‘Alaska Daily’: The True Story Behind Hilary Swank’s New ABC Mystery

Hilary Swank is seeking out the truth as an investigative reporter in her new mystery-drama, Alaska Daily. The show digs deep into multiple cold cases involving the deaths of indigenous women in Alaska. Additionally, it offers an eye-opening glimpse of the journalists inside a newsroom. But how much of Alaska Daily is a true story? Here’s what to know as the show premieres on ABC.

Hilary Swank and Grace Dove in Alaska Daily, which is partially based on a true story
Hilary Swank and Grace Dove in ‘Alaska Daily’ | Sergei Bachlakov/ABC

What is ‘Alaska Daily’ about?

Alaska Daily stars Swank as Eileen Fitzgerald, a no-nonsense investigative journalist from New York. Eileen is publicly disgraced when one of her stories takes a wrong turn. Hoping to start over, she accepts a job at a local newspaper in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s tasked with investigating the murder of an indigenous woman and how her death connects to several other cold cases in the area.

“Alaska has a funny way of revealing things to you,” a man says in the trailer. “Outsiders come to disappear or to reinvent themselves. Which is it?”

Alaska Daily also stars Grace Dove as Roz, a fellow reporter working with Eileen on the story. She tells Eileen in the trailer that neither cops nor politicians will do anything about these cold cases, so it’s up to them to find the truth.

Other stars in Alaska Daily include Jeff Perry, Matt Malloy, Craig Frank, Pablo Castelblanco, Meredith Holzman, and Ami Park. The show was created by 13 Reasons Why director Tom McCarthy.

Is ‘Alaska Daily’ based on a true story?

The characters and story within Alaska Daily are entirely fictional, but the show is loosely inspired by a true newsroom investigation. Two journalists — Kyle Hopkins and Ryan Binkley — from the Anchorage Daily News, which inspired The Daily Alaskan newsroom, serve as executive producers. The publication recently shared the story of how Alaska Daily came to be.

According to Anchorage Daily News, the sexual assault and murder of 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr in Kotzebue in 2018 led numerous survivors to come forward with their stories. However, they all had a similar pattern: The police did not thoroughly investigate their cases. So, ADN called for locals to help with “reporting on sexual violence in Alaska.” The pattern continued.

ADN then partnered with ProPublica to produce a series of articles called “Lawless.” The series “focused on sexual violence, systemic failures, and why the problems hadn’t gotten better.” “Lawless” led the U.S. Department of Justice to declare a law enforcement emergency in Alaska and earned ADN a Pulitzer Prize.

Tom McCarthy wanted to explore the ‘personal lives’ of journalists in ‘Alaska Daily’

When McCarthy expressed interest in directing Alaska Daily, he had already directed a journalism-focused film called Spotlight, centered on the Boston Globe’s investigation into “sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.” With Alaska Daily, he wanted to further explore the personal lives of journalists.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to really get to know who are these journalists, specifically involved in local journalism,” McCarthy said at PaleyFest Fall TV Previews 2022. “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?”

McCarthy combined this idea with the investigations conducted by ADN, modeling the show’s newsroom after Anchorage’s local paper. Still, the characters of Alaska Daily are not based directly on anyone at ADN.

“The journalists portrayed on the show are also amalgams or archetypes rather than being based on Daily News employees,” ADN’s report reads. “Same with other Alaskans.”

Hilary Swank hopes ‘Alaska Daily’ will ‘ignite change’

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In a recent interview with Newsweek, Swank said she joined Alaska Daily to bring awareness to the investigation conducted by Anchorage Daily News.

“I knew about the missing, murdered indigenous women, I knew about that. But the story was just [shocking],” she said. “To me, I knew about that, and yet so many people don’t know about it and it’s happening right now, right this second, and no one’s doing anything about it, it is horrific and something needs to be done.”

At the end of the day, Swank hopes the series ultimately encourages change.

“Being a storyteller, we get the opportunity to shine a bright light on these stories that matter and, in doing so, help give voice to them and start a conversation, and hopefully ignite change,” she added.

Alaska Daily premieres tonight, Oct. 6, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.