Girl reporter breaks news — and gender stereotypes

 Hilde with Malala and Ziauddin in July 2016.

Hilde with Malala and Ziauddin in July 2016.

Since starting her newspaper at age 7, Hilde's investigative journalism challenges conventional roles for girls and inspires fans all over the world.

If you’re going to underestimate 10-year-old journalist Hilde, she has some advice for you: “Go ahead, but do it at your own risk.”

Three years ago, the burgeoning reporter started The Orange Street News — “The ONLY newspaper devoted to Selinsgrove — in her hometown in Pennsylvania. She regularly scoops larger local outlets by breaking major stories, including a murder last year, a recent scandal at the fire department and the emergence of a drug epidemic at the high school.

We spoke with Hilde about what she’s been up to in the past year, the importance of education and how she responds to critics who say girls should be “playing with dolls” instead of reporting the news.

Tell us about The Orange Street News and your passion for journalism. Hilde: The Orange Street News is the only paper that exclusively covers Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. I began the paper when I was 7 years old. It started out just about my family, but it grew. I was first to break the story that there was a murder in my town last year. I’ve written hundreds of stories and broken a lot of big stories that the adult media missed.

Just this week I broke a scandal at the local fire department and exclusively reported about hard drugs coming into the high school. I’m proud of my work and I believe my articles make a real difference in my community. Hundreds of thousands of people read my stories.

Has anyone ever tried to stop you from getting a story or said you were too young to be a reporter?

H: Oh yeah — at first people would simply tell me: “You should be playing with dolls or having tea parties.” Now it’s different. I think I’ve proven myself through my work. People see me out in town, working hard every day. Once I understood that when people look down at me because I’m not 30 or because I’m a girl that it only says something about them — then it became a lot easier for me to deal with.

Why is education important to you and important in achieving your ambitions?

H: Education isn’t a good thing. Education is the ONLY thing. My dad worked as a reporter in New York City. I used to go along with him all the time. I didn’t realise, but it was such a great education. It was always an adventure. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I am great at learning when I see it done and get to do it. But now I’m trying to improve my writing. That is a different kind of adventure and to be honest not nearly as fun. But without education, I wouldn’t be much different than an aardvark. I could find ants and maybe survive, but I wouldn’t be happy or have the Orange Street News or be making a difference in my community. Or met Malala! I know I have so much to still learn and I never want to stop learning. I hope when I turn 100 years old I’m still learning and asking questions.

What was it like to meet and interview Malala?

 Hilde with Malala in July 2016.

Hilde with Malala in July 2016.

H: I can honestly say that meeting Malala changed my life. I read her book and knew that she lived in a place where people thought girls shouldn’t go to school. But she still stood up anyways. When I met her, she spoke about how girls in so many countries don’t have the same opportunities that I do to follow their dreams. That broke my heart. It made me think about all the young girls around the world and all the amazing things they could have created that we will never see. It made me appreciate growing up in America where I am free to start my own newspaper. I hope one day I can inspire other girls to just stand up and be themselves.

As a reporter himself, how has your father supported you in realising your dreams?

H: Following my dad around and seeing him work when I was growing up made me see how fun it was to report the news. My mom helps me with other stuff like grammar. My sister Isabel shoots all my videos and edits them, too. She is actually the most helpful. She helps with the website stuff, too. So my family is super helpful. But truthfully, the best thing about my parents is that they give me so much freedom. I was the only 7-year-old in my town allowed to bike all around town by myself. None of my friends could do that. Sometimes I think the best thing parents can do is to get out of the way.

When you’re not working on The Orange Street News, what do you like to do for fun?

H: I LOVE TAYLOR SWIFT. I’m also addicted to slime and horror movies. Anything scary. Just saw The Shining. It was awesome.

What are your plans for the future?

H: I have a book series coming out with Scholastic called “Hilde Cracks the Case.” The first book, “Hero Dog”, comes out September 12, 2017. It is for kids who are 6 to 8 years old, which I think is great because kids that age are so curious. Reporting is all about being curious and asking questions. Each book is based on stories I’ve actually done in real life. I think these books are going to inspire a whole new generation of kids to begin reading and writing and maybe even begin reporting. An amazing artist drew pictures of my sister and I on every page. It is really surreal.

Girls around the world are inspired by your work — what advice would you give to them about creating change in their communities and standing up for their beliefs?

H: All your life people are going to tell you what you can and can’t do. Just know that these people don’t matter. All that matters is you. And if you take yourself seriously — other people will take you seriously too.

What would you say to people who might underestimate the power of girls? H: A lot of people have underestimated me. I say go ahead, but do it at your own risk. I think if you ask around my hometown there are a lot of people who have underestimated me and regretted it. I’ve already made big changes in my town. I want other girls reading this to know that they can do the same. If they have any doubts just look at Malala.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tess Thomas is editor of Assembly, a digital publication and newsletter from Malala Fund. She loves books, cats and french fries.