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12-year-old journalist to speak at WVU College of Media commencement

Hilde Lysiak

At nine years old, Hilde Lysiak was the first to break the news of a homicide in her hometown in Pennsylvania. She’s 12 now and about to add another “first” to her pre-teen resume. On May 10, Lysiak will give the 2019 commencement address for the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. She will be the youngest commencement speaker ever at WVU and maybe in the country.

Hilde, who is the youngest member of the national Society of Professional Journalists, is the publisher of the Orange Street News in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, which she founded in 2014. The paper has 700-plus paid subscribers and has been read by millions more online. In addition to breaking the murder story, she has exposed corruption at a local fire department leading to the firing of top officials, and her exclusive reports on an alleged KKK member forced the suspect to leave town.

Hilde made headlines recently for standing up to a town marshal in Patagonia, Arizona. She was bicycling through town, following a lead for a story, when the officer pulled her over and tried to stop her from pursuing the story. Her video of the encounter went viral, reaching nearly 500,000 views, and the Patagonia mayor offered a public apology.

Maryanne Reed , dean of the WVU College of Media, said she was taken with Hilde’s story and inspired by the pre-teen’s dogged pursuit of the truth.

“Our commencement speakers are usually career veterans, whereas Hilde hasn’t even reached high school. But her passion for journalism at such a young age and her unwavering commitment to the First Amendment should inspire our students to pursue their own career goals with passion and purpose.”

Hilde Lysiak on her BIke

Hilde’s interaction with the Patagonia marshal wasn’t the first time she has faced obstacles. After she broke the story about the Selinsgrove murder, her Facebook page received negative comments from people claiming she was too young to cover such hard-hitting news. They also attacked her parents for allowing her to “pretend to be a reporter.” But Lysiak remains undeterred and her family is supportive.

“I left New York City and my job at the New York Daily News after I became disenchanted with the state of journalism,” said Hilde’s father, Matthew Lysiak. “When Hilde began her own paper, I just assumed it was a phase and that she would get sick of it and move on to the next thing. As you see, I was wrong. Her passion and commitment has restored my faith in the profession.”

Journalism is a Lysiak family affair. Matthew used to take Hilde to the Daily News newsroom when he was researching stories, which is what initially sparked Hilde’s interest in journalism. Her mother is a writer and her older sister, Isabel, edits articles and posts videos for Orange Street News.

Hilde’s journalism efforts have been profiled by the New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, NBC Today, the Washington Post and hundreds of other newspapers and television stations around the world.

She is also the author of the six-book Scholastic series, Hilde Cracks the Case, and her life will soon be the subject of an upcoming Apple streaming series starring Brooklynn Prince. In 2016, Hilde and her sister Isabel received a Tribeca Disruptive Innovations Award.

"The future of journalism has become an obsession of mine,” Hilde said. “My vision of tomorrow's media is very different from what so many of the experts have been saying. That is why I am so honored that the Reed College of Media has asked me to be their commencement speaker. I am excited to share my views and hopefully give the class of 2019 a speech they will never forget."

The College of Media’s commencement ceremony is Friday, May 10, at 9 a.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The event is open to the public.