facebook and Twitter. We use any and all tools available to try and keep both our staff and the Bulldog community as a whole informed on the comings and goings of Bulldog Nation.”
     How did you first become involved with Somerset ISD?
     “After leaving KSAT-12 in 2004, I taught Journalism at Hawkins High School for 3 years before the PIO job was posted at Somerset ISD. I applied and was very fortunate to receive the job offer in October of 2007.”
     Could you please describe what your normal day is like as a PIO?
     “Days tend to evolve based on what events are on the district calendar. But on most days, I will begin in my office at Central Office to answer or send emails and update any other information needed on our website or online accounts. I also need to update both the electronic and hand-lettered marquee the district uses. Then depending on what sport is in season, I will go to that head coach's campus and conduct a short interview on the previous week's games in order to gather quotes for that week's story that I write and send to the Leader News out of Castroville. I will try and visit several campuses, hitting all of them a couple of times a week just to touch base with the staff there on any upcoming events or to find out more about special projects or class work.
     I always have my camera with me, to snap any photos of staff or students in action that I can use at a later time. I'm a big believer in the idea that with digital images the trick to take as many pics as possible, just to be able to find several gems along the way. Again, any media inquiries immediately throw a wrench into my schedule where I then move into the mode of gathering the information I need to be able to confidently answer any questions from the press.”
     What do you feel is the one skill that is crucial, and a PIO must have to be successful?
     “I'm a one man department, as many PIOs are in small districts. In my type of situation, it is key to be able to multitask and juggle several projects at the same time. Many times there is long term planning going on for major events, that overlap smaller planning phases for smaller events. The ability to manage the various tasks needed to be accomplished, while still navigating the daily routine, is vital to success.”
     Since you first started with Somerset ISD, could you point out something about your job that surprised you about being a PIO that you didn't expect?
     “The one thing that surprised me was how much of my time would be devoted to responding to Open Records Requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act. Whether they come from companies, or individual citizens from the community, some of these requests for records are quite lengthy and the time devoted to completing those requests really was something I did not expect.” 
     What is the best part about your job, and the area that is the most stressful?
     “The best part of my job is I get to work with the great kids of Somerset ISD. From the Pre-K tykes to the High School seniors, you see smiling faces and yearning minds. The fact that I get to tell the stories of these students and the stories of their outstanding teachers is something I cherish.
     Being the bearer of GOOD Bulldog news is never a bad thing. The most stressful part is dealing with media who come to Somerset with the story already written in their minds, even before they have had a chance to ask us about the subject matter. I get along with just about everyone in the local news business, but there are some reporters who sometimes just won't let the actual facts get in the way of what they believe is a good story.”
     What would you consider your largest success while working for Somerset ISD?
     “Just this month, on April 8, the Somerset ISD Board of Trustees voted to purchase the School Messenger parent notification system, which basically puts SISD into the 21st century when it comes to contacting parents in the event of an emergency. I was able to broker the deal bringing the service to SISD, arranging the meeting between School Messenger reps and Superintendent Saul Hinojosa, who was instantly sold on the service's effectiveness.
     It was nice to hear SISD Board President Dr. Omar Pachecano publicly thank me for helping bring this invaluable service to the people of Somerset ISD.
     But way before that, back in November of 2007, I was barely six weeks on the job when we received possibly the worst news a district can get: one of our school buses was involved in a crash with another car, and had rolled over.
     We quickly raced down Somerset Road to the crash scene, right away my mobile phone began ringing and I recognized the numbers. KSAT, KENS, WOAI, all the stations were calling, as they were about to break into local programming before 4:00 PM to report the crash.
     I asked the Superintendent at the time, Mary Ellen Morin, if I was clear to speak to the media. She told me, "Do what you need to do." I told all the stations to give me 5 minutes to gather the vital information I would need, and that I would call them to join in live. We were able to reassure parents that none of our students were facing life threatening injuries, and where the students with minor injuries were taken to.
     The district was able to use valuable live TV affiliate coverage to directly communicate with our concerned community at one time. There was a fatality that day, the driver of the car who crashed with our bus, and the victim was related to one of our staff members. So it was a very sad day overall. But the effectiveness of how we communicate our message that day did a lot to earn our trust with the community.”
     How involved are you, as the PIO, in making district policy decisions?
     “Not really involved that much directly, especially when it comes to the educational mission of the district.   Now, when it comes to policy that involves communications, social media, student releases, etc., the Superintendent is very good about listening to my thoughts and opinions before deciding to implement any policy changes.”
     How important do you consider internships, and did you ever work as an intern?
     “Internships are key to any student not only getting a job, but also for a student to really figure out if he wants that job.
     I was an intern at KXAN-TV in Austin, the NBC affiliate. My three month internship over a summer for school credit expanded into being there until I graduated. Not for pay, just to keep learning how to edit, write, etc. And because the Sports department kept asking me to stay.”
     Are you still involved with the Bulldog Bulletin? Is it available online?
     “Yes. In fact, I am trying to put the next Bulldog Bulletin together this week. We have old copies available on our website, I believe. The latest ones have not been uploaded since the files got too big for our server. The district may be changing our web site service provider this summer, and hopefully then we will find a new location online to post.”
     How did you get involved with the Miracle Network? You were announcing their games, are you going to continue your involvement when their new season begins?
     “My good friend Michael Miller, the man who founded the Miracle League with former boxing champion "Jesse" James Leija, asked me if I would be interested in this league he had going. I got hooked the first time I got there. That was seven years ago. That's one of the proudest things that I have ever associated with. The Spring season just started a few weeks ago and runs until mid-June.”
     You are involved in public relations, writing sports articles for various papers, radio, charity, special event announcing, officiating at local events, magazine pieces, and journalist events like the Gridiron Club that I'm aware of, possibly more. With a family, how do you find the time? Would this be a normal schedule for someone getting into the mass media field?
     “Well, in today's world the old "news cycle" never sleeps. Not with Twitter replacing TV as the most immediate of news mediums we have today. But it's always key to find that healthy balance in life.
     My old friend John Lisle likes to say, "Remember, you work to live, but if you live to work, I hope you don't live next to me." Sometimes various events or months might get a bit more jam packed than others, but that's the nature of the beast. Many times a lot of the events or side projects I do don't really feel like work, and that's what makes them some of the best times around.”
     What are your favorite 3 sports to cover as a journalist in order of preference?
     “I would have to go with Football, Boxing, then Basketball.”
     Please describe an event as a journalist that was memorable to you.
     “Many events stand out: Being on the field for Super Bowl XXX (Cowboys 27-17 over Steelers); the mega-huge Julio Cesar Chavez/Pernell Whitaker world title fight before 60,000 in the Alamodome; Texas vs. Texas A&M in Kyle Field, the first game since the Bonfire tragedy.
     But one event we covered for KENS really stands out, especially for what we now know is its impact on San Antonio. I was there in Secaucus, New Jersey back in 1997 when the NBA Draft Lottery ping pong balls came up the Spurs way instead of for the Celtics.
     That #1 draft pick would of course become #21, Tim Duncan. Four NBA titles later, the rest is history. But I remember leaving the NBA studios after the announcement so we could find Gregg Popovich, who was watching a TV monitor in a room all by himself.
     Only our cameras got Pop, racing over to Sam Presti (Who is now the OKC Thunder GM), giving Presti a bear hug and planting a big wet kiss on his cheek. Presti had been the Spurs representative as the actual ping pong lottery ball thing was conducted in a secluded room.
     So for once in my career I was able to get a Pop interview where he was unabashedly overjoyed and not calculating his every single word and thought. It was great TV, and as it turns out, a great day in Spurs history.”
     For a beginning media employee, what is the most important pitfall to avoid?
     “A new journalist must not be stuck in a certain style. New media members need to always be learning, always be watching others work. Always reading how others write, how they take photos, etc. Eventually you find out what works best for you and your personality. Just be open to suggestion and have a thick skin. Seek out critique, not just compliments.”
    What was it like working with Dan Cook?
     “Dan Cook was one of a kind. A true, walking, talking Sports encyclopedia and history book. Dan was one of the most powerful and influential men I have ever met, yet he also was the most humble.
     Remember, an 18-year old Dan Cook spent a day working for the Houston Post by shadowing Babe Ruth as the legend made several stops in the city. Dan covered the Super Bowl before it was the Super Bowl. Dan was present for just about every major boxing title fight of note during the 70's and 80's. When we saw a great fight in the 90's, like Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield's epic meetings, when Dan would return from Vegas, if he said it was a great fight, you knew it to be true.
     Because Dan made a living of seeing great fights live. He always had a good story to tell, and was quick to challenge you to a game of quarter-flipping or hallway putting, just because his competitive juices never stopped flowing. I grew up in Laredo during the 70's watching Dan Cook. It was an honor and a privilege to work for him. It was even better to call him my friend.”
     Which field would you consider the most enjoyable: print media, radio, television, internet, public relations?
     “Well, Radio is the most free form medium, at least on a talk show format. More of you has to come out to make that work. TV was a ton of joy, but along with it came the business side of the industry that often drags that joy down. But I do love working a mic, just talking with people to get their thoughts.
     In PR, as long as you believe in the company/message/entity that you work for, that's what matters. If you don't, that can make days long and hard. Internet action is right now, immediate, but very fleeting. At least it seems so many great pieces are found online, but with all that volume, tons of great work goes unnoticed or quickly forgotten.
     The print side is still very rewarding, if there are jobs to be had. Newspapers are working feverishly to figure out a way to monetize their Web sites, since the printed papers continue to lose circulation numbers.”
     The internet has pulled a huge number of readers away from other sources. How do you see the future trend going, more internet, or back to print, radio, and television?
     “It seems the Internet/Online journalism will remain the cutting edge of where the media world will be centered. Who know how long it will be before websites begin asking viewers to click on the TV to check out more on a story, rather than the other way around the way it is today?”
     With shorter news articles on the internet, compared to more in depth paper articles, because of reduced attention spans, do you think the public has dictated the change, or has the internet contributed to a “dumbing down” effect?
     “Unfortunately, media outlets will feed the beast, so to speak. And with all that collective attention span decline, articles are shorter, but it seems to me to be more of a case of giving the people what they want. Because if people wanted more long form journalism (and many do), there would be more sites offering that rather than the Buzzfeed view of the news.”
     I actually have more questions I want to ask, but I know this is getting lengthy, so is there anything you would like students, or the public to know about Maury Vasquez?
     “Well, the most important job I have ever had is to be a dad to my two kids, who can't make me prouder. Family is everything.“

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