Intrepid Journalism 101: Watch This Reporter Jump Over the Border Wall!
All photos from Hilde Lysiak
Bestowing vital hope on beleaguered journalists everywhere, Hilde Lysiak, 12-year-old reporter, editor and publisher of the Orange Street News, last week faced down an Arizona cop who threatened to “have you arrested and thrown in juvey” for chasing down a tip on her bike, aka doing her job – or as Lysiak conscientiously reported, “The OSN was working on a story in Patagonia, Arizona when a law enforcement officer threatened the reporter with arrest unless she stopped reporting the news.” This was her second encounter with Marshall Joseph Patterson, who’d variously charged her with disobeying his “lawful order,” riding on the wrong side of the road and acting unsafely with a possible mountain lion in the area. Filming him as she repeatedly asked just what crime she’d committed, he retorted it was illegal to film him or “paste my face on the Internet” – not – and he didn’t “want to hear about any of that freedom-of-the-press stuff.” In the end, she writes, “The officer told the reporter he was calling her parents. ‘You aren’t an adult so don’t act like it,’ before driving off.”
This was not Lysiak’s first run-in with recalcitrant police; she says the cops in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania “definitely don’t like to talk to me – I’d have more luck getting answers from a tongue-less cat.” The daughter of a former New York Daily News reporter who used to take her along on stories, she began her career covering events in her family or community – “My first issue was the birth of my baby sister. Lame.” – went on to report small crimes like vandalism, and at nine broke her most famous story of a homicide, interviewing witnesses before other media had reached the scene and dismissing skeptics with panache: “Just because I’m nine doesn’t mean I can’t do a great story.” That one was “easy”; she’s proudest of her investigative piece on a serious drug problem at the local high school that had gone unreported and ultimately prompted action by the school district. After working on it for months, “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.”
In an interview, Lysiak says the biggest obstacle she faced was “adults looking down at me and saying, do your parents know where you are? It was like they had never seen an eight-year-old without a leash before!” She goes on, “I just blew it off and focused on getting the story and answering the questions who, what, where, why, when, and how.” She stresses the importance of persistence – “I will just knock on every door. You’d be surprised what people will tell you if you just ask” – and fearlessness: “A lot of adults tell their kids they can do anything, but don’t actually let them do anything…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.” Her tips for anyone wanting to start their own newspaper: “Start small and build trust. The more I reported, the more people in my community began to trust me and not just look at me as some nosy annoying kid with irresponsible parents.” Tip to her eight-year-old self: “Don’t read the comments,” though she knows she wouldn’t have listened.
She met up with Marshall Patterson during a trip to Arizona: “The Orange Street News is in the border town of Harshaw, Arizona to put the security of our southern border to the test and talk to residents about what should be done.” Her video of the confrontation has garnered over 170,000 views; it also prompted offers of donations she’s declined – because the OSN turns a profit without ads, “There are many great causes that I am sure can use help, but I am not one of them” – threats to dox Patterson’s personal info she discouraged: “My focus is on protecting our First Amendment Rights. Thank you” – and an all-caps response from Patagonia officials that “the matter has been carefully reviewed and we have taken action we believe to be appropriate.” Ever-businesslike, Lysiak has declined interview requests – “Everything I had to say I said in the story” – but did stop to correct some of the coverage: “This NowThis video states, ‘Hilde says she was satisfied with the ultimate outcome.’ I’m not. This isn’t over.” In an editorial and speech last year, she refuted the notion the future of journalism is bleak – “It’s a dying industry, they say!” – arguing, “Has there ever been a time where more people wanted or needed the news than right now?” “The best days of journalism aren’t in the past,” she proclaims. “They are just beginning.” Hope against hope she’s right.