Tuesday, September 08, 2015

8-year-old rural journalist self-publishes monthly newspaper, doesn't shy away from hard news

An eight-year-old girl in rural Selinsgrove in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Valley is the brains behind a community newspaper that doesn't shy away from covering the hard news in the town of 5,000, Joe Pompeo reports for Columbia Journalism Review. Hilde Lysiak is responsible for all story ideas, writing, reporting and photography for The Orange Street News, a monthly newspaper, while her father, Matt, a former New York Daily News reporter, handles editing, typing, layout and printing. The newspaper's slogan is “All the News Fit For Orange Street," named after the street where the Lysiaks live. (Hilde Lysiak conducting an interview)

"Two hundred copies of each issue are distributed around town in local businesses, like a cafe where Hilde is known to hunker down on deadline with her usual toasted bagel and side of bacon," Pompeo writes. "More than 40 people pay $1 to $2 a year to have Hilde hand-deliver The Orange Street News to their doors, many of whom the Lysiaks had never heard of before subscription letters began arriving in the mail." Hilde also has plans to increase circulation by selling advertising.

"For an industry with an uncertain future, where newspapers and newspaper jobs have been disappearing like a species on the road toward extinction, where 'reporter' tends to rank low on the list of desirable careers, it feels refreshing to see someone so young so interested in journalism," Pompeo writes. "But Hilde isn’t just another precocious kid with a hobby. She attends town meetings. She covers crime without the police department’s cooperation. She shows up at the scenes of breaking news events. Sure, Hilde’s far from being a pro, but she still provides a public service in a town without a dedicated local news outlet."

Hilde, who began the newspaper as a family digest, debuted her four-page, full-color newspaper folded on 11 by 17-inch sheets in December, Pompeo writes. "She caught the journalism bug from her father, watching with awe and excitement as he hustled for New York’s 'hometown newspaper.' She’s drawn to the profession for the same reason lots of reporters are: It’s a license to ask people nosy questions and get them to tell you things." (Best Places map: Selingsgrove)

Hilde isn't afraid to tackle the tough stories, Pompeo writes. "In June, after Hilde’s competitors reported there had been a break-in on Orange Street, Hilde paid a visit to the police station to ask for the address. The cops wouldn’t give it out, so she went knocking on doors until she found the right house. Hilde landed an interview with its resident, who gushed that her dog, Zeus, had saved the day: 'Hero Dog Thwarts Intruder!' Hilde’s headline proclaimed. As for the perpetrator, Hilde dubbed him (or her) 'The Orange Street Bandit.'"

Judging by the front page of the April issue, which reads “Print is dead—at least at Selinsgrove High School,” a career in media reporting might be in store, Pompeo writes. Hilde wrote. “Journalism students at Selinsgrove say they would like a printed paper but there isn’t enough money in the budget.” The young reporter "got tipped to the story when she was at the local cafe talking to a high school girl she’s friendly with. Superintendent Chad Cohrs pushed back, telling Hilde: 'An electronic version can be done more frequently and with more current information than a paper version. For those who still want a paper version, I would suggest they hit the print button on their computers.'”

Hilde told Pompeo, “I just want to do as many issues as possible, and I want to expand. I want more people reading it. I don’t really want to work for a newspaper. I want to do my own. I kind of want it to become as big as the Daily News one day.” Selinsgrove borough president Brian Farrell told Pompeo, “People think it’s cute. As far as being taken seriously or competing with other newspapers, I don’t know if I’d go that far. But hopefully in the future it will. She could turn it into whatever she wants.” Hilde's mother, Bridget, says, “She wants to talk, and she wants to talk about meaningful things." (Read more)

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