An investigation conducted by several reporters with National Public Radio (NPR) claims to have discovered financial connections between a consulting firm representing Alabama Power and several statewide media outlets, including Alabama Political Reporter and Yellowhammer News.
The firm, Matrix LLC, is based in Montgomery, Alabama. Its clients include utilities such as Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light.
The investigation also alleged Alabama Today and some Florida news outlets had financial ties to Matrix.
Founder Apryl Marie Fogel told NPR "not my circus, not my monkeys."
To conduct the investigation, NPR examined hundreds of Matrix documents and public records. They also listened to almost 40 interviews and reviewed social media profiles and news coverage.
According to the investigation, six outlets collectively received at least $900,000 from Matrix, its clients, and associated entities between 2013 and 2020. It alleges that Matrix paid $8,000 a month to Alabama Political Reporter since 2013 and drew up a proposed website design for them in 2015.
NPR’s analysis of news coverage from the Alabama sites found “overwhelmingly positive coverage” of Alabama Power and that the “vast majority” of stories about Alabama Power from these sources either had a positive spin or mirrored press releases sent to them by the utility.
In interviews with NPR, two former Alabama Political Reporter journalists said that their superiors strictly scrutinized articles about Alabama Power. In one instance, a story about Alabama Power was not published. However, Alabama Political Reporter denies this.
Alabama Political Reporter editor-in-chief Bill Britt confirmed that he took money from the firm for advertising and said that Matrix paid for reporters to conduct research.
The investigation also alleged that the nonprofits run by Alabama Power contractors, Matrix and Yellowhammer News, exchanged funds. Yellowhammer News owner Allison Ross said that her news organization has no relationship with Alabama Political Reporter or Matrix LLC.
Matrix founder Joe Perkins told NPR that his firm only paid news sites for advertisements and other typical services for clients. Perkins denied Matrix’s responsibility for the payments because a former executive acted without the firm’s consent.
Perkins was in a lawsuit against the firm’s former CEO, Jeff Pitts. In court filings, Pitts accused Perkins of wrongdoing and said he knew about everything that was happening. He also accused Perkins of using “phony groups and digital platforms to intimidate individuals as a method to influence public perception and litigation.” The lawsuit was filed by Perkins in response to Pitts leaving the company in 2020 to start a rival firm.
Pitts countersued alleging wrongdoing. However, the parties settled a lawsuit earlier this year.
Matrix was previously accused of surveilling the Southern Company CEO and a journalist writing critically about Florida Power & Light. They’ve also been accused of dumping millions into ballot initiatives and offering a job to a Jacksonville official so he would resign.
The media organizations all denied that the payments impacted their coverage.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include remarks from Alabama Today's Apryl Marie Fogel.
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