Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Jet, talks to Virgil Dickson about the magazine's first redesign since its inception and ideas to draw in a new generation of younger readers.
How long have you been on the staff?
I started in May 2011.
When was the redesign first brought up and why were changes needed?
It was something the team discussed before I joined. It was the first front-to-back redesign the publication had received in its 62-year history. It was time for a refresh. We have a very loyal subscriber base, but to draw in some new readers a fresh take was needed.
What are the major components of the redesign?
There has been an overhaul of the editorial content and a redefining of the voice of the publication to make it more conversational. We're using a larger font and more infographics to tell stories.
How has the voice of the magazine changed?
Jet has historically done a good job in aggregating content and finding stories that affect the black community. Writers now do more editorializing, telling readers not only what happened, but why it matters, why it's urgent, and what they can do right now. The most important part of ensuring everyone was on board with the change was making sure my mission – to provide more immediate and enjoyable service to readers – was clear. Everyone who works in publishing understands how crucial change is.
What are you doing to engage young people?
We are trying to engage them through the new appearance of the magazine via brighter coloring and a more modern layout. We're also going after cover stories that are interesting to young people and affect them. For example, we had a cover for the film Fruitvale Station. That movie directly impacts young men around the nation.
Will the magazine continue to use celebrities on the cover?
We have had two news covers this year. One focused on Jordan Davis, a young man in Jacksonville, FL, who was killed at a gas station on Black Friday.
A middle-aged white man told kids in a neighboring car to turn down their music. When they did not he shot into the car and killed Jordan.
Jet is historically remembered by most for being the first publication to show the brutal images of Emmett Till [a 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a white woman].
But Jet has not moved away from entertainment and I'm striving to insert balance. I want to begin to integrate news stories on the covers. My objective isn't just to become part of the cultural conversation, but also to take back a leadership position in that conversation. The decision to include news stories as part of the cover story lineup again has received a positive response. Subscriptions in the first half of 2013 were higher than the same period in 2012.
What new content was added?
In the front of the book we have “Whatever Happened To,” where we follow up on celebrities we haven't heard from in a while – and we have a book review section.
What about changes to your website?
It has a new look; it's easier to find stories; and there's more video content. Editors shoot videos and we use production companies when appropriate. A current example is the video from the August issue cover shoot, when we interviewed Fruitvale Station stars Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan.
Any new social media initiatives?
We have a dedicated digital team, which corresponds via our social media channels.
We recently held an online social media beauty contest that encouraged readers to vote for their favorite Twitter beauty. The contest did so well that we will be kicking off our monthly Jet Beauty of the Web contest in October. Readers can submit photos online and vote for a monthly winner.
How do you prefer PR pros to pitch stories?
The best way is to email the senior editors in the section they want coverage in.
How would you describe your audience?
African Americans in their late 30s and early 40s who are middle class. Jet readers are very cognizant of current events and pop culture. Currently, most people view our content in print, but with the recent release of an iPad app, I expect a shift toward mobile devices.