Meet the Board

President Nicolle Sartain is the editor for The News Courier in Athens, Ala. She served as president of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for 2022 and vice president in 2021. She is the SPJ awards & honors committee chair overseeing national journalism competitions such as the Sigma Delta Chi and Mark of Excellence awards. 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.

Term: 2023

Vice President Michelle Watson is a news editor for CNN’s National Assignment desk. Prior to working for the National Assignment desk Michelle worked for Row at CNN as a Researcher. Before the Row, Michelle worked as an editorial review assistant in CNN’s Image + Sound department where she checked for spelling, source accuracy, dates, and editorial errors. She also had the opportunity to field produce on two occasions – one for Hurricane Irma and again for the Parkland School shooting. 

Prior to CNN, Michelle worked for Legacy Worldwide, as a Television Program Copywriter and Social Media Engagement Specialist where she wrote scripts, produced for shows, and worked on branding the company. Michelle has also been a copywriter for Gwinnett Magazine covering local businesses, education and trends for the second most populous county in Georgia.  Her interests include hiking, drinking tea, toy poodles (primarily her own toy poodle, Jackson) and anything to do with macaroni and cheese. 

Term: 2023

Treasurer Stell Simonton is a freelance journalist specializing in clear, engaging writing that lets readers see, feel and hear the story. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Simonton has written for the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among many other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Youth Today magazine, and in a previous life was a digital editor/producer for the AJC.

Term: 2023 and 2024

Secretary Jatika Hudson 

 Jatika Hudson has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Georgia since 2016 and is currently the chair of the freelance committee. Today she works as a corporate communications copywriter for Synovus, freelance writer for Fulton County Schools and MAN UP Mentoring, Inc.

In 2001, she graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media Arts/Print Journalism and has been writing professionally for nearly 25 years. Her work has taken her from interning at BET to attending New York Fashion Week to telling the stories of community activism/activists.

She’s been published in the Orlando Times, Upscale, The Atlanta Voice, The Crisis, Atlanta INtown and in 2006, she was nominated for an award by the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists for a branding Atlanta story published in Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine. In 2020, she was a Journalist for Aging fellow for the Gerontological Society of America.

Term: 2023

Board Members-at-Large

Rahul Bali is a 25-year broadcasting veteran. He is currently a news anchor for Oconee Radio Group in Georgia’s Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair areas.

Rahul also reports from the State Capitol when the Georgia General Assembly is in session. Rahul has worked as a reporter, producer and editor for CNN Radio, WSB Radio (Atlanta) and WTOP Radio (Washington, D.C.)

He has also worked as a TV reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting. He is an active member of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and the Atlanta Press Club’s Debate Committee, which is responsible for televised debates for statewide and local elections.

Term: 2023

Laura J. Downey  has more than 23 years of journalism experience and serves as the Executive Editor of WebMD Magazine and its point-of-care products. In addition, she is the company’s lifestyle features consumer team lead on the digital side.

She 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. She 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. She was selected as a 2021 SPJ Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program Fellow.

This year with SPJ Georgia she is chair of the Events committee. In her role last year, she 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. She has 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. She was chosen as SPJ Georgia’s MediaFest ’22  alternate delegate and attended the national conference in Washington D.C. Her passion for journalism began in high school as a member of the newspaper staff followed by her time as the editor of her high school yearbook.

Term: 2023 and 2024

Jennifer Parks is a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University (Hail Southern!), where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

She completed a summer internship at the Waycross Journal-Herald, and began working for The Albany Herald in September 2008 as a reporter. During her time at The Herald, Parks covered a number of different beats and gained experience in copy editing.

She resigned from the position in October 2019, and now works as a public affairs specialist at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.

Term: 2022 and 2023

John B. (Jack) Zibluk, PhD, professor of communication at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, lives in Lookout Mountain, Ga., where he writes for the Lookout Mountain Mirror.

He worked with former SPJ president Sonny Albarado to establish a Memphis SPJ chapter, and he later served on the East Tennessee SPJ chapter board. He is a former member of the SPJ national education committee and a columnist for Quill. “Dr. Z,” as his students call him, was also a national board member and vice president of the National Press Photographers Association, which awarded him its Garland “educator of the year award” for his columns on ethics and diversity issues in News Photographer magazine. 

A native of Derby, Connecticut, he worked as a newspaper writer and editor for a decade before earning a PhD in mass communication in mass media and public administration from Bowling Green State University in 1998. He has worked as a journalism educator in Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

Term: 2023

Student Representative Lars Lonnroth is a junior journalism and political science student at Mercer University. Professionally, he has worked with 13 WMAZ and interned with Georgia Public Broadcasting’s digital and podcasting departments.

While working in high school journalism, Lars received over 30 local, state and national journalism awards, including receiving 1st, 3rd and 5th in the nation for podcasting at the National Scholastic Press Association’s annual conference.

He has also been recognized by NPR, the National Women’s Press Association and the John Drury High School Radio Awards. When not reporting, you can find Lars giving tours as part of Mercer’s Office of Admissions, working with students as a Mercer Peer Advisor or running around Mercer’s beautiful campus.

Term: 2022 and 2023