Both the Woodfin Administration and executives at the Birmingham Times appear to have taken extreme measures to conceal the flow of money that is reported in this post.
Investigative and independent mainstream journalism is dead in Alabama. Sadly, Southern Company’s criminal enterprise holds the purse and keys.
In December, National Public Radio published an article titled, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.”
The article highlighted how Alabama Power funneled money to Alabama Political Reporter (APR) and Yellowhammer News, and in turn, received exclusively positive coverage while fiercely attacking Alabama Power’s critics.
Now we have uncovered a new development.
In addition to funding news sites that attack their critics, an affiliate of Alabama Power, the Alabama Power Foundation, funded the acquisition of a black-owned news site in Birmingham, the Birmingham Times.
In 2016, James Lewis sold the newspaper to The Foundation for Progress in Journalism (FPJ), a not-for-profit organization. The Foundation was incorporated on February 20, 2013, with no reported donations that year.
In 2014, the Foundation for Progress in Journalism received $35,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation, its sole donor. In 2015, the Alabama Power Foundation contributed another $100,000 to the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, which was 100% of its income. In 2016, the Alabama Power Foundation contributed another $50,000 to the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, which used its cash on hand to buy the Birmingham Times.
And guess who incorporated the foundation?
Alabama Power’s sister-wife Balch & Bingham.
On August 19, 2020, the Foundation for Progress in Journalism changed its name to the Bronze Valley Foundation. The registered agent’s address is 600 18th Street North, Birmingham, Alabama, the same address for Alabama Power Company.
The Bronze Valley Foundation is associated directly with the Bronze Valley Corp. and was formed in Alabama as a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation in 2015. Its address is the same as Alabama Power Company’s. The registered agent is J. Houston Smith, III, Alabama Power Vice President of Government Affairs and former Balch & Bingham partner.
Bronze Valley Corp. was originally incorporated under the name “Elevate Alabama, Inc.” The name was changed to Bronze Valley Corp. on November 28, 2017, which was shortly after Randall Woodfin was sworn-in to his first term as Mayor of Birmingham.
The current board of directors listed on Bronze Valley Corp. include Jeff Peoples, the new Chairman and CEO of Alabama Power, and Houston Smith.
Bronze Valley Corp. acknowledges in its Impact Report for 2018 to 2020 that it receives principal financial support from Alabama Power Company, the Alabama Power Foundation, Regions Bank, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
On August 20, 2020, the City of Birmingham withdrew $1,146,377.76 from a money market account at BBVA Compass Bank. Mayor Randall Woodfin used this money to pay a “batch” of Birmingham Times invoices for “Legal Advertising.” The payment was coded as a “Nondepartmental” expenditure.
This $1,146,377.76 payment came out of the city’s $412.8 million operating budget for 2020-2021. As of December 16, 2022, Woodfin has quietly funneled $1,815,170.84 to the Birmingham Times during his tenure as Mayor of Birmingham.
A breakdown of the city payments to the Birmingham Times Media Group and affiliated entities is available in the city’s Open Checkbook under the “Transactions Report” portal when the vendor name Birmingham Times Media Group is entered.
Included in Mayor Woodfin’s $1,815,170.84 payments to the Birmingham Times entities is a $32,500.00 recurring payment for “Professional Fees,” an amount that doubled from the $16,250 recurring payments on April 26, 2021.
During his tenure as mayor, Woodfin has paid the Birmingham Times entities $228,105.00 in “Professional Fees,” alone.
A search of the Birmingham Times website (as of December 28, 2022) reveals that no classified legal advertisements have appeared on the newspaper’s website since January 12, 2017.
While the Birmingham Times has published a print edition during Woodfin’s tenure as mayor, we have been unable to verify or quantify the volume of “Legal Advertising” the city has placed in the Birmingham Times printed edition during this five-year period.
According to Gaebler.com, the estimated minimum rate for ads in the Birmingham Times is $23. Gaeber notes that “advertising rate estimates are typically for a column inch of black and white advertising space. Seasonal factors should also be considered.”
Prior to Woodfin becoming mayor, the Birmingham Times received about $75,000 a year from the city for the placement of legal ads.
After the change in ownership at the Birmingham Times in 2016, the newspaper hired a seasoned team of executives and reporters, improved its design, enhanced its online presence, and published a steady stream of “Happy News” for its targeted readership.
“Happy News” features positive stories about community events and uplifting profiles of non-controversial people.
“Happy News” does not include hard-hitting, investigative reporting that exposes known polluters in Alabama; spotlights public corruption within local, state or federal government; or shows the need for transparency and accountability in government operations and campaign financing laws.
Because the Birmingham Times has received $1,815,170.84 from the City of Birmingham during Woodfin’s term in office (through December 31, 2022), “Happy News” does not include any criticism of the Woodfin administration on any issue.
Finally, “Happy News” does not include any kind of negative media coverage of Alabama Power, Southern Company, the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal, or Alabama Power’s networking business partners and political allies.
The Birmingham Times is not required to publicly disclose the names of the individuals and/or entities that have financially benefited from the $1,815,170.84 Mayor Woodfin funneled to Birmingham Times entities between the time he assumed office in 2017 and the end of 2022.
Neither the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, nor the Bronze Valley Foundation, has disclosed this information, either.
One of the board members of the Bronze Valley Foundation is Bob Blalock, a public relations spin doctor at Alabama Power Company. Prior to joining Alabama Power, Blalock was a reporter and editorial page editor at The Birmingham News. He is a specialist in molding public opinion on controversial issues.
Beginning on September 4, 2022, the Birmingham Times Media Group and AL.com started collaborating on a series of articles for publication in the Birmingham Times that focus on the sky-high homicide rates in the city. The articles soft peddled the severity of the violent crime in the city and portrayed Woodfin in the best light possible.
AL.com is Alabama’s largest mainstream new media organization. It operates the Huntsville Times, Birmingham News, and Mobile Press Register.
Under the collaboration arrangement, AL.com produced content that was published in the Birmingham Times, as written by AL.com employees John Archibald, Amy Yurkanin, Greg Garrison, Carol Robinson, Ryan Michaels, and Roy Johnson.
Shortly before this collaboration began, Woodfin’s recurring payments to Birmingham Times entities for “Professional Fees” increased from $16,250 to $32,500 for each payment. It is not known what portion of this increase in fees, if any, was funneled to AL.com under the collaboration arrangement.
What is known, however, is the fact that AL.com aligned with the Birmingham Times in showering Woodfin with consistent and favorable news coverage, at taxpayers’ expense.
It is also known that both the Woodfin administration and executives at the Birmingham Times appear to have taken extreme measures to conceal the flow of money that is reported in this post.
Neither the Birmingham Times, nor AL.com, has publicly disclosed their transformation from an independent news reporting role to paid standard bearers for Woodfin’s “marketing and promotions” program funded by Alabama Power.
Mayor Woodfin has never publicly disclosed the fact that taxpayer dollars have been funneled through the Birmingham Times entities to a financially struggling AL.com, which has turned a blind eye to questionable financial practices at City Hall, and the alleged corruption tied to Southern Company’s criminal enterprise and their hired guns at Alabama Power, Balch & Bingham, and Matrix.