by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jessica Langdon doesn’t let much stand in the way of getting a story — even if that means a few good shoes have to die.
Many shoes died while she worked for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Every time I had a brand-new pair of shoes, I got called out to a fire,” said Langdon. “Every time. Which meant walking through dirt and water.”
It got to the point that a contact in the Fire Department asked her to warn them the next time she bought a new pair of shoes.
They wanted to be ready.
“New shoes didn’t stay new shoes for long,” she said. “I covered the 2007 floods far less extensively than many of my co-workers, and I still lost almost every pair of shoes I had.”
Fortunately, her shoes got a break when Langdon came home to Kansas when a job opened up at The Leaven. She came aboard in June 2011 and, in doing so, has saved her soles.
Well, except when she covered that tornado near Corning. . . . THOSE shoes were TOAST.
Langdon grew up in Prairie Village (not a village, no prairie), the daughter of Jim and Sharon Langdon. Her father raised her after her mother died when Langdon was 10 years old.
“He’s amazing, and I absolutely can’t imagine going through life without having him as a parent and a best friend,” said Langdon. “He’s also a writer, and I’m sure he passed that on to me, as well as his sense of humor. So I’m pretty good at whipping out a dad joke here and there.”
Langdon grew up in St. Ann Parish. She is a product of Catholic schools from kindergarten through St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri.
“It made me who I am, or helped me to at least start figuring out who I am,” said Langdon. “It taught me to think my own thoughts and develop my voice. There were people there who encouraged me to put 100 percent into everything I do. I don’t think I’d be who or where I am without their influence.”
When Langdon graduated from St. Teresa’s Academy, she attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a broadcast news emphasis.
Langdon’s journey included an internship — and later a job — at WIBW-TV in Topeka, followed by a two-and-a-half- year stint at KAUZ-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas. A seven-and-a-half-year term at the Times Record News in Wichita Falls followed.
That’s the town ravaged by the 1979 tornado, of which people still talk.
“Yes, I learned all about the tornado,” said Langdon.
Since then, there have been plenty of other natural disasters — drought, flood, wild fires, moth infestations of biblical proportions — all of which Langdon covered.
Occasionally, there were even animals.
“I got sent out on a snowy Valentine’s Day and covered snow the entire day, and I was supposed to have a date that night,” said Langdon. “Instead, I got to help the photographer line up animals at a big ag show. I got pushed into a pig, and I was so mad. It was definitely an experience.”
It was at the newspaper, covering very difficult stories, that Langdon earned her reporter’s chops.
“I think to be a good journalist,” said Langdon, “you have to be able to feel the story. It’s never just going through the motions. There were a lot of times I [experienced] the emotions of the people suffering — or celebrating.”
Reporting on the church — like suddenly taking over the science, sports or business beat — presents a steep learning curve to the newcomer. Fortunately, Langdon was up to the challenge.
“I went to Catholic schools and received the sacraments, but there is so much beyond what I remembered from my school days,” said Langdon.
“The faith is very simple, but it’s also very complicated,” she said. “Sometimes I understood it from the simple level, but had a lot of learning to do about the aspects that were more complicated. There is so much richness and history.”
The beat was not the only thing that challenged Langdon. The industry itself is in constant upheaval, as reporters and editors struggle to find the best way to tell their stories. But that’s where Langdon’s mixed media experience put her a step ahead — as did her enthusiasm for learning new things.
“Jessica is a very quick study. While reporting is her primary responsibility, she has taught herself video editing and website construction along the way, all in aid of finding more and better ways to tell our stories,” said managing editor Anita McSorley.
And the faith of the people she has reported on has affected the way she looks at her own life, providing examples of how faith should be lived.
“The people we write about welcome us into their lives, and that’s a privilege for a reporter,” she said. But her years of covering the grittier side of life have left her with a bias toward her subjects whose faith has come at a greater cost than most.
“I also like the stories about the struggles people have with their faith, because that makes it so much more real to me — not sugarcoating what faith truly is,” she said. “I like stories about what people have overcome, and how faith has changed them and come back into their lives.
“I like the humanity involved in it.”
Reporters are readers, too, and this perspective informs Langdon as she sits at the keyboard.
“Sometimes I struggle with writing as much as anyone probably does,” she said. “I think you have to look at what resonates with you in a story to start it off — to look for something that you’d tell a friend, ‘Guess what!’ — and to use the information that hooked you as the piece you hope will hook other people into the story.”
Recurring deadlines week after week take the endurance of a marathoner — no problem for Langdon, a runner herself.
“There are not many athletes here at The Leaven, but Jessica certainly qualifies as one,” said McSorley. “She’s got a passion for running, for Pilates, and a whole host of other fitness activities. Which is great for us, since it gives her the endurance to write scads of copy for us.”
“But my favorite Jessica story is the winter she fell on the ice and fractured her arm the week before she was responsible for our two-page centerpiece,” McSorley continued. “Ever the trouper, she wrote the whole thing by texting it with her good hand into her phone.
“We can’t wait to see what she does for an encore!”