Last night I stayed up late to watch the first episode of “Alaska Daily,” the new dramatic series on KOMO TV, channel 4 or 104, Seattle’s ABC affiliate.
So far, it features the story of Eileen Fitzgerald, a fictitious hard-hearted New York City reporter who was in need of a new life. She was handed that new life in the form of a reporting position at the also fictitious Daily Alaskan newspaper. The show’s major attraction, besides occasional sweeping views of Alaska itself, is this lead character, played by Hilary Swank, whom ABC reminds us has two Academy Awards. (The show's creator, Tom McCarthy, has one, too.)
The newspaper vaguely looks something like the Anchorage Daily News, whose staff consulted with the producers of the series, the paper reported yesterday. The story that attracted Fitzgerald to Anchorage, is the story of a fictional Alaska native woman who died under suspicious circumstances, and whose death the police won’t investigate.
The fact is, thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or are missing. The script itself is based on a series of news stories, “Lawless,” that the real Anchorage paper produced in a partnership with ProPublica over two years starting in 2019. (The series won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020.)
I was impressed that the producers and network allowed a few seconds at the end of the show to present a slide that described the situation Native and Indian communities face. (But I regret that I was unable to find the slide to present here.)
Lots of drama, but true to life
The action takes place in or around Anchorage, the state’s biggest city. A couple of scenes looked familiar: The Daily Alaskan is clearly presented as the long-established legacy newspaper in this fictional Anchorage. As Fitzgerald considers what she’s likely getting herself into, she seems reassured by a photo of the newspaper’s large, glass-clad building, with the paper’s logo above the door. Once she arrives, she is taken instead to a very downsized strip-mall office, the office building having been sold to help keep the doors open. The publisher tells her that the newsroom now has 25 people, down from the 100 people they employed years earlier.
I couldn’t help but see other close parallels between the fictional Anchorage and the very real Thurston County, between Alaska Daily and The JOLT. Anchorage’s population is about 291,000, just about the same as our county; adding in the rest of the metro area, the population is about 385,000, which is what Thurston County is projected to hold less than 20 years from now.
Another parallel: There’s some chatter in the story about The Anchorage Eagle, a start-up online local news organization, derisively called “a blog” by one of the characters but, clearly, it’s a news reporting organization. Some people around here don’t yet understand that The JOLT isn’t just another little website.
[For the record, I’m not talking about The Olympian. While we’re not often in touch the dedicated staff there, our interactions have been respectful and gracious throughout our brief 2.5 years of existence. BTW, I still subscribe to The Olympian.]
Will these be the most-quoted words in America today?
Toward the end of the first episode, the Fitzgerald character has occasion to counsel one of her junior colleagues about whether to write a particularly tough story. The show uses it to offer a 28-second speech I don't mind sharing. Here it is:
“Look, this job isn't easy. And we don't do it to be liked. We do it because it matters. This is an important story. Someone did something illegal, and he did it with money that belongs to every single person in the state. You think The New York Times is going to cover this? The Post? No. This is exactly why local journalism matters. Why this very small, underfunded paper in this crappy strip mall matters. Alaskans deserve to know. They'll decide, not you. Got it?”
What with the piano and violins the directors put behind the scene, I’ll admit that it got this old news junkie a little choked up.
The cast and the series
I checked the IMDB (don’t ask me what that stands for – I don’t know) page about this show. It shows eight actors who’ve appeared in all 10 of the episodes they claim to have in the can. That means there are at least nine more episodes coming.
In real life, Swank, 48, is pregnant with twins. Television writers deal with this kind of thing all the time, but not with actresses in their late 40s. I hope everything works out well for Swank, her husband and the little ones, and I hope that the show’s scriptwriters are as creative as the character they created.
‘Alaska Daily’ runs Thursday evenings, 10 - 11 p.m. on KOMO TV, Channel 4 or 104
In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t write this to ask you for money now. In fact, if you were starting to feel like sending us some, or some more (thank you), please wait a month. Our annual NewsMatch campaign for nonprofit news organizations starts November 1 — and your dollar will be doubled or better if you contribute in November or December.
Danny Stusser is the publisher of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater.
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