JET magazine EIC Mitzi Miller tells students that details matter

By Eliza Weinreb

March 10, 2014

Above: Mitzi Miller (left) speaks with Newhouse associate professor Harriet Brown during a visit on March 6.

Mitzi Miller’s journey to become editor-in-chief of the iconic JET magazine, a publication highlighting black entertainment and social issues, has been anything but ordinary. Miller graduated college with an English degree and started her career as a marketing and sales assistant. She quickly realized, however, that she hated numbers and chose a new path that combined two of her greatest passions: reading and storytelling.

After meeting Amy Barnett, former editor-in-chief of Honey magazine, and plenty of fearless persistence, Miller began working as an unpaid intern for Honey in 2000. She was later hired as Honey’s “road-tripping” columnist, which helped her create and establish her voice as a professional writer. In three year’s time, Miller worked her way up to assistant entertainment editor, then entertainment editor and eventually became a published author.

Her rich experiences at Honey helped her land the job at Jet. Miller talked about her career path and the lessons she’s learned during a talk at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University on March 6. Miller emphasized the importance of working well with others, being willing to work hard and not being afraid to say “yes” first, instead of “no.”

Being open and having confidence is key in the communications industry, she says.

She’s also working hard to keep the magazine relevant by continuing standing features in the magazine such as the “Beauty of the Week,” which provides the opportunity for black women to be seen in all different shapes, ages, and sizes. She’s also including stories about trends and politics, as well as developing the online publication. Recently, JET caused a stir by featuring its first gay couple in the magazine, Miller says.

Since accepting the position of editor-in-chief, Miller says she has increased newsstand sales, subscription sales and the number of male readers (readership is 60 percent women, 40 percent men). Her visit was part of the Newhouse Magazine Department Speaker Series and was co-sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists. After the formal discussion with Newhouse associate professor Harriet Brown, Miller answered a few questions from the audience:

What are the most important skills that students should leave school with?

“The thin line that separates someone who went to school for writing and someone who has a really strong opinion is your grammar—the ability to construct a sentence, craft a story, pitch stories concisely and convincingly, and have a very honed-in, unique voice. That’s something that you have been working on and you have experts working with you all this time, so you should be able to hit the ground running with it. 

“That’s really what I’m looking for when I am hiring students coming out of journalism school. I am looking for: what is their angle/voice? What makes them, them? The way you pull together your pitch and put your commas and your periods in the right places. You’d be surprised how many people blow that off and assume that I am not looking. I am looking. And also, understanding how to get in and out of the (story) pitch.”

How does JET maintain such a loyal audience?

“I think that there are not that many publications that are geared specifically towards people of color and say it. JET does black people. This is what we are built for. This is why we are here. People like knowing that something is being written for them. People are loyal to the publication because the voice is attuned to that audience. It’s all about knowing your audience and being able to speak to them. JET speaks to the black community. We tell our stories honestly and fairly the way we want them represented, without the mainstream media.”

What makes an attractive story that you would want to run in the magazine?

“It definitely depends on the issue, but it’s about being succinct and being sure that you are speaking to the audience. I have to be sure that this is urgent. Why do my readers need this? Why must I have your story in there now? You just have to catch my attention, and you do that by convincing me that it is urgent.”

What is the most fulfilling part of your job at JET?

 “Knowing that I am part of the legacy. If I leave tomorrow, it didn’t go under on my watch. I feel that I have made it better and I have refreshed it. Nobody can take this away from me.”

Eliza Weinrab is a sophomore in the Newhouse School.

Photos by Kate (Wen) Zhu, a master's television, radio and film student in the Newhouse School.