After she won national acclaim for defending her right to be a 9-year-old crime reporter, and after she won an award and met a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Hilde Kate Lysiak (and her dad) signed a deal with Scholastic to write four children’s mystery books called “Hilde Cracks the Case.” That was enough for Paramount Television and Anonymous Content, producers of “The Revenant” and “Mr. Robot” among others. Last week the two companies agreed to develop a TV show based on Hilde’s forthcoming books, and also optioned the rights to Hilde’s (nine-year) life story.
And all of this in a little less than five months. Seriously. How much had you accomplished when you were 9?
Variety first reported the deal, and clarified that “while the TV character will be based on Lysiak, she will not star in the project.” That’s because she is still pounding the pavement in Selinsgrove, Pa., reporting all the latest for the Orange Street News, of which she remains publisher, editor and reporter. Most recently, she has been digging into an apparent “creeper” who is lurking around Selinsgrove spying on people with binoculars and then vanishing, but she also delved into politics with a video interviewing residents about the presidential campaign.
Hilde first came to our attention in April, when she got a tip that there had been a homicide in her home town. She went to the scene, did her reporting, worked with her older sister Isabel to post a quick video, and had a full story online before the grown-up media could catch up. This irked some folks, who posted notes or emails to the effect that 9-year-olds shouldn’t be covering such matters. Hilde promptly responded with a tart video, reading some of the complaints to the camera, and then saying that if the complainers wanted to do something about it, they needed to get out and cover the news themselves.
A post in “True Crime” about all this soon attracted more than 1 million page views, and greatly boosted the circulation of both the print and online versions of the Orange Street News. Hilde and Isabel were honored by the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, Hilde was interviewed by ABC, Fox News Channel and CNN, and in July she was invited to interview Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who survived being shot in the head for going to school.
“Out of all the girls in Pakistan, you were the one to stand out and speak up,” Hilde said to Yousafazai. “I’m wondering if you were born that way, or if it was the way you were raised?”
Good question, Yousafazai said. Hilde’s poise, in front of a large audience in Providence, is remarkable. Here is a portion of it:
Later, Yousafazai said she had a question. The Nobel winner asked Hilde why she started a newspaper. “I just love giving people the truth,” Hilde said.
Amy Powell, president of Paramount TV, told Variety, “When we first learned about Hilde and what she was accomplishing at just 9 years old, we knew her stories would make an impact on youth across the country, showing them what they can accomplish if they set their mind towards a goal … we’re excited to create a series based on Hilde’s fresh voice and real-life sleuthing.”
But the attention, the interviews, the book and TV deals, are barely noticed by Hilde, said her father, Matt Lysiak, an author and former New York Daily News reporter. “Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Hilde right now is cleaning her room. We’re really happy and excited about this, but if you were in our house [in central Pennsylvania], nothing’s that different. Hilde is 9, she’s playing with her friends, she has her stories mapped out. It’s a little bit big for her to understand.”
Also, the Lysiak family of six, with four girls ranging from 12 years to 18 months, does not have a TV, and Hilde does not spend much time surfing the web, so she is not exposed to much of the coverage of herself. “My 12-year-old, she’s all over it,” Lysiak said. “Hilde just doesn’t care. She hasn’t read 99 percent of the articles written about her. My wife and I are fascinated by this. We can’t figure it out.”
Hilde told me Sunday that “the minute I found out [about the TV show], I was really, really, really happy.” Why? “I just want the TV show to inspire other girls that they can be anything they want to, no matter how old they are.” She said she wanted the main character to be “really similar to me.”
Hilde has been taking a short vacation from journalism while friends visited from New York, but “tomorrow I’m going back to work,” she said. Asked what stories she had on her plate, Hilde said, “I usually just bike around to find a story to do.” Sounds like a good plan.
Hilde’s dogged interviewing skills were on display recently when she questioned two people who said they had witnessed the Selinsgrove creeper in action. She doesn’t just throw them a softball and let it ride, she wants specifics, she follows up. That’s largely because she was following her father around on his Daily News stories “since she was in diapers,” Matt Lysiak said. “The most important part of interviews is you listen. I feel like she gets that.”
We’ll see if Hilde’s character, in her planned 96-page books and then the TV show based on those, also listens. To be true to life, they’d better. Below, watch this example of her journalistic style: