If there’s anything Hollywood loves more than movies about the movies, it’s shows and films about journalism.
We certainly don’t need any more TV shows about news shows (HBO’s “The Newsroom” and Apple TV’s “The Morning Show” come to mind), but every once in a while, there’s a show about media that gets a few things poignantly right. ABC’s “Alaska Daily” is one of those.
Created by Tom McCarthy — the director who brought us “Spotlight,” which ranks with “All the President’s Men” in the realm of good journalism films — “Alaska Daily” follows a Hallmark-style premise. After her big scoop falls apart upon publication, New York City journalist Eileen Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) can only find a job at a tiny newspaper in Alaska, run by her boss from years ago. Her brash attitude and tough exterior slowly soften as she reluctantly learns to open up to people and collaborate with her coworkers.
Now halfway through its first season, “Alaska Daily” is a solid network drama for those who like local journalism, crime shows, or Hilary Swank. Perhaps because it’s marketed to a broader audience, instead of streaming exclusively online, it hovers near the political center.
To appeal to liberal views, cast members have pushed back on the idea that it contains a white savior narrative, and one plotline involves a native woman working to take down a racist cop. More conservative viewers might appreciate Fitzgerald’s disdain for “woke wussies more interested in eating their own than reporting the news” — even if it’s meant to illustrate her aversion to collegiality. Another reporter’s directive, “We are equal opportunity diggers,” would seem comical coming from a show about The New York Times, but here, it’s an encouraging reminder of what local journalism is for.
“Alaska Daily” provides a defense of local journalism at a time when layoffs continue to plague some of the only outlets dedicated to day-to-day issues that really matter to their readers. At the end of the first episode, Fitzgerald encourages another reporter to continue pursuing a corruption story, telling her, “You think The New York Times is going to cover this? The Post? No. This is exactly why local journalism matters.”
While her colleagues report on everything happening in the Last Frontier — from a cabbage contest at the state fair to the burning down of a local diner — Fitzgerald has come to the Daily Alaskan to report on missing indigenous women. The paper didn’t have enough resources to pursue these cases in the past; now, years later, Fitzgerald aims to expose the police negligence that allowed a murder to remain unsolved — and maybe even find the killer.
Her plotline, based on real reporting by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, floats on a sea of serendipity, as stories in most journalism dramas do. Fitzgerald happens to have met a “poet-pilot” at a bar just before she needs to charter a plane to track down a source. Her reporting partner Roz Friendly (Grace Dove) happens to have a half brother who works at a police department that is stonewalling their public records requests. And so on. Whether it takes some quick thinking or a little deus ex machina, nothing will keep Fitzgerald from her story.
If you can bear some suspension of disbelief, you might find the show intriguing. Filling out the plot are a cast of supporting characters, other reporters at the Daily Alaskan, whose stories, like Fitzgerald’s, make the case for local journalism.
Journalism is meant to be a profession that holds the powerful, whether they be politicians, police, or whatever else, to account. We see this less and less in the national media, which tells us that the biggest scandal of the Obama years was that the president once wore a tan suit. Alaska Daily may be a little too aspirational, à la the “West Wing,” but it holds out hope for a better world, even if its vision is a little cheesy.
One episode finds the owner of a local diner despairing over political polarization. Her restaurant, a community hub, holds a sign that warns visitors against politics, religion, and drama. She instructs staff to turn off the TV when the news gets grim. And when a verbal altercation leaves one man storming out of the diner, she shakes her head. “Just another angry person. It’s the world we live in. It’s only getting worse.”
When she decides to sell her diner to a burger chain, a fight breaks out at a town forum discussing the sale. Who knew people felt so passionately about pancakes? That night, the diner is up in flames, and the arsonist, it turns out, is the owner herself, driven to it by the division in her own community.
If you can get past that level of in-your-face topicality, then you won’t mind the rest of the show. “Alaska Daily” focuses on relevant issues, but it just tries a little too hard sometimes. Its biggest selling point may be simply that it celebrates local journalism and the good people can do when they dig into their own communities.
“It may not be fancy,” Fitzgerald says of her newspaper, “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.”
Madeline Fry Schultz (@madelineefry) is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.