Niles Media owner Hilary Niles is an award-winning independent journalist and researcher, audio producer, data geek, trainer, editor and writer with a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism.
Like all who make a living with words, her path is unique:
Fiction and poetry studies at the University of New Hampshire formed her foundation in the 1990s. The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (where she thankfully was cured of her aversion to writing on a computer) later ushered Hilary into the world of literary nonfiction writing and editing.
Soon after, Portsmouth Community Radio, a grassroots nonprofit station tucked into the corner of an old button factory on the New Hampshire Seacoast, introduced her to the possibilities of sound.
As founding Program Director at WSCA, Hilary learned to operate a live studio and mixing board the night they went on-air in 2004. She also learned to train people older than her, how not to work with teenagers, how to format spreadsheets, how to write an operations manual and how to navigate politics with her head held high. Mistakes were made in the formation of these lessons — which, along with lasting friendships, comprised the volunteer position’s priceless compensation.
Marketing and public relations work had been gratifying: watching the audience pour in for a local theater production, launching collaborations on behalf of a farmers’ market association, hearing the joy of a property manager whose new brochure helped him land a great client. But community radio quickly whet Hilary’s appetite for news, and reinforced her impression that coverage of local issues — especially reporting on state-level government — was sorely lacking in the media landscape.
It also convinced her that she could be part of the solution. She channeled this sense of agency into proofreading, occasional feature writing and the production of annual voters’ guides for local outlets, all of which further stoked her belief in the power of words to build mutual understanding. After an internship with Here & Now at WBUR in Boston, where she honed her professional radio production and audio editing skills, Hilary cashed in all her chips in 2011 and moved halfway across the country to pursue a master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Mizzou, as the school is known, was like a candy store that stayed open 24/7, staffed in every aisle by the most skilled and caring mentors anyone could imagine. And Hilary was one very happy, very hungry kid. Thanks to excellent academic advising, seemingly tireless teachers and the generous, innovative minds who guided her graduate assistantship at Investigative Reporters & Editors, Hilary formed a course of study in multimedia investigative storytelling underpinned by data journalism and ultimately focusing on Freedom of Information. Contemporaneous graduate work in Washington, D.C., at the Investigative Reporting Workshop further elevated her education. “Measuring Impact: The art, science and mystery of nonprofit news,” a grant-funded white paper she co-authored at IRW with Charles Lewis, went on to earn the Sigma Delta Chi award for journalism research in 2014.
Hilary next worked as a statehouse reporter in Vermont at VTDigger, a national leader in nonprofit news, where she covered business, labor, economic and educational policy, in addition to extensive data reporting on the state budget. She also contributed to an ongoing investigation into Jay Peak Resort, about which she co-reported an exposé that presaged a sprawling securities fraud valued at more than $200 million — the largest in both state history and the history of the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.
Energized but craving more multimedia opportunities, Hilary set out as a freelancer in 2015. She’s since worked with clients ranging from the Boston Globe, NPR and BBC World Service to the Military Times, international trade magazines and local news outlets. She also helped secure passage of Vermont’s journalism shield law, and made appearances on statewide radio and television as an expert commentator on the public’s right to access government information.
Additionally, the love for training that Hilary discovered at WSCA has had room to grow in her freelance business, starting with presentations at several national conferences on topics ranging from freelancing to Freedom of Information to data journalism. She was later selected as one of 13 trainers for the Society of Professional Journalists’ program, in partnership with the Facebook Journalism Project, to teach news teams and college students around the country in best practices for social media.
As the five-term elected chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freelance Community and a former member of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, Hilary has continued to share her knowledge about journalism, Freedom of Information and independent contracting with countless reporters, citizens and aspiring freelancers around the world.
She credits every client, editor, colleague, source and trainee along the way — and even a few commenters — for advancing her continual growth in ethically, compellingly and clearly conveying information and telling stories that help people understand more about each other.
In 2019, Hilary embarked on what would become a four-month solo motorcycle trip down the East Coast, riding back roads from northern Maine’s Acadia National Park to Key West in Florida. Much to her surprise, the journey landed her back on the New Hampshire Seacoast — where her writing life had begun.
When she’s not reporting, editing or developing new training programs, she’s writing and producing audio for fun, swimming in Great Bay, collecting driftwood, riding her motorcycle, pining for northern Vermont winters and planning her next adventure.