A new drama television series titled “Alaska Daily” debuts this week on ABC and Hulu. The show focuses on a fictional Anchorage newspaper that resembles the newspaper and news site you are currently reading. It’s safe to say that Alaskans are going to have questions.
“Alaska Daily” is heavily promoted by ABC. Chances are you’ve seen the ads or trailers. If you’ve visited some Lower 48 cities lately, you might have seen billboards or bus ads promoting the show. It debuts Oct. 6, with new episodes throughout the fall (it’s on ABC Thursdays at 9 p.m. Alaska time and airs on Hulu the next day).
Over the past two decades, Alaska has seen a lot of shows based here. This is especially in the realm of reality TV. (Some of these shows are also largely fiction, but that’s another story.) We’ve seen the occasional movie filmed in Alaska or set here. What we haven’t seen much of are fictional, scripted TV shows set in Alaska. Currently, there’s the animated comedy “The Great North” and the Peabody Award-winning children’s show “Molly of Denali.” A long time ago there was “Northern Exposure”. But not much since. That’s about to change.
Here’s some of the backstory on how “Alaska Daily” came about, our connection to it, what it is — and what it isn’t.
In 2018, after the murder of Ashley Johnson-Barr in Kotzebue and the revelations of sexual assault survivors in Nome who said the police failed to investigate their cases, we appealed to readers asking for help with reporting sexual violence in Alaska. Many Alaskans responded, many describing specific and repeated points of failure within the criminal justice system.
This led us to work with ProPublica over the next two years on a series of articles, “Lawless”, which focused on sexual violence, systemic failures and why problems had not improved.
Shortly after the first stories were published, the US Department of Justice declared a rural law enforcement emergency in Alaska. A companion series, “Unheard,” was released in 2020, giving voice to survivors of sexual violence in Alaska. “Lawless” received a Pulitzer Prize for public service, DNA’s third.
When the first “Lawless” stories appeared, we started hearing from television and film producers interested in adapting the stories.
We met and got to know director Tom McCarthy. McCarthy co-wrote and directed “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s investigation into Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse. The film was named best picture at the 2016 Oscars. The film felt like a labor of love, made by someone who understood the methodical and tedious process of doing daily journalism for the public good.
Turns out McCarthy had thought of a TV show that went deeper into a local newsroom.
“I felt like what I didn’t really get to explore was the personal lives of journalists, who they were,” he said recently. “And most importantly, I would say, over the past 10 years, the kind of rhetoric and vitriol directed specifically at journalists has really been amplified. And I think, incredibly unfairly and completely on purpose. You know, why not reduce the power of the press? It facilitates many things, including corruption, both large and small.
“So I thought, man, what could I do if I had the opportunity to do a TV show? And I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to really know who these journalists are, specifically involved in local journalism. … Can I humanize journalists? Can I get an idea of who they are and what motivates them and why they do the work they do? »
McCarthy envisioned a series involving a New York reporter who finds herself in a local newsroom, and merged that idea with some of the themes and stories we had covered at the Daily News.
We were intrigued by the idea of a show that introduces a large audience to local journalists and the culture of a small local newsroom. We believe that if people could see how journalists collect and verify facts, they might trust local news more. They would see them for what they are: members of their communities who work hard to understand the places where they live and who are dedicated to holding up a mirror of their communities, holding local institutions accountable and giving other members the community of basic facts on which to make decisions. The Anchorage Daily News agreed to work with McCarthy and ABC on the project.
The show features Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank as the title character. Alaskans will recognize a few Alaskan actors from the first episode — and locations in Alaska. It is mostly filmed in and around Vancouver, although some scenes are shot in Anchorage. ABC has hired two talented writers from Alaska, playwright and journalist Vera Starbard (“Molly of Denali”) and writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (“On the Ice”). Other writers include journalists Mike Rezendes (formerly a member of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team) and Gabriel Sherman, author of “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” DNA’s Kyle Hopkins, who was the lead reporter on the “Lawless” stories, spent a few months in the TV writers room. He is the show’s executive producer, alongside Daily News chairman Ryan Binkley.
The show’s creators spoke to a number of DNA staff members about our work. They built a newsroom in some ways eerily similar to ours, complete with a snack and puzzle table. (That was all before we did a renovation this year of our current workplace.) They studied what we wear. We tried to help them understand our job, and Alaska, as best we could. We have a lot of respect for what they do. Ultimately, it’s their story to tell. We produce journalism at Anchorage Daily News. They do television on The Daily Alaskan.
The events of the TV series are not based on any person, story or even location. A central storyline involving an unsolved homicide, for example, takes place in a fictional rural center and draws on elements from generations of systemic failures. The reporters depicted on the show are also amalgamations or archetypes rather than being based on Daily News employees. Same for other Alaskans.
All this to say that the show is fiction. The newsroom of “Alaska Daily” is like the fictional fire station in “Chicago Fire” or the hospital in Seattle in “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s not a documentary. But the idea is to help people, through the lens of a network drama, better understand local news and the people who produce it. Tell us what you think.