CHICAGO—From the mailboxes of African-American homes and company waiting room tables to underneath the dryers in beauty shops, Jet magazine has been a pillar in the black community for 62 years, and hits newsstands July 22nd with a refreshed design and rejuvenated mission that reaches to grab the attention of new audiences.
Readers will immediately notice a new logo, brighter cover and more infographics. A redesigned website will accompany the updated print edition, but the pocket-sized magazine maintains its compact booklet format, sets more defined sections, adds a new book column and brings back a favorite column that laments celebrities of yesterday.
“It’s always been my goal to get here and rebrand Jet, and to make it a part of the current cultural conversation,” said Jet Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller, who started tweaking the magazine a little over two years ago, a post she describes as her “dream job.”
Growing up with Jet
“As a black woman who grew up on Jet and as a journalist, I truly believe that our community deserves to have Jet, so it’s an honor to be the person put at the helm of spearheading the turnaround, bringing it back to where it’s not just your parent’s magazine, but this is the magazine that’s for you to check out what’s going on as well,” she told theGrio.
Miller, who worked independently as a journalist, author and editor, and has held posts at Honey and Jane magazines, said readers were adamant about keeping the design compact, but by aggregating less content and addressing the growing needs of new audiences, “Now we’re not just a quick read, we are a quick, engaging, smart read.”
With an earlier overhaul of monthly sister magazine Ebony, the Jet re-launch is also part of Johnson Publishing Company Chief Executive Officer Desiree Rogers’ attempt to keep the historic publications relevant and restore profits lost in an evolving industry. Recognizing the rapid evolution of media and the decline of print publications, Miller said Jet stays relevant by appealing to fresh audiences and keeping up with technology. “In order to catch our new audiences, it’s no longer sufficient to be just Jet magazine.”
The fresh design includes more news articles. Miller and her staff have made a concerted effort to include more cross-platform projects and ideas. With Layar, a smartphone application, readers will be able to scan an icon from the magazine, and a video will pop up on their phones. In coming months, Miller said the brand plans on rolling out its iPad application, which follows its existing presence on e-readers.
The newly redesigned magazine’s editor-in-chief said like many black kids growing up in America, her personal history with Jet stretches back to her early years. “It has always been a part of my family,” she said. “My earliest memory of Jet is bonding with my father. Jet is the only magazine that my dad had a subscription to.” Miller became a subscriber later on in college.
‘The Weekly Negro News Magazine’
Initially dubbed “The Weekly Negro News Magazine,” since it was first published in 1951, Jet has served as the voice of the black community and as a window into the African-American experience, part of the mission and passion of founder John H. Johnson.
“Back in the day, 62 years ago when it was founded, we had African-American communities set up all over the nation, and people knew what was happening in their own community, but they didn’t know what was happening two states over,” Miller said. “Jet unified everybody. You could find out what were the most pressing things going on around the nation, not just in your neighborhood. The stories were very “on the ground,” very small, but important in that they connected us as a nation, as a bigger community.”
One of the most iconic editions that catapulted Jet into the national spotlight was in September of 1955, when Johnson chose to publish photos from Emmett Till’s funeral, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. “Something like that galvanized people. In a way it said, ‘we are all in this. We all need to be aware of it,’” Miller told theGrio. Jet would go on to chronicle the Civil Rights Movement and other pivotal points in African-American history.
Jet has served as a resource for the mainstream community, Miller said. “When they want to find out about what we’re doing, when they wanted to know what was going on with black people, Ebony/Jet were an easy resource, and that’s what I think makes it so iconic.”
‘Beauty of the Week’ will remain
When there weren’t many images of black women portrayed as beautiful in the mainstream media, Miller said, the “Beauty of the Week” feature “was the only opportunity to see black women idolized in all of our shapes, colors, interests, every shape and form. Beauties of the Week were beautiful.” The revamped magazine will maintain that feature, as well.
Glancing into the future, Jet’s top editor said the ongoing objective for the publication is to continue to evolve and gain new audiences. “We all have these memories of Jet in our lives, and it’s this assumption that it will always be there, but that’s not true,” Miller said, referring to the need of readers to support publications of value. “I’m confident that our kids have Jet stories. I just want to make sure that their kids will have Jet stories, as well.”
Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.