We spoke to 12-year-old reporter, Hilde Lysiak to ask her some questions on being a reporter and some tips on solving a real life murder case.
Bright Lite: Hi Hilde, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hilde: Hi. I’m from Brooklyn. I’m 12-years-old. If you met me in person you would think I was a pretty normal person except that I love to report the news and I am addicted to sugar.
Bright Lite: I’m addicted to sugar too. When and why did you decide to become a journalist?
Hilde: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to report the news. I used to go along with my dad when he was reporting for the New York Daily News. I would travel with him all around the country. It was such a rush and never boring. Following my dad was always an adventure and very intense. I always knew that reporting news was what I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine it not being part of my life.
Bright Lite: You started a local paper called The Orange Street News, tell us about it. When and how did it start? Was it hard? What were some challenges and how did you over-come them?
Hilde: When my dad quit his job at the paper to begin writing books and my parents moved from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania I knew I didn’t want to stop reporting. That’s why I started the Orange Street News. I began by covering small things that happened in my family or on my block. The biggest obstacle I faced at first was from adults looking down at me and saying, where are your parents? Or, do your parents know where you are? It was like they had never seen an eight-year-old without a leash before!
I just blew it off and focused on getting the story and answering the questions who, what, where, why, when, and how.
Bright Lite: What’s your favorite kind of story to cover?
Hilde: I love crime. I really love crime because covering a crime story is like solving a puzzle. It’s also very intense.
Bright Lite: Do you have a favorite story you’ve done?
Hilde: Everybody knows that I was first to report on a murder but that was easy. I was first to the scene and just knocked on doors until I got all the information.
My favorite story was an investigation I did on the drug problem at Selinsgrove High School. I spoke to students and got the real inside story that exposed a problem with serious drugs. A lot of people in the community were shocked. But my story made a real difference. It wasn’t just drugs like pot. Kids were doing meth and other serious drugs. Kids were even overdosing in school. But no one wanted to talk about it. I worked on that story for months. After my investigation the superintendent sent a letter to parents telling them my story was true and they were going to take more actions to stop it.
It was a great story but my reporting could have been even better. My sources were going to let me ride along on a heroin run to a nearby town and report how it all went down but my parents said no. It would have been good information for the people. I’m excited for the day when I don’t have to ask permission to report the news.
Bright Lite: What is the first thing you do when covering a crime scene?
Hilde: I knock on doors and ask questions. Cops don’t like to talk very much. The cops in Selinsgrove definitely don’t like to talk to me! I’d have more luck getting answers from a tongue less cat. I will just knock on every door. You’d be surprised what people will tell you if you just ask.
Bright Lite: What do you find the most frustrating about being a journalist?
Hilde: The most frustrating part of reporting news is dealing with people when they have answers but don’t want to talk. Or when people try to lie to me. I have a very good lie detector. I’ve developed it by dealing with my three sisters.
Bright Lite: You’ve said, “I think a lot of adults tell their kids they can do anything, but at the end of the day, they don’t actually let them do anything,” can you elaborate? What are some examples?
Hilde: It’s SO true. I was the only seven-year-old I knew who was allowed to bike around town. I have friends who are eleven and they aren’t even allowed to walk into town. A lot of parents are such phonies. They say how they embrace their kid’s creativity but hardly let them cross the street without freaking out. How are kids supposed to do great things in the world if they aren’t allowed to LIVE in the world?
Kids are a lot smarter than adults think. I have friends who are way smarter than I am but because they are stuck inside their house or school all day no one knows.
The best thing about my parents is that they get out of the way.
Bright Lite: What are some criticisms you have about how news is covered currently?
Hilde: Hmmm… Honestly, I don’t read a lot of news. One thing is that I don’t think reporters should give their political opinions. You never know who you might be interviewing and you don’t want people to think you are biased.
Bright Lite: What made you want to start writing?
Hilde: My parents made my sisters and I write every day for as long as I could remember but we got to choose whatever we wanted to write. I wanted to make it fun so I just did reporting.
Bright Lite: What journalist do you admire most?
Hilde: Nellie Bly is my hero. She pretended she was insane so she could report on abuse at a mental institution. That would be my dream assignment.
Ronan Farrow wrote about stories even though powerful people were trying to shut him up. Respect.
Bright Lite: What makes a good journalist in your opinion?
Hilde: A good journalist is curious, persistent, is honest, has thick skin and can type fast when their fingers are cold.
Bright Lite: I read in your New York Times feature that your dad took you to Florida after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman and went to South Carolina after the massacre at a church in Charleston. How did these experiences affect you? What are your thoughts on gun violence? Do you think your generation, being the one that has grown up with so many shootings in schools, have or will have a different outlook on firearms than previous generations?
Hilde: I was so young. I think I was five and six. I really don’t remember a lot.
I don’t have a lot of thoughts on the violence. Of course I’m human and think violence is terrible but as a reporter I try to just focus on getting the truth. On getting the right information.
Bright Lite: What is your favorite slime recipe?
Hilde: Just one? Cream cheese slime. Its regular white glue based with corn starch added in. It’s very soft and fun to play with.
Bright Lite: Any tips for anyone wanting to start their own publication?
Hilde: Start small and build trust. My first issue was the birth of my baby sister. Lame. But then I began reporting on small crimes like vandalism. Those stories are small but important to people too. The more I reported, the more people in my community began to trust me and not just look at me as some nosey annoying kid with irresponsible parents. That is how I got the tip on the murder. It was from sources who trusted me.
Bright Lite: What are some other things you like to do?
Hilde: I love Taylor Swift. I’m a level one Reiki master. I love horror movies. My favorite movie is the Shining. I also like acting and have been in several plays.
Bright Lite: If you could go back in time and give your eight-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
Hilde: Eight-year-old me probably wouldn’t listen – but I would tell that girl to never read the comments. People can be cowards online and say terrible things they would never say to your face. But eight-year-old me wouldn’t listen so I’ll save my breath.
Bright Lite: That’s really good advice.
You have a book series out! Who is your book for? Any other exciting news coming up?
Hilde: I write a book series with Scholastic called Hilde Cracks the Case. All the books are based on real stories that I have reported on. The books are part of the branches series for young kids who are in elementary school. It’s a great series because the books aren’t just adventures, but they also show kids how to report the news. I write the books but I get help from my dad, for now.
The next book is Tornado Strikes and it comes out in September.
Apple is making a television show based on my life. The best young actress in the world, Brooklynn Prince, is starring as me. It is coming out this Fall.
I’ve been spending time working on my fiction writing. I love dark scary stories.