Eric Francis '90
By Rachel Thomas '14
Eric Francis '90 has been involved in journalism in Arkansas for 17 years, but this year marked the first time his byline was read at 35,000 feet.
Francis has been an editor and writer at various newspapers in Arkansas and Kentucky. He spent 11 years at The North Little Rock Times, where he rose to the rank of managing editor before he became a freelance writer in 2008.
Francis recently wrote a bundle of articles on Arkansas for Sky Magazine, Delta Airline's in-flight publication.
His profile of the state features stories about Arkansas business, education, attractions and life. Francis got the assignment through a friend and fellow freelancer, who passed the job his way.
It was interesting to write about his home state for a broad audience, since most of the time he knew who to call and what he wanted to write about. Still, there were some difficulties.
"They also had very specific requirements about what they wanted, so I had to go out and get specific interviews," Francis says of the project. And while it is relatively simple to get the Governor on the phone, trying to interview an up-and-coming national TV personality who's preparing a new show for a cable TV network required going through his publicist, which meant explaining over and over why I couldn't put his client on the cover or write more than a few hundred words."
In addition to the stories in Sky, Francis has been working on a variety of more local projects. He regularly writes articles for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper and Arkansas Life magazine, where he has an ongoing column. Francis recently penned a feature story on Hendrix alumnus Mel White '72 for Arkansas Life.
One of his favorite assignments is interviewing other newspaper people around the state for the Arkansas Press Association's magazine.
Still Francis is looking to expand his horizons and not just into the air.
"While I love working in and writing about Arkansas, I am planning to start pitching stories to regional and national publications, as well, with an eye toward doing some travel writing and special projects built around ideas that appeal to me and, I hope, to lots of readers," he says.
Francis has been passionate about journalism for a long time. He first got interested in high school.
"As a kid, I'd been introduced to newspapers in the typical fashion - first the comics, then sports, then eventually features, news and opinion - and had always been interested in writing," he says. "So, when I realized I could actually be a reporter and write for a living that was a powerful idea."
Francis knew he wanted to become a journalist when he arrived at Hendrix, but since the college doesn't offer a specific journalism major, he decided to study English. This turned out to be a good choice, according to Francis.
"I learned creative and expressive writing at a time when many newspapers were transitioning from old-school 'just the facts' stories to what's known as narrative journalism," he says. "In addition, we were taught to be open minded and to think critically, both of which allowed me to develop a worldview that wasn't beholden to a given point of view, be it political or religious or philosophical."
Francis started at The North Little Rock Times in 1996 and continued to work there after Kitty Chism, the owner and editor, retired and sold the newspaper. However, Francis found he was spending more and more time managing and editing, and virtually no time writing. So he decided to go freelance and return to the part of journalism he really enjoyed.
"Since my byline was known to the editors and publishers in central Arkansas, going freelance was a logical step, and I took it in April 2008," Francis says. "It was also much harder than I expected it to be and took much longer to become established as a sole-proprietor business owner, which is what you are as a freelancer."
Journalism is about giving the public the facts, Francis feels.
"Even though people like to say computers and the internet ushered in the Information Age, information has always been a commodity in any society," he says. "The purpose of journalism, as I see it, is to provide knowledge to the public so they can make informed decisions."
It's also about serving as an "equalizer" between the public and "those who hold power and influence in society," whether those are individuals or organizations.
It's also about storytelling.
"Journalism is rooted in storytelling and finding intriguing, fascinating … stories and telling them is one of the best parts of the job," he says.
To see some of Francis' stories about Arkansas for Sky, visit their online magazine.
Rachel Thomas is an English studies major from Fayetteville, Ark.