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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Gazette receives journalism awards

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

HAMMONTON—The Hammonton Gazette received two awards from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) in July 2021.

Gazette Editor-in-Chief Gina Rullo was awarded a Certificate of Excellence in Investigative Reporting, and both Rullo and Gazette Publisher Gabriel J. Donio received the Courage Under Fire Award, for a series of articles published regarding Mayor Stephen DiDonato’s business actions.

Robert Schapiro, the president of the NJ-SPJ, told The Gazette who decided which awards were awarded.

“The board in New Jersey did not award the investigative journalism ... Those awards are judged by an out-of-state jury; we have no control over those. But, she won another award with the same story that is conferred by the New Jersey board, and that was the Courage Under Fire,” Schapiro said.

The out-of-state jury’s comments for investigative journalism—which Schapiro provided to The Gazette—noted that Rullo “took on the mayor of a small city who clearly tried to shut the story down.”

“Its impact wasn’t necessarily far reaching, but nonetheless important. It was clear the reporter and newspaper were targeted before, during and after these stories ran. The fact neither backed down shows their commitment to uncovering the truth,” the comments read.

According to information that Schapiro provided to The Gazette, the Courage Under Fire Award is “given to those who maintain their journalistic integrity when doing so involves genuine risk to their reputation, their career or even their personal safety or freedom.”

Schapiro said that Donio only submitted Rullo’s name for consideration for that award.

“We felt that he should get it also, because we’ve had instances where reporters fight city hall—or whomever—and there are threats to advertising base, and publishers fold ... We consider publishers journalists, and when they stick up under pressure then they’re very good journalists,” Schapiro said.

The NJ-SPJ Courage Under Fire Award includes the following words etched onto marble under the image of a lion:

“The Courage Under Fire Award is given to those who maintain their journalistic integrity when doing so involves genuine risk to their reputation, their career or even their personal safety or freedom,” the award reads.

Schapiro said that the Courage Under Fire Award has not been given out in two years.

“This year, we gave out quite a few, and most of them went to photographers. Gina’s and Gabriel’s are the only one that didn’t go to photographers. It was precisely because advertising for newspapers is a precarious thing these days. A lot of newspapers are just hanging on. It takes guts. That’s what my colleague said, who judged for the Courage Under Fire Award: this story took guts. It was a series of stories, and they stuck with it—and there was a threat. When they threaten your advertising, there’s a threat,” Schapiro said.

Rullo said that she was “honored to receive these awards.”

“It is wonderful to see investigative journalism being recognized. A lot of hard work went into these articles. I want to thank all who helped,” Rullo said.

The NJ-SPJ, which was founded in 1959, held an awards ceremony and gala on July 28 at 7 p.m. at the Harvest Moon Brewery/Cafe in New Brunswick, N.J.

The complete list of 2021 NJ-SPJ Journalism Award Winners is as follows:

• Lifetime Achievement Award for Press Freedom and Government Transparency:

N.J. State Senator Loretta Weinberg

• Lifetime Award for Excellence in Covering New Jersey and Courage Under Fire Award for her COVID-19 coverage (Two Awards): Brenda Flanagan, NJ Spotlight News

• Best NJ Coverage by New York City Media: WNBC-TV, for the reporting of Chris Glorioso

• Best NJ Coverage by Philadelphia Media: Philadelphia Inquirer, for the reporting of Melanie Burney

• Reporter of the Year—The David Carr Award: Julia Martin, Record for her collection of works documenting Montclair’s pandemic year.

• Certificates of “Excellence in Reporting”: Isaac Avilucea, Trentonian; Lindy Washburn, Record

• Educator of the Year—The Ron Miskoff Award: Theta Pavis, New Jersey City University

• Certificate of “Excellence in Journalism Education”: Leo Sacks, Rutgers School of Communication and Information

• Rookie of the Year—The Wilson Barto Award: Jon “Ferris” Meredith, TAPinto Wayne

• Certificate of “Outstanding Rookie Reporter”: Daniel Israel, Bayonne Community News /The Hudson Reporter

• Best Community Journalism—The Stuart and Beverly Awbrey Award: Simon Galperin, Bloomfield Information Project, for his work titled, “Community listening drives community action on policing equality.”

• Certificates of Excellence in Community Journalism: Mark J. Bonamo and Mary Ellen Cagnassola, TAPinto Newark; Caren Lissner, Summit Patch

• Best Video News Story—The Gabe Pressman Award: Michael Karas and Danielle Parhizkaran,, for their work titled “Playing for a Way Out” / Record

• Certificates of Excellence for Video News: Givonna Boggans, Montclair News Lab;

Mary Chao, Record

• Best Use of Public Records—The Tim O’Brien Award: Issac Avilucea and Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, with John Berry and Jeff Edelstein, Trentonian, for their work titled “Law and Disorder”

• Certificate of Excellence for Use of Public Records: Terrence T. McDonald with NorthJersey. com/The Record

• Best Investigative Reporting (Weekly or Hyperlocal): Jay Rahman, Paterson Times, for his work titled, “Paterson councilman Shahin Khalique’s properties, including his residence, were in foreclosure in 2019, court records show.”

• Certificate of Excellence in Investigative Reporting: Gina Rullo, The Hammonton Gazette

• Best Grassroots Journalism—The Barbara Reed Award: Slice of Culture staff,

• Certificates of Excellence for Grassroots Journalism: The Pascack Press Editorial Team, consisting of John Snyder, Kristen Beuscher, Michael Olohan and Matthew Wikfors.

• Best Audio News Story—The Herbert Morrison Award: Scott Gurian, Far From Home

• Certificate of Excellence in Audio News: Dino Flammia, NJ 101.5 FM

• Best Investigative Journalism (Daily): Scott Fallon and Lindy Washburn, Record, for their coverage of COVID-19 in veterans’ homes.

• Certificates of Excellence for Investigative Journalism: Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman and Isaac Avilucea, The Trentonian.

• Courage Under Fire Awards: Mel D. Cole, Independent, photography of the Capitol riot; Julio Cortez, Associated Press, photography of George Floyd protests and the Capitol riot; Thomas P. Costello, Asbury Park Press, photography of the Capitol riot; Julian Leshay, WeekenderNJ, photography of mass protests and the Capitol riot; Jeff Rhode, Holy Name Medical Center, photography of COVID19, up-close; Gina Rullo and Gabriel Donio, The Hammonton Gazette.

To read the award-winning articles, please visit

For one of the reprinted articles in the series titled “DiDonato’s cell texts The Gazette”, please see Page 16 in the September, 22, 2021 print edition.


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