Earlier this year, a young female reporter broke the news of a suspected murder in her hometown. And pretty quickly she started getting hammered online for her reporting. But it wasn’t because she had done a bad job. No. It was because she was, like, 9 years old.
Hilde Kate Lysiak, the precocious little investigative reporter, runs the Orange Street News, a family newsletter that began morphing into something of a community news source back when she was the ripe old age of 7. It was the kind of note-paper-and-crayon creation that kids have been scribbling out for generations. In this case, young Ms. Lysiak had been inspired by her author/playwright dad, Matthew, who once worked as a reporter for the New York Daily News.
When it turned out that Hilde was spectacularly passionate about reporting on local tornadoes, pets bravely thwarting robbers and the brave firemen battling nearby fires, dad decided it was time to encourage his budding reporter. He even helped her take the hand-printed newsletter online. The deal was that Hilde would handle all the story ideas, writing, reporting, videos and photography, and Dad would help with any brush-up editorial duties that might be required.
Everything was clicking along just fine as Hilde polished her craft and got the news out month by month. Scores of locals even ponied up a couple bucks per year to subscribe to a hand-delivered print edition of Hilde’s gathered news bits. And then, in April of this year, everything shifted into overdrive.
Upon receiving a tip “from a reliable source,” Hilde pedaled her bike down the street to a house that had police cars parked outside. After interviewing neighbors, talking to law enforcement and shooting some video, Hilde hustled home and posted her online report (complete with an accompanying Breaking News YouTube video).
A local man had allegedly murdered his wife right there in Selinsgrove, Penn. And young Hilde got the story out—”Exclusive: Murder on Ninth Street!”—literally hours before a local newspaper reporter even showed up on the crime scene.
“It’s what I really want to do,” Hilde said. “And crime is definitely my favorite.”
Now obviously, a murder is nothing to grin about, but Hilde’s determination makes me smile a little. I mean, isn’t that the wonder of the age we live in. Thanks to the Internet, smartphones, YouTube vids, etc., etc., etc. a little reporter can scoop the local newspaper. It’s an amazing and almost unbelievable reality that I would never have even imagined when I was Hilde’s age and gobbling up tales of young Hardy Boy detectives solving crimes.
The next chapter of Hilde’s adventure, though, is less smile worthy. After her breaking news story started garnering attention, people from all over were aghast that a young girl was talking about such grisly stuff. And the posts ranged from statements such as, “I’m disgusted that this cute little girl thinks she’s a real journalist. What happened to tea parties?” to f-bomb laden comments that I can’t reprint here. Even a former local mayor scoffed that Hilde’s reporting was “sensationalist trash.”
Now, I understand concerns about a youngster poking around crime scenes. And I can only hope that Hilde’s family is always in the mix during her investigations (reports suggest that Hilde’s older sister Izzy gives some older sib support wherever the younger Lysiak goes). But growling angrily and screaming obscenities at a 9-year-old from some dark corner of the Internet, is a sad, sad thing. And unfortunately it’s equally representative of this connected world we live in.
But wait, Hilde’s chronicle isn’t over yet. After news channels and online sites started buzzing about the Orange Street News’ star reporter, some realized that there was more that could be told. Children’s publishing house Scholastic just penned a four-book deal with Hilde and her dad. Their Hilde Cracks the Case book series debuts in the fall of 2017 and will teach kids about the basics of journalism. It reportedly features Hilde and her older sis as they investigate news stories, based on real articles Hilde published in her monthly paper.
Oh, and there have also been murmurs that there are several production companies interested in buying little Hilde’s life rights. All nine years of them.
From crayon newsletter to Internet fame, to book deals to big-money life-story rights. Young Hilde’s path over the last year or so has indeed been a mysterious journey that the Hardy Boys would have scratched their heads over. And it’s all part of a digital landscape where our wonder and our twisted nature can both show up in equal measure.