Hilde Lysiak, now 15 and author of her own memoir, developed a passion for journalism – and a knack for sniffing out a scoop – at an unusually young age. She had a ready-made role model in the person of her father, Matt Lysiak, then a journalist for the New York Daily News, whom she sometimes accompanied on work assignments. After her family moved from New York to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, seven-year-old Hilde learned the town didn’t have a newspaper, so she started her own, the Orange Street Newsfirst writing in pencil on note cards, reporting the events of his family.
the The newspaper then expanded its reach, as Hilde followed leads to spread the news of the town, including the plight of a local homeless person, the story of a dog who foiled a robbery and a hammer murder. Amassing nearly 1,000 monthly subscribers and many other online readers, the young journalist attracted a lot of – not quite welcome – attention and at the age of 10 landed a contract with Scholastic. for Hilde Cracks the Case, a four-book series of mid-level novels inspired by her own rhythm adventures.
Retired for now, Hilde adds memoirist to her list of writing credits with the publication of Hilde on the folder. She speak with TP from his home in rural Arizona, where his family currently lives, about his formative former stint as a newspaper publisher and his decision to share with teenage readers the story of his life to date.
What surprised you the most when you started investigating and writing stories, and what were the main advantages and disadvantages of the experience?
What surprised me the most when I started the Orange Street News was how difficult it was to get answers from the police. Much of what I asked of them was public information needed for important stories, but it seems that the local police, and in particular the district attorney, who acted as if his job was to protect the powerful, did everything he could to make things difficult. for me, and sometimes they even lied to get me off track.
The main rewards came when I received emails from residents who thought the city or the police were intimidating them and they had nowhere to turn, but thanks to my reporting, they were able to speak out. The biggest downside came from stories that I couldn’t solve or didn’t have enough confirmed information to report, even though I personally knew they were true. It’s the kind of thing that has eaten at me and still eats at me.
In Hilde on the folder, you write about how the stress of negative comments on your news stories led to difficulty controlling eating habits, depression and feelings of isolation. What have you done to combat these reactions?
I have learned valuable lessons in my eight years of reporting and being thrust into the national spotlight at such a young age. One of the lessons I learned is how our sense of self, the way we perceive ourselves, can be shaped by those around us if we are not true to our authentic selves.
The narrative the media created about me painted a picture of this child prodigy with a perfect life. But the reality was quite different. From the outside, my life seemed perfect. I had a four-book contract with Scholastic. I was ferried across the country to give speeches, and a TV show was made about my life [Home Before Dark, AppleTV+, 2020]. But inside, I could feel something changing inside me. Something unknown and dark. At first, the idea that I could be depressed seemed silly to me. But when I started researching, I was shocked to learn that not only was I not alone, but I was facing a growing problem that was literally killing my generation, especially teenage girls aged 12 to 17, which in 2021 saw a 50% increase in suicide attempts. And that number is probably low, given the stigma attached to suicide.
I hope that by telling my story I can help open a conversation and maybe even inspire some people who have been through what I have been through to seek help.
In your memoirs, you talk about always following your conviction to tell the truth, even if it means being unfairly judged by others. How do you hope to encourage readers to do the same?
Telling the truth has always been my first priority. There were so many people painting me in a light that wasn’t quite true, and writing my memoir was an antidote to that narrative. I wanted to share my side of the story and express myself and my personality more accurately.
And with the book, I also hope to encourage others to be brave and express their dreams. I want to show kids that they can do anything, no matter their age or gender. I really don’t believe there is anything that makes me different from other people my age, but I was lucky that my parents gave me the freedom to do a lot more than a lot of children are able to do. They have always wanted to inspire their children to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.
I think a lot of young girls and even women are not taken seriously. I know that often I was not. But I never considered myself a victim. I used it to my advantage to get people to say what they wouldn’t normally say. To anyone who doesn’t take young people and women seriously, I say go ahead and underestimate us, but do so at your own risk.
At 15, you were published as a journalist, novelist and now memoirist. Do you plan to pursue your career as a writer in the future, and if so in which direction?
Writing is my passion, and I’m so grateful for the overwhelming support I received, from my parents and from so many people who were willing to talk to me and give me advice as a journalist. I’m actually quiet and introverted, so journaling gave me the opportunity to talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise have reason to talk to, and that was great.
But I have a lot of different passions other than reporting and writing and there are a lot of things I want to pursue. I can consider being an engineer or a filmmaker.
I do not know. Right now, I’m just trying to finish high school without losing my mind!
Hilde on the Record: Memoir of a Kid Crime Reporter by Hilde Lysiak. Chicago Review Press, $17.99 April ISBN 978-1-64-160581-6