This just in: Not only does Hatty Hawthorne report the news in her River Heights neighbourhood, she edits the stories, publishes the paper and delivers Hatty’s News to her growing list of paid subscribers.
As it happens, eight-year-old Hatty’s been ripping past my house on her scooter on her paper route during the pandemic. She once surveyed my husband about dogs. It turns out, she lives a few doors down from me.
So, I decided to reach out to Hatty via letter — you know, newspaper woman to newspaper woman (I’m jealous of her handle: Hatty Hawthorne is a great byline). I told her that I, too, am a writer for a newspaper called the Winnipeg Free Press, and I live on her street. She wrote me back right away. I’d interview her, and she’d interview me.
Hatty’s mom, Tory McNally (of the McNally Robinson McNallys), helps her with this project.
"She wanted a Polaroid camera and was like ‘buy me a Polaroid camera’ — and we were pretty much like, ‘that’s not happening, you just had your birthday,’" says McNally with a laugh when we meet. "And then my husband said, ‘Well, why don’t you start a business if you want money?’ And she said, ‘OK, let’s start up a newspaper.’"
Hatty’s News is 50 cents per issue, but McNally says people started paying $5 in advance as word-of-mouth grew.
"She’s just so brave," McNally says. "She just walks up to people and she stays distanced, but she’s like, ‘Hi, would you like to subscribe?’ Or someone will say hi to her in their yard, so she’ll do up a flyer and put it in their mailbox. Within maybe six weeks she had enough for the camera.
"It’s been totally driven by her. It started with the cash, and then it continued on being a community connection. And the feedback has been so great. The neighbourhood has been so nice."
Each issue of Hatty’s News features insightful and funny stories and sightings from the neighbourhood. Often, Hatty puts her imagination to work: for the Halloween issue, she did a Q&A with a ghost — Q: "Do you like being a ghost?" A: "At least when you are dead you don’t have to go to work" — and a gossipy interview with the Window at the Cabin who dishes the dirt (apparently, BFFs Eagle and Rabbit are currently in a huge fight). Hatty’s News also features jokes, recipes, crafts, tutorials, announcements (usually new-to-the-street babies and dogs) and the fairly recent debut of an advice column.
But Hatty’s passion is conducting investigations. Recent ones include What My Dad Is Doing When He Goes To The Garage — "at first we thought he was gazing at his mopeds" — and an ongoing deep-dive into whether or not the custodians live at school.
"The custodians do live there," she says. "I poked my head in when the door was open, none of them were in there. There were two beds, lined up next to each other, two laptops, two chairs, two filing cabinets, two couches, two knit blankets." She sighs. "Nobody believes me."
Hatty has already put out more than 20 issues of Hatty’s News, which she hand-delivers to her subscribers, which number in the 40s now (including me). In the summer, she was working out of her "news van," a.k.a. her dad’s 1982 Toyota camper van, which is parked in the backyard.
“It’s been totally driven by her. It started with the cash, and then it continued on being a community connection. And the feedback has been so great. The neighbourhood has been so nice.” – Hatty’s mom, Tory McNally
When she’s not working on the newspaper, Hatty takes both piano and kung fu lessons. She gets her ideas by chatting up neighbours — "I do that a lot," she says. Dad provides the jokes.
Hatty has big plans for when she’s an adult. "I’m going to adopt 21 kids from Thailand, my best friend is going to adopt one, and we are going to move to a private island in the Vietnam seas," she says. "And we’re going to live in a mansion. With 22 children. And a farm. We’re going to have sloths and flamingos. We’re going to grow corn, and strawberries, and pears — with a ton of animals."
She’s got big career ambitions, too. "Five things," she tells me when I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. "A farmer, an author, a reporter, a detective and a spy."
Indeed, Hatty reminds me of Harriet M. Welsch, the precocious 11-year-old heroine of Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 classic, Harriet the Spy. They even share a name; Hatty is short for Harriet.
"I love Harriet the Spy," she told me in her letter. "I love that she is so brave and reports things that happen in your neighbourhood." However, it was Kit Kittredge, the freckle-faced reporter doll from the American Girl series, that inspired Hatty’s News.
Then it’s time for her to ask me some questions, including one she always asks her subjects: "what do you want the world to know?"
My answer: good local journalism is worth paying for.