NMG member LoBianco wins AP’s Beat of the Week

Guild member Tom LoBianco, a state government reporter in  Indianapolis since 2011, has won this week’s AP Beat of the Week contest for a scoop on doctoring of the state’s school grading system.

Tom LoBianco

Tom LoBianco

Focused source-building and a tip from a source who respected LoBianco’s fearless persistence led to a story that was followed almost immediately by the resignation of Indiana’s former schools chief, Tony Bennett, from his new job overseeing schools in Florida.Acting on the tip, LoBianco made a FOIA request that brought him emails showing Bennett was trying to cover up the “C” grade received by a charter school a key Republican donor had founded.

Bennett had been a big booster of the school, called Christel House, turning it into a platform for promoting school reform. When it didn’t perform well, Bennett and his staff fiddled with Indiana’s A through F grading system to conceal that, LoBianco documented through the emails.

LoBianco’s story won AP rare Page One play in The Indianapolis Star, more than a dozen front pages in Indiana and Florida and bylined stories crediting AP’s exclusive in The New York Times and Washington Post. He also did radio appearances in Indiana and nationally.

The source who tipped LoBianco about the emails’ existence said he picked LoBianco over The Star because, unlike reporters at other outlets, he wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers.

Among the evidence for that was LoBianco’s series of stories on a state representative who provided tax breaks for a company he co-founded and introduced legislation to benefit clients of his lobbyist daughter. That series won AP’s Best of the States award back in April.