Journalists, and journalism, speak truth to power
We are less than two weeks away from our nation’s birthday. The U.S. Constitution is an impressive document and provides American citizens with certain rights.
For the past 26 years, I have dedicated my professional life to serving and protecting three of the rights provided under the First Amendment.
For those of you who forget or who want to pretend it doesn’t exist:
“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.”
Free speech, freedom of the press and the right of people to petition the government for a redress of their grievances are my top three of the five.
Our nation is a melting pot of religious beliefs and American citizens have assembled for causes of all kinds.
It is freedom of the press that has taken the biggest beating in recent years, followed by the ability to redress the government and free speech.
The Internet age has not been kind to freedom of the press. Aggregators, bots, online commentators and everyone with a blog or a social media account has diminished freedom of the press.
Real journalists ask tough questions, they follow the facts, they ask more questions, they seek outside perspective and they don’t make friends with people in power.
Longtime White House Press Corps member Helen Thomas once said, “We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”
Popularity is not something I have ever sought or wanted.
I am proud to say that I have been called a member of each of the political parties in Hammonton. Thank you. Just because I question the motives, actions or plans of the elected officials in this area does not mean I am against that person or persons. It just means, I have questions that I believe the electorate and taxpayers should know the answers to each week.
It is the government officials who have painted real journalists in a negative like and who have questioned and tried to stomp on the first amendment.
To which I have always asked, “what are you so afraid of that you can’t answer the questions posed to you?”
The answer is always, “the truth.”
To be fair, the local and regional elected officials aren’t unique in their behavior. Elected officials generally attack or question the motives and integrity of anyone who questions their decisions as political people.
Think of the presidents of this nation. Did they ever try and discredit a member of the media because they did not like the questions that were being asked of them or about them?
To which I say, freedom to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
My work is covered under freedom of the press.
Free speech is another issue. I don’t mind opinions that are different than mine. I seek them out. What I don’t tolerate is speech that is hateful, untruthful or incites violence. That type speech is not always protected.
A person cannot yell “fire” in a crowded room. But a person can get up at a public
government meeting and ask questions about why a decision is being made.
They cannot be told they cannot come to a meeting. They cannot be told that they should submit their questions for review ahead of the meeting. And they should not be punished for asking those questions.
I want to encourage each and everyone of you readers to ask more questions of your elected officials. If you don’t like the actions, plans or decisions, question it.
Make Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests. You will find the answers. Emails and text messages between government officials can be OPRA’d. Find the information you need.
Then share your findings with your friends, neighbors and fellow taxpayers and voters.
Then do it all over again.
As our state moves to a more regional approach we are separating the governed from the government.
That is how government can hide more of their actions in the darkness.
It is why I was opposed and remain opposed to a regional court system, a centralized county school district and the elimination of smaller communities. It is why I sought grant funding to support our Spanish-language section Noticias and the expanded Neighbors section coverage. The people need to know what is happening and most independent, nongovernment media has deserted them.
Government social media channels, video channels and email blasts are not independent.
They are biased and do not tell the whole story. They are producing ‘news,’ not the news.
Never fear the truth. Fear the absence of it. And question why someone doesn’t want you to know the whole truth.
I recognize that a direct democracy may not work in 2023, but the people of this nation have the right to address their leaders especially on the local level.
Politicians want to be reelected. Very few of them, in my experience, genuinely care about the individual in their constituency. They are generally, in my opinion, seeking the win of the next election. That is why I love term limits. Power, of any kind, turns good people into not-so-good people and makes bad-leaning people into terrors or at least that is what my experience has shown of most politicians. I love seeing how an elected official treats a person not from their voting base. It tells me everything I need to know about their character.
I will leave you with this from nearly 250 years ago and I encourage each resident to remember it each time they watch a council meeting or step into a voting booth:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” — The Declaration of Independence.
And to quote one of my favorite movies, 1776, “It is a masterpiece I say.”
Gina Rullo was the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette in 1997 when the newspaper started. She worked for the newspaper ever since. In 2022, she was named an “Editor Extraordinaire” by Editor & Publisher Magazine and in 2021 won two awards for investigative journalism. This is her final column in The Gazette.