Franc Contreras Photo by Samantha Neville
By Samantha Neville

Franc Contreras, a freelance correspondent for Al Jazeera English, never liked reading or writing when in high school. 
Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., Contreras found comfort in playing the electric bass and watching films. After graduating high school, he went on to attend the University of Arizona where he gained an interest in radio.

"As I became more and more educated at the university level, I learned about something called National Public Radio,” Contreras said. “So I started listening to it, and that really changed the way I thought about storytelling. I became very interested in hearing human stories told with a human voice.”

After flunking out of the UA, Contreras moved to Iowa and enrolled at St. Ambrose University to pursue a career in radio. Initially getting a job as a jazz DJ on KALA-FM, he realized that he could see radio as a profession. 

“It had nothing to do with journalism. After a while I started thinking, “I do like storytelling,” he said. “I started reading newspapers more and more, and got very interested in daily news.” 

Contreras went on to work in Keokuk, Iowa, as a reporter for the Daily Gate City, where he found success. His first story, on an annual mushroom hunting contest, was placed on the front of the newspaper.  Yet even with his success, Contreras was not satisfied.

So Contreras went to the University of Iowa to earn a master’s degree in journalism. During this time, Contreras became what he described as a “fanatic”, of the radio program All Things Considered on NPR. 

“I would actually listen to the full hour and a half every day. I would record the program on a cassette and then stay up all night and just transcribe the whole thing,” he added. “It showed me how they built the program. I could see the words they would use, the actual nuts and bolts of the way they structured sentences.” 

When offered a job at KUNM-FM, an NPR member station, Contreras abruptly dropped out of UI, hoping to chase his interest. Shortly after joining the station, he was offered another job working strictly for NPR for a month. 

“I gambled everything, drove across the country in a U-Haul loaded down with all my stuff to Washington for a one-month long promise for a job,” said Contreras. 

After the month of promised work was completed, Contreras was offered his dream job: a producer on All Things Considered.  

“You get a chance to work at your dream location, you know, with the dream team,” he said. “It’s a lot of adrenaline.” 

Contreras worked on All Things Considered for three years and currently works in Mexico for an international television broadcaster, Al-Jazeera English, which according to Contreras “receives its resources” from a wealthy Middle Eastern country named Qatar. 

One person who has admired Contreras’ leap in journalism is Celeste González de Bustamante, a former broadcast journalist an assistant professor at the UA who teaches broadcast journalism classes. 

“I personally think that he does a really good job, given, you know, the constraints he’s probably working under,” said Bustamante. “I am working on bringing him back to the UA.”

In 2006, Contreras was the first journalist to broadcast live for Al Jazeera, from Oaxaca.

“I felt this very strong personal tie to the country, like something about Mexico was going to produce fundamental changes inside the United States eventually,” Contreras said.

As for journalism suggestions, Contreras says to report on subjects one is passionate about because “in the end, what I think we’re telling as journalists are human stories.”


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