Riley Endowed Chair in Journalism, Professor of Practice
Thomas French, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, teaches narrative reporting, project reporting and how to cover the police and courts. Since he began teaching at IU, his students have won multiple first-place awards in the prestigious Hearst competition and have won seven writing championships at Hearst, outpacing every other journalism program in the country.
French grew up in Indiana and attended journalism school at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, where he was a Poynter scholar and editor-in-chief at the Indiana Daily Student. At the IDS, he won a Hearst award for a profile of a giant hog at the Indiana State Fair. An editor at the St. Petersburg Times read the hog story and hired French, just as he was graduating from IU, as a night cops reporter.
French spent the next 27 years at the Times, covering hurricanes and criminal trials and the secret lives of high school students. He experimented with narrative techniques both on deadline and nondeadline work and specialized in serial narratives, book-length stories published one chapter at a time.
In 1998, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and a Sigma Delta Chi award for Angels & Demons, a series that chronicled the murder of an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters as they vacationed in Tampa. Three of his other serials, A Cry in the Night, South of Heaven and Zoo Story, were later published as books. Zoo Story, an account of life and death inside Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, was a New York Times bestseller.
He wrote his latest book, Juniper, with his wife, journalist and fellow professor Kelley Benham French. An account of their daughter’s premature arrival at 23 weeks gestation, Juniper was published by Little, Brown in fall 2016.
French was a Writing Fellow at the Poynter Institute for many years and taught in a nonfiction masters program at Goucher College. He has led narrative workshops across the U.S. and around the world, from the Nieman conference at Harvard to newsrooms in Dubai, Singapore and Johannesburg.
Along with Ernie Pyle, Nelson Poynter, Paul Tash and Michel duCille, he was among the first group to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from IU’s School of Journalism. He has also been inducted into Indiana’s Journalism Hall of Fame and was given a Gretchen A. Kemp teaching award at IU.