Interviewing movie A-lister Tom Cruise and former Prime Minister David Cameron as well as anchoring some of the most high-profile news stories of recent years are among the career highlights to date for De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate Eric Johnson.
The freelance newsreader, broadcast journalist and TV producer has worked for ITV, Bloomberg and well-respected news agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Thomson-Reuters.
But now, Eric can be seen on TV screens throughout the world as a freelance news anchor for Sky News on its overnight Sky World News slot from midnight to 6am, where he reaches an estimated 102 million homes in 127 countries.
He has praised DMU for propelling him towards his successful media career, including the university’s Demon Media platforms where he cut his teeth in live broadcasting.
The 34-year-old, who lives in Watford, studied Computing and Media Production at DMU between 2001 and 2004, and has gone on to enjoy a varied and interesting career in radio and TV.
He said in a recent tweet to @dmuleicester: “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Speaking to DMU’s news team later, Eric explained: “The course I did was a great introduction to the world of media and I enjoyed my undergrad degree so much that it spurred me on to continue my studies with an MA in Multimedia Journalism.
“The theoretical side was underpinned with practical modules that developed my skills in video shooting and editing. The technology has moved on significantly since my days at DMU, but the concepts remain the same and I'm still video editing in my capacity as a freelance video editor.
“I also did a photography module which was a great introduction to the world of photography and I've recently started selling my works online and have had some photos published.”
While at DMU, Eric was a co-presenter for a radio show on student-led station Demon FM and also helped out with the then-fledgling Demon TV.
He recalled: “The main presenter always sent me out in the cold and wet to do live challenges, like speak to random members of the public and ask them what their word of the day was! I’m sure the content has improved since! But it was a useful introduction.”
Since his Demon days, Eric has now amassed more than 10,000 hours of on-screen airtime. Behind the scenes, he has become an accomplished video editor and producer for well-respected news organisations.
His recollections of student life at DMU include fond memories of cheesy chips and beans at lunch times and nights out at the students’ union and its famed Big Cheese evenings on Saturdays.
Eric said: “I was fortunate to have two years of the old union and one year of the new one at the campus centre. No weekend would be complete without a night out at the Big Cheese on Saturdays. I also saw some cool acts like Elbow at the union, which was an awesome space for gigs.
“Student balls, colour ceremonies, lots of friends and lots of snakey B’s added to the wonderful experience. I also worked for two years at the Soar Point pub [in The Newarke, near DMU] and made some wonderful friends I'm still in touch with today.
“The new union was great as well. I could walk alone to meet a friend and know half the people in there. It really was like the bar from Cheers. Everybody knew your name.
“I was also social secretary for the university’s taekwondo club and somehow made it to becoming a red belt in the martial art, not that I have ever used it or had the need to!”
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Speaking of his recent Sky News work, Eric said: “It's very exciting. I've always wanted to be a newscaster since I was at school. It's a very competitive industry, so I'm fortunate to be where I am now.”
He was the live Sky News anchor when US President Donald Trump decided to launch airstrikes on Syria on 7 April.
“That got the adrenaline pumping. When my sources revealed what happened just before 3am, I knew this would be the story making headlines for the rest of the week – and beyond,” said Eric.
“I was one of the first journalists to break it. This was massive: ‘Could this be the start of World War Three?’ I thought. There was lots of ad-libbing or 'busking' [unscripted presentation], live interviews and developments to factor in.
“Talk about being thrown in at the deep end – I was new, having only done four shifts beforehand! But the director tweeted me later that day saying ‘it was busy and noisy as it can get behind the scenes, yet you handled it all perfectly’.” ¬¬
“I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm going out live to a global audience. I've had messages from all around the world, which is nice. Someone sent a photo of me on their TV set in New York with the Empire State Building in the background, which I thought was cool.”
He was anchoring the news bulletins for Bloomberg when Trump shocked the world by winning last year’s US election. “It was a huge honour, especially as Bloomberg is an American company broadcast around the world,” said Eric.
In his previous work, Eric interviewed some big names from politics and the world of celebrity. He said: “I've interviewed people from David Cameron to Tom Cruise, and worked with names like Michael Bolton and Jerry Springer. I don't get star-struck anymore, they're just people. But if I were to interview someone like the Pope or the Dalai Lama, my jaw would hit the floor.”
He interviewed Mr Cameron when he was leader of the opposition. The MP for Hemel Hempstead invited him down to see the site of the Buncefield oil depot, which exploded in 2005. Eric interviewed the future Prime Minister about the government’s response and action to help those displaced by the blast.
He’s covered dozens of red-carpet film premieres and says Mission Impossible star Cruise was probably one of the nicest actors he ever interviewed.
“Tom always makes a point of meeting and greeting all his fans and posing for every photo – it was a long wait for him to make his way round to the Press pen. But when he did reach my mic, he was utterly charming,” said Eric.
Earlier in his career Eric spent nearly six years working for Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff.
He revealed: “It was great fun but host Matthew Wright would always get me to make the audience laugh – usually at my expense! For instance, Speedos made a brief comeback in shops so he suggested vox-pop interviews in London with me wearing only them. It was cold and I got a lot of funny looks, as you'd expect, but worth it for the compliments I got from the old ladies doing their shopping!”
Eric added: “We had a fair share of celebrity fans too. One day George Michael rang in and confessed to Matthew on the show that he used to watch us every day from his prison cell. And I have a source at the royal household who told me Prince Charles is quite a fan of the show.”
While in local radio in Hertfordshire, one of his fun tasks was covering the Big Brother house in Elstree where he reported on the evictions and interviewed housemates for spin-off show Big Brother's Little Brother on Sunday mornings. “I don't know why, but presenter Russell Brand always used to stroke my arm whenever he saw me. Strange man!” said Eric.
The DMU graduate’s expansive and interesting career started out with those early experiences at DMU.
Put simply, Eric tweeted at @dmuleicester: “Honestly, the best time of my life!”
Posted on Wednesday 26th April 2017