It’s not often that a reporter gets the chance to break a murder story to the public; it’s especially rare that the reporter is a child under ten years old. Yet that’s exactly what nine-year-old Hilde Lysiak did. Lysiak, despite her young age, is the head of Orange Street News, a family newsletter turned local newspaper in the small town of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. While she does receive some aid from her family members regarding finance and distribution, she conducts all of the interviews, takes the photos and writes every article that run in the publication.
Hilde recently came under fire for getting the scoop on a murder in her neighborhood. She arrived hours before any other news outlet, acting upon a tip she received while at the police station. At the scene of the crime she interviewed officers and neighbors alike. There is even news broadcast-like footage of her reporting on the case in front of the victim’s home.
The murder itself was that of Ann Wochley, a 75-year-old woman beaten to death with a hammer by her husband, Kenneth. The man was reportedly unconscious in a living room chair, seemingly having attempted suicide through overdose on prescription pills. He is hospitalized, and is currently the only suspect in the murder. Obviously, it’s a tragic case.
“Murder on Ninth Street!” the headline reads on Orange Street News, resembling more of a sensationalist piece than any legitimate piece of journalism. Angry YouTube and Facebook comments demand that Hilde play with dolls or host tea parties instead of reporting on such matters. Hilde has already responded to these comments in a video of her own, saying, “‘I know this makes some of you uncomfortable, and I know some of you just want me to sit down and be quiet because I’m nine. Listen, bud, if you want me to stop covering the news, then you get off your computer and do something about it. There, is that cute enough for you?”
While I disagree with the sentiment that Hilde is by default an unfit reporter to take on serious news topics, I can’t help but see some justification for condemning the article. It’s a well enough written article (despite “murderer” being misspelled as “murdered”), that sympathizes with the victim and notes that neighbors “remember her fondly.” Hilde even went so far as to withhold Ann’s name so that friends and family could be notified of the death by official law enforcement personnel before the information was released to the public. Like I said, Hilde makes a sincere effort to cover the murder case, and does so passably. It’s the public perception I worry about.
Orange Street News is always going to be, for much of its readership, more about an ‘adorable little girl’ reporting local affairs than the local news itself. This means that in the case of a murder, the video going viral is going to be labeled “Little Girl Reports Murder: WHAT?!,” not “Tragic Violence in Selinsgrove.” It’s not Hilde’s fault that the public perception of her is going to revolve around her age, but it is something that should be taken into account by her father.
Hilde’s dad, who worked as a reporter at the New York Daily News, admits he was uncomfortable at the idea of his daughter at a crime scene. Though he was slightly anxious about the risks involved, he’s far more worried about stifling his daughter’s passion for journalism. Personally, I think he fails to see the big picture, or how his daughter’s reporting at the scene of a murder might trivialize to some the death involved.
Of course, I still think the angry responses Hilde received were misguided. Like her father, I believe it’s important that her enthusiasm be allowed to prosper, especially in her childhood years. However, a stronger sense of discretion is warranted when you have a local celebrity dealing with such a sensitive topic. It might just be me, but I wouldn’t want a loved one or myself to be the background death of a young reporter’s viral video.