Meet Hilde Lysiak, a 10-year-old reporter who runs a self-published paper in Selinsgrove, Pa. She is a serious writer who already scooped local media outlets and is working in a children’s book series.
The first book in the “Hilde Cracks the Case” series opens with 9-year-old Hilde Lysiak outside her local police station in the town of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, following up on a tip about a break-in on Orange Street. The on-duty officer refuses to divulge any information, but if she’s going to break the story in her newspaper, The Orange Street News, she has to investigate using six basic reporting questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
“In the first chapter, Hilde is doing the exact same thing I did in real life,” said Hilde, the now 10-year-old reporter upon whom the book is based. She visited The Times recently, proudly rocking peach-colored socks featuring raccoons eating doughnuts.
“Hero Dog” is the first of six books in a series featuring Hilde; they draw significantly from her experiences chasing the news in real-life Selinsgrove, where her parents give her a 2-mile-wide stamping ground. The books, which Hilde works on with her father, Matthew Lysiak, include definitions for terms like a “deadline” or a “press pass” and reporting tips like the six questions, which she used to write on her arm in marker so she would not forget them.
The second book in the series was released Tuesday. Hilde’s story has also been optioned by Paramount TV and Anonymous Content for a television series.
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Hilde’s experiences went viral in April 2016, when she broke a story on a local homicide. A source had tipped her on the incident a few blocks from her home, and after confirming with the Police Department, she immediately went to the scene, interviewing neighbors for additional information.
Her on-the-ground reporting meant her article was up hours before other news outlets had even reached the scene, prompting critical comments on her website from those who thought a little girl as “cute” as she was should be playing with dolls or having tea parties instead of chasing hard news. Her story was picked up by The Washington Post and The Guardian, among other outlets.
“I think a lot of adults tell their kids they can do anything but at the end of the day don’t actually let them do anything,” she said.
Growing up, Hilde traveled around the country with her father, a former reporter for The New York Daily News, when he was on assignment. Asked what she remembers from that time, she mentions a wild turkey chase in Staten Island and a visit to an oversize Christmas tree in Pennsylvania.
But her father notes that she was exposed to serious reporting early on. They spent a month in Florida after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman and went to South Carolina after the massacre at a church in Charleston.
“We would have conversations, but I wish I could tell you I said, ‘Well, in journalism, here’s what we do,’” Matthew Lysiak said. Instead, Hilde learned through exposure.
The family moved from New York City to Pennsylvania when she was 6, and soon after, she started covering minor family events — she broke the news to her father, for instance, that her mother planned to buy a new car — writing the articles on notecards in crayon. But she quickly realized it “wasn’t getting me anywhere” and asked her dad if he could help her start a “real” newspaper. He agreed to handle the printing and the layout if she did all the writing and reporting.
She began by covering her block, then broadened to the neighborhood. Sometimes she gets stories from emailed tips, but mostly she rides around on her bike, asking people if they’ve heard of anything strange going on.
Hilde started out charging $1 for a year’s subscription and had a few dozen subscribers; now her print circulation is close to 600 — $20 for a yearlong subscription — with hundreds of thousands of online views. Hilde uses some of this money to pay her 13-year-old sister, Izzy, $25 a week to be her videographer. She credits her older sibling with making her paper a multimedia operation.
Hilde is home-schooled and used to spend all her time reporting.
“She’d leave in the morning, and we wouldn’t see her until the afternoon,” said Matthew Lysiak. His wife, Bridget, wanted to make sure their daughters had a contingency plan in case their passions changed. They balance out reporting with regular math, science and history lessons for Hilde, while Izzy, who has a regular advice column in The Orange Street News and works as an actress, takes 10th-grade-level math, biology and history at the local high school. Hilde also has two younger sisters, Juliet, 3, and Georgia, 6.
“Our family’s really big on people having free time,” Matthew Lysiak said. “There’s so much homework in school these days, and we had to make the decision about whether she’d have her paper or not. And she really wanted her paper.”
The Lysiaks send Hilde to camp for a few weeks every summer to make sure she gets a break from reporting, and she spends her free time making slime, which “I find great joy in,” she said.
When Hilde’s parents left New York, they thought they were putting journalism behind them. Matthew Lysiak had become disenchanted with the industry, so he left his job at The Daily News.
“When I saw her real passion, it brought my passion back,” he said, “because she does it so simply — it’s like who, what. The things that I used to go do before it got complicated.”
Despite earlier criticism, people in the town definitely take her seriously now.
“There are a lot of people in town that don’t like her,” Matthew Lysiak said. “They want her writing stories about parades and promoting the town. But no, Hilde wants to report crime and scandal when she finds it.”
In response to her neighbors’ wariness, Hilde added, “It makes me think I’m a good journalist.”