The latest Apple TV+ show to land is a crime drama with a twist. Home Before Dark follows a young news reporter – and we mean young, Hilde is just nine years old – who investigates a cold case and uncovers a town full of secrets. But Hilde Lysiak – Hilde Lisko in the show – is a real person, who publishes the Orange Street News formerly in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and currently in Patagonia, Arizona. Much of Home Before Dark is fictional but Hilde, Matt, and Bridget Lysiak consulted on the series and there are elements of truth throughout. Here’s the lowdown on the real child reporter Hilde Lysiak.
Hilde Lysiak is now 13. She launched her publication the Orange Street News in 2014 when she was seven. As in Home Before Dark, Hilde was born in Brooklyn, New York and her father was a reporter for the New York Daily News who would sometimes take Hilde to the newsroom when he was working. The Lysiak family moved to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and this is where the Orange Street News was founded – named after the street Hilde and her family lived on. Originally conceived as a family paper (the first item was a story about the birth of Lysiak’s sister Juliette – who doesn’t feature in Home Before Dark) it quickly grew to include local news and had subscriptions, social channels, and a busy website. Orange Street News grew in size and reputation after Hilde broke news of a local murder – more on that later.
Izzy Lysiak is also a real person, though in real life Hilde’s big sister is more interested in journalism than her Home Before Dark counterpart. Izzy helps Hilde with the Orange Street News and also wrote a regular kids’ column for local broadsheet The Daily Item called “Ask Izzy.”
In this 2017 profile of Hilde for Quill, the magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists, Hilde said that Izzy runs the OSN social media and looks after video recording and editing. Hilde said she pays her sister $25 a week.
Hilde’s younger sister Georgie (Ginny in Home Before Dark) has apparently also expressed an interest in becoming a reporter.
While the cold case of Richie Fife isn’t one of the real Hilde’s scoops, she has reported on murder cases. In April 2016 Hilde reported on a homicide in Selinsgrove a few streets from where she lived where a man was suspected of killing his wife with a hammer. Hilde was the first reporter on the scene and managed to scoop her competitors by several hours. This article received some negative comments from local residents on the site and via social media – they focused largely on how a 9-year-old girl shouldn’t be reporting on violent crime with comments including “I am disgusted that this cute little girl thinks she is a real journalist. What happened to tea parties?” and “Nine-year-old girls should be playing with dolls, not trying to be reporters.”
Hilde published a video reading out some of these comments (a bit like the scene in Home Before Dark where Hilde Lisko gets on the table in the school cafeteria to read out nasty comments left on her website) and defending her right to report on crime with a “is that cute enough for you?” sign off at the end.
The article and follow up got widespread attention including this inspirational op ed written by Hilde for The Guardian which ends with the sign off:
“To those of you who would rather I stay home and be playing tea parties, I say this:
Yes, I am a nine-year-old girl.
But I’m a reporter, first.
I report the news.
And so long as there is news to report in Selinsgrove, I’m going to continue trying my best to give the people the facts.
And for those of you who think I need to mind my place, I’ll make you a deal. You get off your computer and do something to stop all the crime going on in my town and I’ll stop reporting on it.
Until then, I’m going to keep doing my job.”
Last October she published a series of articles about a local stabbing and she’s currently reporting heavily on how the Coronavirus is affecting Patagonia, Arizona, including running a series of video interviews with a girl quarantined in Turin, Italy.
Hilde and Matt have written a series of six illustrated children’s books called Hilde Cracks The Case, which are based on real cases Hilde reported on. These are, unsurprisingly more “Bear on the Loose!” “Hero Dog! and “UFO Spotted!” than stories about murder and domestic violence, and they are fictionalized. Hilde told Quill in 2017 “When I sit down to come up with each new book idea, I try to make the real stories even more exciting. I’ll take what actually happened and then think to myself, ‘What if, instead of that, this happened?’”
Hilde’s dad Matt is obviously a big inspiration for his daughter. According to this profile of the Orange Street Journal in The Columbia Journalism Review Matt left school at 19 after recovering from cancer. It was then that he started his first newspaper which was called The Danvillian in honour of the town where he lived, Danville, which is about 20 minutes away from Selinsgrove. Matt’s next newspaper launch was The Bay Ridge Conservative which he started after moving to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It was this that caught the attention of Gersh Kuntzman, then editor-in-chief of The Brooklyn Paper, who offered Matt a job and launched his career.
Matt taught Hilde about news reporting and helps edit and lay out the print edition of the Orange Street News.
Run in with the police
In February 2019 while Hilde was working on a story in Patagonia about the proposed border wall she ran into trouble from town Marshall Joseph Patterson. Patterson stopped Hilde and asked for identification. When she identified herself as a member of the press he threatened to have her “arrested and thrown in juvey”, later telling her that it’s illegal to record him and publish the recording online (which it’s not, if it’s in a public place).
Later the town of Patagonia issued an apology to Hilde including this snippet:
“We are sorry Hilde, we encourage and respect your continued aspirations as a successful reporter. We believe and fully support the constitutional right to freedom of speech in the public sector. We will not tolerate bias of any kind including infringement of freedom of speech.”
She’s inspired by pioneering reporter Nellie Bly
When asked by Quill who she’d most like to interview, Hilde cites female reporter from the turn of the 20th century, Nellie Bly. Bly was known for travelling around the world in 72 days (to recreate the fictional Jules Verne trip), her undercover report on treatment in mental institutes which involved Bly feigning mental illness, and her influence on investigative journalism as a whole.
“She was very aggressive and fearless; I have a lot of respect for her […] I would want to ask her lots of questions and hear everything about her life,” says Hilde, who also told Quill that when she’s not working she’s obsessed with Taylor Swift and likes making slime.
She’s blazing her own trail
At the age of 10 Hilde became the youngest member of the Society of Professional Journalists. As well as the homicide case she’s broken several stories including one about corruption in her local fire service.
She’s also the youngest person in US history to deliver a university commencement speech (the speech given in America to graduating students). Hilde spoke to the graduating class of West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media in May 2019 when she was 12. She gave tips for being a better journalist and inspiring words for a new generation of reporters:
“I believe that history will look back on this moment not as the last dark days when the reporter profession or journalism died, but as the new beginning when this generation, the class of 2019, didn’t just save the news, but ushered it into a new golden era of fact-based information that shines a light so bright it touches every corner of the globe.”
Watch the full speech here:
Home Before Dark is available to stream on Apple TV+ now