Candidates for the 2023 board


Nicolle Sartain

Nicolle Sartain in an editor for The News Courier in Athens, AL. She served as president of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for 2022 and vice president in 2021. She was the nominations committee chair for SPJ’s national elections in 2022 and served as a mentor for The SPJ News, an operation during the national conference that works to prepare student journalists for real newsrooms.

She has developed a one-on-one coaching course for journalists struggling with trying to balance their life and career with the goal of getting them aligned with their values and reaching a level of success that they deem on their own. She understands the struggle of trying to find the balance that doesn’t exist in the 24-hour news cycle and wanted to give journalists a way to establish healthy habits that help develop them into their next level personally and professionally.

Before moving to Alabama she was a researcher at CNN on The Row vetting scripts and written work for factual accuracy, looking for background information and context. Before joining the network, she was a producer at WTOC in Savannah, GA with experience producing newscasts in both the evenings and mornings. She produced shows in many severe weather situations winning a 2019 GABBY for Best Team Weather Coverage.

Her background is in writing and newsroom management. She wrote for The Red & Black in Athens serving in multiple editorial roles including News Editor and Editor-in-Chief. With a passion for investigations and long-form journalism, she also worked for the newspaper’s sister publication Ampersand as Executive Editor. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Georgia in December 2017.

Vice President

Michelle Watason

Michelle Watson is a national news editor for CNN’s national newsgathering team. Prior to joining the desk, Michelle worked to vet and research stories for the Row, CNN’s editorial judgment body. Since joining CNN in 2017, Michelle has played a role in a number of major stories for CNN, including the network’s coverage of the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Irma after it made landfall and the tragic shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She also worked with CNN’s political team fact-checking the 2020 presidential election. Michelle holds a degree from Louisiana State University in Mass Communication with a minor in history.

She is the 2022 Vice President of SPJ Georgia and was chosen as a 2022 Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program Fellow by SPJ to attend the national conference. Michelle runs SPJ Georgia’s social media and newsletter in addition to helping coordinate events.


No Candidate. Please consider someone you wish to nominate.


Stell Simonton

I’ve served on the board of SPJ Georgia since 2019 as an at-large board member and then as secretary. In the past, I’ve been active with the Freelance Committee, organizing events such as the freelance job fair and database training. Both events have raised funds for SPJ. I bring continuity because of my past experience on the board. I am a freelance journalist but worked for 19 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a copy editor and digital producer/editor. My experience with finances includes personal investing and serving as an estate executor.


Laura J. Downey

I would like to nominate myself for an at-large position with the Society of Professional Journalists Georgia Professional Chapter. In July 2021, I renewed my professional membership, and one month later, I was selected as a 2021 SPJ Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program Fellow. Then, in October 2021, I joined the Georgia Pro Chapter. During this time, I signed up to be a part of the Events committee and was responsible for securing a location, handling all communication, and selecting the food for the chapter’s first in-person social since the COVID-19 pandemic, which was held at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Dunwoody. In the months following, I also coordinated two speaking engagements—topics included ethics and editing—for the journalism students at Midtown High School, which involved a few of our chapter members. And to date, I have attended meetings and brainstormed ideas for upcoming volunteer events in 2023 with the team at Digital Drinks and current chapter president Nicolle Sartain.

I also had the privilege of attending MediaFest ’22 as an alternate delegate for our chapter. My passion for journalism began in high school as a member of the newspaper staff followed by my time as the editor of my high school yearbook. I now have more than 23 years of journalism experience as I serve as the Executive Editor of WebMD Magazine and its point-of-care products. In addition, I am the company’s lifestyle features consumer team lead on the digital side. I recently completed the Maynard 200 Fellowship, a program that helps newsrooms become more equitable and inclusive in their reporting, workplace, and in the communities they serve. I was a part of the 11-person Executive Leadership track, which entailed working on a case study for six weeks and presenting the team’s findings to the Los Angeles Times.

I’m a hard worker and I get the job done. I believe as an at-large member, I will be able to serve the chapter and our community. I am choosing this position specifically because of its flexibility, which would allow me to continue playing an active role in the chapter (weighing in on key decisions, creating unique programming, etc.), yet, offer the space I need while wrapping up my last year of graduate school. Being able to serve Georgia all while improving and protecting journalism is a priority for me. I ask that you strongly consider me for this role. If there are additional questions you may have, I’m happy to answer them. Thank you in advance for your time.

Sharon Dunten

Sharon is a freelance journalist for The New York Times & The Washington Post; owns Dunten Media Services LLC where she is a writer & photojournalist, a website & social media developer, and communications consultant for nonprofit organizations. Sharon is co-founder of SPJ Georgia in 2014 and served later as Assistant Regional Director for SPJ Region 3; presently on SPJ Freelance Committee, SPJ International Committee. Sharon has worked in the newspaper business for 35+ years. Landscape and fine art photographer. Grandmother of 5 beautiful grandchildren. Ball State University alumna.

Jack Zibluk

Dr. John B. (Jack) Zibluk is a professor of communication/journalism at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, though he lives in Lookout Mountain., Ga. He is a four-year member of the board. He teaches media history and publication design. His research areas are law, ethics and copyright. He has been a writer and columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications. He is also a former national board member and vice president of the National Press Photographers Association. He won the NPPAs Garland educator of the year award for his work as ethics writer for News Photographer magazine.


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