photo by Flickr user Jon S
When I was in journalism school in Montana, four of the state’s five biggest newspapers were owned by Lee Enterprises. The fifth, the Great Falls Tribune, was independent at the time.
None of the five papers posted a regular reporter in Washington, D.C. Some of my journalism professors complained often and loudly that the newspapers, especially those owned by Iowa-based Lee, raked in money from Montana readers but were unwilling to put even one journalist in the nation’s capital, where lawmakers set much of the policy affecting the state and its extensive public lands.
I occasionally wondered then, and frequently wondered later, why my professors did not advise their students to show some enterprise by going to Washington, covering the news and selling it back to papers in places like Montana where there was demand for it. But they never made such a suggestion, or anything remotely like it.
To my journalism teachers, the business side of reporting the news was completely distinct from the craft of the journalist, that of gathering facts and conveying them to an audience. They were teaching us the latter; they would never stoop to encourage profit-seeking enterprise (except maybe book authorship) among their students. Not that I think their approach was conscious or malicious; I got a great professional education at the University of Montana j-school. It simply never occurred to my mentors to teach us to approach journalism as proprietors and publishers as well as reporters and editors.
Of course, that was a very long time ago. Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect professors of my era to be as wise as one of today’s 9-year-olds. Or maybe the 9-year-old I am thinking about is particularly admirable, something I would certainly grant.
Hilde Kate Lysiak is the editor and publisher of Orange Street News, the only publication dedicated to the local beat in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. She launched the paper in 2014, publishing online articles as well as offering a monthly print edition. Her local coverage is thorough and consistent, and it earned her paper a profile from The Columbia Journalism Review last year.
Given the town’s small population of around 5,000, many of her stories cover topics such as borough council meetings and local vandalism. But Hilde goes where the news is, and earlier this month, she checked out a tip regarding heavy police activity on a nearby street. Like any good reporter, she spoke with the neighbors and confirmed her information, and then published her story, scooping the local daily paper in the process.
While most of her feedback has been positive when she reports the more benign day-to-day stories of her hometown, this story dealt with an alleged murder. Commenters on the Orange Street News Facebook page and YouTube channel pushed back hard against her story, calling it “sensationalism” or criticizing her for running it “when all the facts are not in yet.” No one likes to be reminded that bad things can happen where they live. People are more than ready to angrily blame the messenger, even when that messenger is a preteen girl.
And, because this is the Internet, the criticism did not stop with the nature of her story. Commenters also criticized Hilde’s parents for letting her cover such a story and suggested that Hilde herself should stick to dolls and tea parties.
That such suggestions are as condescending as they are clueless was clearly not lost on Hilde, who created a video to respond to her critics. Prominently wearing a button displaying the message “I love free speech,” she read a selection of these comments, rolling her eyes and laughing incredulously at some of them. The laughter was absent, though, as she delivered her reply to those telling her to stop covering such stories.
“If you want me to stop covering the news,” she said, “then you get off your computers and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”
Hilde gets it. News is something you chase, you confirm and you report as freely of bias as you can. You don’t worry about how it will make your block look. You don’t worry about how it will make the people around you feel. If it is legitimate news, you report it and let people evaluate it for themselves.
Hilde also understands that trolls are fair game for mockery, but that they ought not to be fed. Her determination to continue reporting all the news she can, especially the crime beat, does her credit. After major news outlets covered her response to her critics, supporters from across the United States and as far away as Germany and Australia took the time to stop by the Orange Street News Facebook page to deliver messages of encouragement.
Congratulations to Hilde on her scoop. Congratulations, also, to her parents for teaching their preteen how the First Amendment was meant to be exercised in a way that some of my journalism teachers and classmates may not have fully grasped.
Montana’s newspapers still do not have a correspondent in the nation’s capital. Given how journalism is changing, I don’t expect they ever will. But maybe in a dozen years or so Hilde Kate Lysiak will set her journalistic sights a little bit south of Orange Street, for the benefit of Montanans – and the rest of us, too.