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Tribune honored for reporting into former Nipomo High coach’s alleged abuse, bullying

Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017.
Former Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno talks to his team at the end of a practice in January 2017. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter honored The Tribune on Thursday for its use of public records to shine light on alleged abuse and bullying by a high school girls wrestling coach.

The award, handed out during the 34th annual James Madison Freedom of Information Awards ceremony in San Francisco, was for the chapter’s News Organization category.

“The Tribune pushed back against the coach’s school district’s initial failure to disclose records, and eventually filed a lawsuit,” the award announcement reads. “In response to The Tribune’s requests, the district disclosed records that show how it responded to the allegations, including a paid settlement with the coach that contained an agreement to provide only dates of employment, position held and salary information if contacted by future potential employers, as well as an internal investigation report.”

For more than a year, The Tribune has attempted to compel the Lucia Mar Unified School District to release all records involving former Nipomo High School coach and teacher Justin Magdaleno and its investigation into his conduct, filing a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in September over the district’s withholding of some records.

Former Tribune reporter Travis Gibson broke the story of Magdaleno’s alleged conduct in October 2017; Matt Fountain has continued those efforts. The district has released hundreds of documents in response to the Tribune case, revealing details of sexual harassment, bullying and threats, in which a final ruling is expected this month.

The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards recognize Northern California individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and/or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment, the organization says. SPJ NorCal presents the awards near Madison’s birthday, March 16, and during National Sunshine Week.

“It’s an honor for The Tribune to be recognized with this award, a fitting tribute to the dogged reporting by Travis Gibson and Matt Fountain and the willingness of our parent company McClatchy to go the extra mile to compel full disclosure by Lucia Mar into what they knew and when they knew it,” said Tribune Local News Editor Dan Itel, who accepted the award along with Fountain at Thursday’s ceremony. “It’s imperative for local news organizations to not take no for an answer in efforts to hold leaders accountable.”

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