• Gina Rullo

Award-winning articles provided info to the public


The two awards The Gazette has received. (Gazette Image)

I received two awards for a series of articles I wrote that began being published nearly a year ago.


The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) awarded me a Certificate of Excellence in Investigative Reporting, and both Gazette Publisher Gabriel J. Donio and I received the Courage Under Fire Award, for a series of articles published regarding Mayor Stephen DiDonato’s business actions.


I am truly grateful for these awards and want to thank the judges and the NJ-SPJ for the recognition.


When the first article was published nearly a year ago, I began receiving questions.


Now seems like the appropriate time to answer some of the questions.


How?


A news tip from someone who is not an elected official or government employee. An everyday person, if I am being honest. After the first news tip, instinct was followed.


Why?


I have always believed elected officials need to be held to a higher standard than the citizens they represent.


The Gazette has a long history of holding elected officials to a higher standard.


It is our job as a news outlet to hold elected officials accountable and to ensure the public’s interests are put ahead of personal interests.


When the nation elected President Bill Clinton in 1992, the demise of moral standards for elected officials became permanent. His subsequent actions with an intern cemented it.


I also believe that there are not two sets of rules.


There is not a set of rules for the “haves” and another for the “have nots.”


I would hope that an elected official would have as much respect for the town they represent and lead as everyday citizens do.


Clearly, I was wrong.


I am not happy with the standard it sets for future elected officials. Being an elected official should not give you the right to avoid following the rules.


When you are in charge of something as precious as the town of Hammonton, I believe you should try to be the best leader you can be and set an example for everyone else to follow.

I hope people don’t follow the example show by his actions as outlined in the series.


Did you think the articles would result in the mayor resigning?


No.


To elaborate, to resign after a series of articles reporting on business actions that were less than perfect, would be the noble course of action. It would allow the town to see that the elected official cares more about the town than his political career.


In my opinion, there is nothing noble about Mayor Stephen DiDonato.


Do you feel the articles will impact the election?


No. Elections are not based on the best person for the job.  They are a popularity contest. We see this on every political level.


Once in a while, we get lucky as an electorate and the best person for the job wins the election. I will let you know when I think it happens again.


Do you think the mayor’s texts and the “coincidental” events

were an attempt to silence you or the newspaper?


As a writer and editor, I will not be intimidated into silence by an elected official.


As a woman, I will not be silenced by a man trying to use his power to subdue me.


It is doubly offensive.


I was called a “joke” and it was written in a text that the “the town should shut down the office or fine the gazette or take out ad.” (See related article on Page 16 in the September 22, 2021 Print Edition)


My job is protected by the First Ammendment. It is a responsibility I take very seriously — maybe more seriously than those who take an oath of office to serve the citizens who elected them into office.


As it is written, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Freedom of the press is in the First Ammendment. Not many other jobs are.


Oh, and with regards to the HVAC at The Gazette, it was installed in 1996 and I have the bill from the contractor to prove it. The Gazette moved into the property in 2017. (See related article on Page 16 in the September 22, 2021 Print Edition)


Any regrets?


My only regret is that my parents have worried for my personal safety and professional well-being since the text messages and “coincidental” happenings.


As a writer and editor based in Hammonton, N.J., I don’t feel that my parents should have to worry about my personal safety or professional safety. I am not living in a dangerous war zone and yet, now they worry.  And I regret that deeply.


While I doubt I will be spending any holidays with the mayor, I do hope we will have a cordial, professional relationship where we can work together for the betterment of town for as long as he is an active political leader and business owner. My love for the town is no different than his. I do believe I respect the people of the community far more than he does.


If you want to read the award-winning articles, please visit www.hammontongazette.com/gina-rullo.




Gina Rullo is the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette.