Floodlight, NPR win top reporting award for utility investigation

The award honors a story tying power company money to efforts to secretly use the media to attack critics and boost the utilities’ agendas.

Floodlight, NPR win top reporting award for utility investigation
David Folkenflik/NPR, Mario Alejandro Ariza/Floodlight, Miranda Green/Floodlight

Floodlight is proud to announce that two of our reporters and our media partner, NPR, have won top honors in the prestigious 2024 Reed Environmental Writing Awards. The contest is sponsored by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Floodlight investigative reporters Mario Alejandro Ariza and Miranda Green accepted the award on Friday. They shared first-place honors in the journalism category with NPR’s David Folkenflik for their story, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.”

The trio’s investigation dug into the actions of a consulting firm working on behalf of electric utility giants in Alabama and Florida.

NPR along with Floodlight, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates the powerful interests stalling climate action, uncovered how utility giants influenced small newsrooms in the Southeast. They revealed that Matrix LLC, a consulting firm working for electric utility giants Alabama Power and Florida Power ​&​ Light, funneled money to local newsrooms that pushed the utilities’ agendas and attacked their critics.

Their work highlights how cash poured into these media outlets as the utilities fought clean energy efforts — a fight they are still waging today. Green continues to investigate the role of utilities and the oil and gas industry to control the news, including two outlets in Alabama tied to Alabama Power.

The team spoke to more than a dozen former and current reporters, civil rights activists, utility employees and environmentalists exposing a system of influence over newsrooms. They revealed how special interests were taking advantage of news outlets that face shrinking budgets and dwindling staff numbers.

The Reed Award is presented annually during the Virginia Festival of the Book and honors writers who achieve both literary excellence and offer extraordinary insight into the South’s natural treasures and environmental challenges.

“This reporting resonates so strongly because it illuminates twin crises — how corporations quietly hold power over elected officials and how they can shape the information the public receives through their influence over under-resourced local news ecosystems,” said Emily Holden, Floodlight founder and executive director.

Floodlight’s coverage co-reported with NPR also was a finalist for the 2023 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting and won the Los Angeles Press Club's award for misinformation coverage.

The Southern Environmental Law Center describes itself as one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. SELC takes on environmental challenges in court, in government, and in communities to protect the region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 200, including more than 100 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia.

SELC created the Reed Environmental Writing Award in 1994 to enhance public awareness of the value and vulnerability of the South’s natural treasures and to recognize and encourage the writers who most effectively tell the stories about the region’s environment. The award is named for SELC founding trustee Phil Reed, an  attorney and environmental leader who believed in the power of writing to change hearts and minds.