Film and TV

Q&A: What is ‘Alaska Daily,’ what is it based on and who’s involved?

HILARY SWANK

The fictional newsroom in the new television series “Alaska Daily” bears some similarities to the real-life Anchorage Daily News. Alaskans and those around the country who watch the TV show are sure to wonder: How much of it is real, and how much of it is made up?

Here’s a rundown of the new series appearing on ABC and Hulu, including where it came from and what it’s based on.

What other questions do you have about “Alaska Daily”? Let us know here, or in the form at the bottom of this story.

What is “Alaska Daily”?

“Alaska Daily” is a network television drama series about a fictional local newspaper in Anchorage called The Daily Alaskan. The show follows Eileen Fitzgerald, a disgraced investigative reporter from New York who joins The Daily Alaskan’s newsroom. In Anchorage, she works with another reporter at the newspaper, Roz Friendly, to report on the missing and murdered Indigenous persons crisis in Alaska.

“Alaska Daily” also follows the work of other journalists in the newsroom as they report on community issues, hold powerful people and institutions accountable and navigate personal and professional challenges.

The series debuts on ABC on Thursday, Oct. 6.

[The story behind ‘Alaska Daily,’ what it is and isn’t, and how the Anchorage Daily News is involved]

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Who’s behind this series, and who’s starring in it?

“Alaska Daily” was created by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars in the series as reporter Eileen Fitzgerald. Other actors include Jeff Perry (as editor Stanley Cornik), Grace Dove (reporter Rosalind “Roz” Friendly), Matt Malloy (acting news editor Bob Young), Meredith Holzman (reporter Claire Muncy), Ami Park (reporter Yuna Park), Craig Frank (reporter Austin Teague) and Pablo Castelblanco (intern Gabriel Tovar).

GRACE DOVE

When and where can I watch “Alaska Daily”?

The series premiere will be broadcast on ABC at 9 p.m. Alaska time (10 p.m. Eastern) on Thursday, Oct. 6, and will be available to stream on Hulu the following day. Future episodes will air on ABC on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Alaska time, after “Grey’s Anatomy,” and will be available on Hulu the next day.

What is “Alaska Daily” based on?

The show was inspired by a series of news articles, “Lawless,” that focused on sexual violence in Alaska, systemic failures and why those problems hadn’t gotten better. Those articles, reported by the Anchorage Daily News in partnership with ProPublica, were driven in large part by Alaskans’ experiences with sexual violence and their descriptions of specific and repeated failure points within the state’s criminal justice system. In 2020, the series was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service, the ADN’s third.

[Read the ‘Lawless’ series]

The fictional newsroom depicted on the TV show — The Daily Alaskan — shares some characteristics with the real-world Anchorage Daily News, which is the state’s most-read newspaper and news site. For example, like other news organizations across the country, our newsroom has had to pivot and adapt with a staff that’s shrunk over the years, most recently after a bankruptcy and ownership change in 2017. The newsroom that viewers see on TV looks a lot like our old workspace. There’s a coffee spot near the office that ADN staff sometimes visit, similar to what’s seen on “Alaska Daily.”

The characters on the show, though, are more like representations of different newsroom types rather than our direct one-to-one counterparts. The decisions they make don’t necessarily reflect what Anchorage Daily News staffers would do. The events depicted on the show also might borrow elements from real life, but what viewers see on television isn’t based on any one person or story.

JEFF PERRY

How is the Anchorage Daily News involved in the TV show?

After the “Lawless” stories published, television and movie producers expressed interest in purchasing the rights to adapt those articles for the screen. Tom McCarthy was one of them. He had been thinking about creating a television show that went deeper inside a local newsroom. The Anchorage Daily News agreed to work with McCarthy and ABC on the project. (You can read more about that here.)

The ADN’s Kyle Hopkins, who was the lead reporter on the “Lawless” coverage, consulted with writers of the show. He and Daily News president Ryan Binkley are both executive producers.

The creators of “Alaska Daily” have talked to a number of ADN staff members about our work and about Alaska in general. They studied what staff wear and built a newsroom set similar to our old office space.

Ultimately, what viewers see in “Alaska Daily” reflects the vision of the show’s creators and the fictional stories they’re choosing to tell. Anchorage Daily News staff don’t control what’s depicted on the show.

Are any Alaskans involved in “Alaska Daily”?

Yes. In addition to Kyle Hopkins’ and Ryan Binkley’s involvement as executive producers, ABC hired two Alaska writers, Vera Starbard (“Molly of Denali”) and Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (“On the Ice”), to work on “Alaska Daily.” Alaskans will also recognize a couple of Alaska actors, Irene Bedard and Diane Benson, in the show’s first episode. Others have consulted or otherwise assisted.

Where is the show filmed?

Much of the production takes place in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, with additional filming in Anchorage and elsewhere. Scenes for the pilot episode were shot in Anchorage last fall, and additional Anchorage scenes were shot this August. Alaskans will recognize some locations in different episodes, including the Hotel Captain Cook, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and the Lake Hood Seaplane Base.

Why is the show called “Alaska Daily”?

We reached out to ABC/Disney representatives to ask this question, and they didn’t provide an answer. It’s understandable if you find it confusing — the show is called “Alaska Daily,” but the fictional news organization is called The Daily Alaskan. Our best guess: It’s possible the show’s title is a reference to The Daily Alaskan being an Alaska daily (newspaper), or maybe the creators determined that “Alaska Daily” is a more appealing title to audiences.

Adding to the confusion is that in real life, our news organization is called the Anchorage Daily News. Now and then through the years, people have mistakenly called us the Alaska Daily News, even before “Alaska Daily” the TV show started taking shape.

(Fun fact: There used to be a real newspaper called The Daily Alaskan, which was published in Skagway in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

PABLO CASTELBLANCO, HILARY SWANK

Why make a show about a local newspaper?

Tom McCarthy had already been thinking about a television show that went deeper into a local newsroom and explored the lives of journalists more fully, something he said he didn’t have an opportunity to do in his previous work. He’s said that part of his goal is to help people better understand journalists, particularly in local newsrooms, at a time when efforts to vilify and discredit them have risen significantly.

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“Especially, I would say, in the last 10 years, the sort of rhetoric and vitriol directed specifically at journalists has really been amped up. And I think, incredibly unfairly and quite on purpose. You know, why not reduce the power of the press? It makes a lot of things easier, including corruption, small and wide scale,” he recently said.

“Can I humanize journalists? Can I get a sense of who they are and what makes them tick and why they do the work they do?”

ADN

Does “Alaska Daily” really reflect how the Anchorage Daily News operates?

The fictional events depicted on the television show are bound to diverge from how the ADN, and other news organizations, operate in the real world. For example, “Alaska Daily” zooms in on a handful of staff in its newsroom. But there are many other folks who work in essential roles at the Anchorage Daily News — in editing, photo/video journalism, online engagement, advertising, customer service and home delivery, digital subscriptions, events, marketing, newspaper production and so on — whose roles aren’t necessarily reflected in “Alaska Daily.”

In terms of how the show depicts the process of newsgathering, reporting and editing, the creators of “Alaska Daily” have talked to Anchorage Daily News staff members about our work. Like other TV shows or movies, it’s a compressed, highly fictionalized version of real life. As we wrote in another article about the show, it’s not a documentary.

Many of us here, like those in other news organizations, view what we do through the lens of public service, community, truth and fairness. Our newsroom, like others, follows the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

How all of this translates to the screen in a network television drama series is ultimately up to the creators of the show. ADN staff don’t control what’s depicted on “Alaska Daily.” Our focus at the real-world Anchorage Daily News continues to be centered on how we can best serve the needs of our community and our audiences. Let us know what you think.

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David Hulen

David Hulen is editor of the ADN, He's been a reporter and editor at ADN for 36 years. As a reporter, he traveled extensively in Alaska. He was a writer on the Pulitzer Prize winning "People In Peril" series and covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He was co-editor of the Pulitzer-winning "Lawless" series. Reach him at dhulen@adn.com.

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email khopkins@adn.com

Vicky Ho

Vicky Ho is the ADN's managing editor. An avid hiker and skier, she also wrote Cautionary Tales, a column about lessons learned the hard way in the Alaska outdoors. Contact her at vho@adn.com.

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