Haisten Willis attended his first Society of Professional Journalists meeting in 2014 and said if you had told him then he would take on a leadership role, he wouldn’t have believed you. The former SPJ Georgia chapter president is now running for the SPJ national board.
Photo above: Haisten Willis, a freelance journalist based out of Atlanta, Georgia, works from his renovated backyard shed. He is SPJ Georgia past president and will be throwing his hat into the SPJ national ring as a possible national leader.
Willis was a member of SPJ for three years before he would consider taking on a leadership role as SPJ Georgia chapter president. While he originally thought that this would be too much responsibility, he eventually accepted the role, he said.
As president of the Georgia chapter, Willis had a heavy emphasis on professional development, providing opportunities for members to attend events at least once a month. Photo right: Haisten Willis.
When his term ended, he had to consider whether he wanted his leadership role to end or explore further opportunities. This was when he decided to run for the national board, he said. The election for SPJ national members will be held in San Antonio, Texas, at the Excellence in Journalism Conference, Sept. 5-7.
Willis’ interest in journalism dates back to his preteen years. His parents would have two newspapers delivered every day to the house, a local paper and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Around middle school, I got where I would read the paper with them in the morning over breakfast and things like that, and I just thought it was the coolest thing how the world would kind of come to your front door in the form of the paper.”Haisten Willis, former SPJ Georgia president and freelance journalist
Willis works as a freelance journalist with an office in his backyard, made out of a converted shed. He has no commute time and the freedom to write what he wants when he wants. See his freelance journalist website HERE.
This also gives Willis time to devote to SPJ and its different committees, such as the SPJ Freedom of Information committee.
Adina Solomon has known Willis since 2013 and described him as a reliable co-worker, someone easy to talk to and receive advice from.
Her advice as he pursues a position on the national board is to “Just continue to listen to people and be able to not only give advice but take advice.” Photo right: Adina Solomon is the co-founder of SPJ Georgia.
Carolyn Carlson has worked with Willis at both the SPJ Georgia chapter and on on the FIO committee and said that she was one of the people encouraging Willis to run for the national board.
“His interest in FOI is going to be a driving force for him when he’s a member of the national board, if he becomes a member of the national board.”Carolyn Carlson, former SPJ national president and retired journalism professor from Kennesaw State University
Carlson, who has more than 30 years experience with SPJ, served as the national SPJ president. It is clear, she said, that Willis is interested in all three of SPJ’s missions: ethics, freedom of information and professional development. Photo right: Carolyn Carlson
“He’s paying attention to those items and is studying them and wants to do good in those areas,” she said. “And he will do good work on behalf of SPJ and its members. Because he’s a smart guy, he’s a great writer and he has good enthusiasm and energy.”
If he receives a position on the national board, Carlson has encouraged him to focus on members of SPJ who don’t have a local chapter to attend or get connected with, she said.
“I’ve really have enjoyed being involved with SPJ over the past five-plus years now,” Willis said. “I’ve made a lot of friends, I’ve made a lot of contacts in the organization. I’ve learned a lot. It’s definitely helped me advance my career.”
Hannah Lester is the 2019 SPJ Region 3 spring intern and reporter for SizingUpTheSouth.com. She will be graduating from Auburn University this May with a major in journalism. firstname.lastname@example.org
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