Spotlight on OPC Grant Recipients: Jill Langlois

The following is the second profile in our periodic series covering the work of journalists who have received grants from the OPC.

by Chad Bouchard

Jill Langlois

There are at least two reasons OPC member Jill Langlois seemed bound for a life in journalism from a very early age. During childhood she was a voracious reader of the local newspaper, the Sault Star of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as well as magazines she pulled from stacks such as Scholastic, TIME, The New Yorker, The Walrus, This and Maisonneuve. Another clear sign was that people around her said she asked “too many questions.”

“I would interrupt somebody’s story to ask them what color a jacket was or what the weather was like. When I found out I could keep doing that but speak to all kinds of people in places all over the world, it seemed like a dream.”

Following that dream took Langlois across hemispheres and landed her in São Paulo, Brazil where she has been working as an independent journalist since 2010, now with bylines in some of those same publications she devoured from her childhood coffee table. She has written for National Geographic, The New York Times, TIME and The Guardian, among others.

Langlois is fluent in French and Portuguese. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University and is a grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the International Women’s Media Foundation. She was part of the team that won the 2021 Foreign Press Association in London award for science story of the year and her work was shortlisted for a 2020 Fetisov Journalism Award for contribution to civil rights. Most recently, she was shortlisted for the 2022 Fetisov Journalism Award for excellence in environmental journalism.

In March 2021, Langlois applied for and received an OPC COVID-19 micro-grant of $1,000, one of the 92 OPC grants funded by the Ford Foundation. She said the grant was what got her through the early part of the pandemic.

“I was in São Paulo and still working, but a lot less and with a lot of trepidation. Knowing that I had that grant helped me make better decisions about taking assignments, because I wasn’t as worried about finances,” she said. “During a time of a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, it gave me some calm.”

The grant came with a free 18-month honorary OPC membership and an OPC press ID. Langlois joined as a full, dues paying member when her honorary membership expired this fall.

“As a freelancer, belonging to a journalist organization like the OPC is crucial,” she said. “Having that ID card has not only helped me get into official events, but it has also given me more credibility when introducing myself to potential sources and an extra layer of security when people are leery about who I am and what I’m doing in their community.”

Langlois focuses on human rights, the environment and the impact of socioeconomic issues on people’s lives in her work. She said those themes arose naturally from the kinds of stories she discovered in Brazil. Langlois remembered that her journalism professors and later editors told her if she found a story interesting, other people probably would too.

“Stories with a thread of human rights or socioeconomic issues running through them have that quality,” she said. “I think they’re the kinds of stories that draw us all in because they make us think, what would I do if that were me? Because the things I cover are things that could happen to any of us and that affect all of us.”

She said she has learned many lessons about life and the craft of journalism while reporting in Brazil.

“Reporting here has taught me that everything is relative. I have learned never to ask someone, ‘Is it far?’ For someone in São Paulo, taking two hours to cross the city might not be too far, but for someone in Pará, three days by boat to the next village downriver is not too far,” she said. “Brazil has also taught me to take my time when talking to people. If there’s a pause, let it be. Sometimes a lack of something says more than its presence.”

Asked to pick a few of her favorite stories, Langlois provided a list of examples to explore. She said some that stuck with her were centered on Indigenous rights – for National Geographic, about Indigenous families having their children removed from their custody at an alarming rate and for Al Jazeera English, about an Indigenous family fighting for their land). She also recalled covering refugees starting over, with one for NPR’s Goats and Soda about Ukrainians fleeing to southern Brazil and another for TIME about an Afghan woman finding peace in São Paulo. She also wrote about hunger for The Economist about increasing hunger during the pandemic and for Diálogo Chino about hunger continuing to rise across Latin America.