My name is Haisten Willis, and with your vote and support I hope to become the newest member of the SPJ national board in September, serving as a director at large.
For those who haven’t met me: I’ve been an active member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 2014, when I attended the first-ever meeting of the revitalized SPJ Georgia chapter. Since then I've chaired local committees, organized events, joined the board of SPJ Georgia in 2017, served as chapter president in 2018 and immediate past president in 2019.
At the national level I’m a member of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee and Freelance Community. I’ve also written half a dozen Quill stories, including two cover features, completed the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute in 2017, been an SDX Awards judge and associate judge, and was a Terry Harper Memorial Scholarship recipient in 2018. Lastly, I served as keynote speaker for the student union event at the 2019 Excellence in Journalism conference, reminding college students that the world now more than ever needs capable, persistent, successful journalists.
My journalism career began in 2010, when I earned a master’s degree from California State University, Fresno. After working at a pair of suburban dailies and a trade magazine, I became a full-time freelancer, by choice, in 2016. Since that date I’ve become a regular contributor to The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SPJ’s own Quill magazine. You can read some of my work and check out my full resume at www.haistenwillis.com.
The skills I’ve picked up and the friends I’ve made through SPJ play a key role in the success I’ve enjoyed so far. I’d be honored to give back by serving on the SPJ national board.
The Society of Professional Journalists is a 111-year-old organization with storied history. My overarching goal is to help SPJ remain strong and position it for success for another 111 years.
Like most if not all SPJ members, I’m proud of my profession and the crucial role journalists play in American democracy. At the same time, I’m tired of reading about attacks on journalists, verbal or otherwise.
Too often we are hit with name calling and anti-press catch phrases, and forced to defend ourselves by talking about what we are not. It’s time to talk about what we are: We are the fourth estate. We are the only industry protected by name in the U.S. Bill of Rights. We are Woodward and Bernstein. We are Julie K. Brown. We are Nikole Hannah-Jones. We are the Pentagon Papers. We are Spotlight. We are the Society of Professional Journalists. These are the terms that should be used to describe our profession, and as a board member I will work to ensure this message reaches the American public.
In an age when journalism is under attack, SPJ is uniquely positioned to be the clearest and loudest voice advocating for our profession. This organization enjoys a long history of advocacy work, dating back at least to when SPJ members helped get the original Freedom of Information Act passed in 1966. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. SPJ chapters also helped pass dozens of state-level sunshine laws, and our advocacy role continues strongly today, but I feel we can do even more in this space and make advocacy the calling card of SPJ.
For example: Along with SPJ Region 3 Coordinator Michael Koretzky and Ethics Committee Chair Lynn Walsh, I’m working to establish Press the Flesh, an event through which SPJ members will learn how to lobby at the federal and state levels directly from lobbyists themselves. Sponsored by the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee and originally scheduled to take place on Capitol Hill during EIJ 2020, in a revised form it will likely be held multiple times online. There is considerable journalism lobbying already being done in Washington, but much more is needed at the state level. Through Press the Flesh, we can help fill that gap.
Beyond that, the next board will need to work with our staff and executive director to help clear up SPJ’s financial future. I also envision stronger communication between our local and national levels, namely through quarterly conference calls between chapter presidents and national board and staff members. This will allow the exchange of ideas and relationship building that will further strengthen SPJ into the next decade and beyond.
Being accessible to members is paramount. Need to reach me? My phone number is (770) 862-4926 or you can click here to E-mail me. I look forward to speaking with you about the future of SPJ.