At age 15, Hilde Lysiak already has an accomplished journalism career. When Lysiak was 7 and living in Selinsgrove, the small borough didn’t have a newspaper.
Lysiak decided to change that when she started her own publication, Orange Street News.
Lysiak recently published a memoir, “Hilde on the Record: Memoir of a Kid Crime Reporter,” that outlines her experiences being the young editor and reporter of the small-town paper.
“I started it a few days before turning 8,” Lysiak said. “We had moved from New York City. My dad had been a reporter there and he used to take me out on light assignments. ” Through shadowing her dad, Lysiak developed her passion for reporting.
“I started out by doing a lot of stories on vandalisms in town,” Lysiak said. “Other news sources had not covered them, as they seemed to think it was insignificant.”
The big break
But covering the petty crimes paid off. Lysiak was able to develop sources which eventually led to her breaking a big story when she was 9 – a murder that occurred down the street from her home.
Lysiak was first on the scene and was able to get the news online quickly, before any other news source.
It was this story that gained national attention for the Orange Street News and put Lysiak in the spotlight. There was a lot of positive feedback, but also many negative comments from adults.
The adult haters said things such as, “I’m disgusted this cute little girl thinks she’s a real journalist,” and called the story “sensationalist trash.”
Lysiak recalled that authority figures had sometimes looked at her as “a cute little girl” when she was covering stories back in Selinsgrove. Some were not responsive or did not take her seriously. “At the time, I thought it was my age, but I realize now it was my gender,” Lysiak said.
“Before the murder, I think people looked at me as a cute little girl in my town and they thought I was too young,” Lysiak said. “After the murder, people were saying I should be home having tea parties and playing with dolls.”
In response to the adult haters, Lysiak made a YouTube video that she posted in 2016. “I know this makes some of you uncomfortable and I know some of you want me to sit down and be quiet because I’m 9. But if you want me to stop covering news then you get off your computer and do something about it. There – is that cute enough for you? ”
Lysiak continued to report the news in Selinsgrove and broke into investigative reporting when she did a story on hard drugs at the middle and high schools. She was a middle school student at the time. For these stories, Lysiak talked to parents, students, and school officials, including the superintendent.
After several stories and conversations with the superintendent, policies at the school were changed as a result, Lysiak said.
Lysiak realized that journalism had the power to change things. She was being flown across the country for interviews, had a Scholastic book series, and even had a television series based on her work. Meanwhile, the pressure of being in the national spotlight for being a “child prodigy” had a negative effect on her mental health.
“Other than the paper, I was a completely normal kid. I rode my bike and played with dolls,” Lysiak said. “I didn’t fit into this narrative that they put on me.”
Many writers painted a picture of Lysiak that was different than the way she saw herself. “I feel like the stories people would write about me would paint me as a confrontational badass kind of girl.”
Encounter in Arizona
By 2019, Lysiak’s family and Orange Street News moved to Patagonia, Arizona. Even though Lysiak had left the small town in Pennsylvania where she got her start in journalism, she continued the publication.
One day when she was riding her bike chasing down a possible news tip, she was threatened by an Arizona marshal. Lysiak filmed the encounter with Marshal Joseph Patterson of Patagonia, who threatened to throw her in juvenile prison. Lysiak asks several times in the video what crime she had supposedly committed.
Patterson then incorrectly tells her that it would be illegal for her to post the video online. The right to film and post the video is protected by the First Amendment. Patterson told Lysiak, “I do not want to hear any of that freedom of press stuff.”
Lysiak’s video went viral and was viewed more than 170,000 times. Patterson more recently resigned from his position. When he did a farewell speech for the board, he blamed Lysiak’s reporting and her supporters for the resignation. “Every February it comes up again,” Patterson reportedly said in his speech.
Memoir recounts struggles
Lysiak’s encounter with the Arizona marshal is outlined in her memoir, as well as many other highlights of her career. She also includes some of the emotional struggles she had growing up under the scrutiny of the public eye.
Lysiak said she wanted to write the memoir to set the record straight and change the narrative people painted of her.
“I also wanted to hopefully inspire some other young kids who need help to get help.” Her advice for other young kids wanting to become journalists? “If you take yourself seriously, people will take you seriously as well.”
For now, Lysiak has put journalism on hold as she explores other activities in high school. She is interested in filmmaking and directing. At 15, Lysiak has time to explore different roles and just be a kid.
Starting a successful career is something most kids grow up to aspire to do, but Lysiak already has written that chapter of her life. She never dreamed when she started Orange Street News that she would be nationally known.
“In reality, I just started it because it was fun for me, and not to change the world.”