In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack critics
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Six media sites in Florida and Alabama have received about $900,000, a Floodlight and NPR investigation finds
By Mario Ariza and Miranda Green for Floodlight and David Folkenflik for NPR
Six news outlets in Florida and Alabama have received about $900,000 from electricity industry consultants, their clients and associated entities, the first story in a multi-part joint investigation by NPR and Floodlight finds. This reporting – based upon hundreds of internal documents and public records, more than three dozen interviews, a review of social media postings, and an original analysis of coverage– found that the sites pushed positive coverage that benefited the power company clients and attacked their critics. The records show a complex web of financial links between each of the news sites and the consulting firm Matrix LLC and its Alabama power and Florida Power and Light clients, dating between 2013 and 2020. The outlets involved are are:
Alabama Political Reporter
Sunshine State News (now defunct)
A tally of the five still-functioning sites show they have a collective audience of 1.3 million unique monthly visitors. Their readers have been unknowingly immersing themselves in an echo chamber of questionable coverage for years. Matrix shrewdly took advantage of the near collapse of the local newspaper industry and a concurrent plunge in trust in media in propelling its clients' interests. "The reduction in just the size of the press corps covering state government has created a vacuum that I think tends to be filled by people who have agendas beyond serving the public interest," says former Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler. In Alabama and Florida, Matrix sought to ensure much coverage was secretly driven by the priorities of its clients. Payments flowed as the utilities fought efforts to incorporate more clean energy in electric grids — a fight they are still waging. Alabama-based Matrix recently made headlines for surveillance of a power company CEO and a journalist who wrote critically about Florida Power & Light's business plans. Matrix has also been accused of seeking to influence ballot initiatives on clean energy and offering a lucrative job to a public official in Jacksonville to induce him to resign. All of the media organizations deny their coverage was shaped by those payments and deny they acted unethically This story is part of an ongoing series.