by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
In episode five of season one of ABC’s “Alaska Daily,” there’s a short conversation revealing why this show is so important. It’s between publicly disgraced journalist Eileen Fitzgerald, played by the masterful Hilary Swank, and Defense Secretary Raymond Green (James McDaniel) who belittles her seemingly washed-up career thanks to her failed reporting attempt at catching him in a corruption scheme:
“It’s all very embarrassing what’s happened to you. Big stories out of your reach now, you’re spinning out in the boonies.”
“Are you making fun of my current employer?”
“The Daily Alaskan is a step above a high school yearbook.”
“Mr. Secretary, few things could make me happier than watching you underestimate the power of a local newspaper. They may not be fancy and it may be far from the halls of power in D.C., but it's sure a hell of a lot closer to the truth. I’ll buy you a subscription when I write my story.”
That exchange is a synopsis of why I love ABC’s “Alaska Daily.”
The show is a love letter to local newspapers, and I’ve been waiting for it. For 12 years, I’ve worked professionally as a journalist, but I’ve been an ink-stained wretch since I fell in love with journalism at 13 years old. I’ve worked for various newspapers throughout my career – daily, bi-weekly, weekly, niche and local/statewide.
It’s been a weird time for me to watch “Alaska Daily,” as it’s the first time I’m not working for a newspaper – diving instead into the world of content writing for a statewide health system. There are moments I’ve watched with mournful nostalgia and other times I’ve smirked in agreement when they’ve revealed the problems that plague journalism these days.
Journalism-based shows are nothing new. Think “The Newsroom” and “Murphy Brown,” both classics but focused on broadcast journalism. For years, I’ve been saying we need a T.V. show about a print-based newsroom. Sure, several movies highlight the ins and outs of newspaper life, but many of those also tend to focus on national outlets – The Washington Post, The New York Times.
“Alaska Daily” explores the ups and downs of what local newspapers across this country face each day, complete with a talented cast and an all-star in Swank at the top of the masthead.
And in my greatest Stefon ‘SNL’ impression, I’ll say enthusiastically, “This show has everything!”
As national media outlets descend into their city as a young white girl falls off a cruise ship spurring a massive search, the staff of the Daily Alaskan keeps the focus on what matters locally. Why are so many resources deployed on this girl, while a young native woman is missing simultaneously? It’s the only news outlet focusing on what matters to their community.
It even hits on the dangers of being a reporter when Fitzgerald is continually threatened for her work. While at my first job at a statewide daily paper, I remember opening a racist letter with a white powdery substance sprinkled in the envelope after covering a story about a local Black cultural center. It triggered a lockdown in our newsroom while a hazmat team came in to confirm it was, in fact, crushed up Tylenol and not anthrax – and this was about 10 years ago. The threats journalists receive today I’m sure are much worse and more frequent. The ones Fitzgerald endures unfortunately match the tone of today’s society.
All while diving into this world, it’s doing service to a real-life story – shining a spotlight on the abuses of native women. The show was inspired by The Anchorage Daily News and Pro Publica series “Lawless Sexual Violence in Alaska,” written by Kyle Hopkins, who serves as a show producer.
“Alaska Daily” is the show society needs right now.
Against the backdrop of local newspapers folding or being bought up by major conglomerates who outsource the news, subscriptions dwindling and society turning its trust to social media and talking heads on cable news, the show reveals the true dedication of a local staff and the necessity of having a local watchdog.
I hope people are watching and understand this isn’t just fiction. It’s up to us as a society to support local journalism because once that’s gone, we’ll all sure as hell be farther from the truth.
“Alaska Daily” returns to ABC on Thursday, Feb. 23. The first six episodes can be seen on Hulu and ABC.com.