The Sitdown: Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine

SHARE The Sitdown: Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine

As told to Francine Knowles, Staff Reporter

It has been an eventful year for the journalist and author. Six months ago, she was named editor-in-chief at Ebony, the iconic African-American lifestyle magazine with roughly 1.3 million circulation. This summer Miller, 38, was ranked among the 100 most influential African-Americans by black news website The Root, placing her on a list that includes Beyonce, LeBron James and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Meanwhile “The Vow,” a novel she co-authored, is being made into a movie for Lifetime, “With This Ring.” In addition to the challenges of leading Ebony in today’s digital world, she weighs in on racism and shares lessons from having undergone a life-saving liver transplant at age 23.

Being forced to deal with my mortality at such a young age makes me acutely aware of how lucky I am to be alive at all times. Even when I’m having a really challenging day or working through a major disappointment, I never lose sight of how important it is to be grateful, be present and choose happy.

We grew up with Ebony in my house. [When named editor], I was very humbled. It’s a huge responsibility. … In addition to carrying on a legacy I wanted to continue to make sure that it was progressing and put my own stamp on it.

I think the first thing that people are going to notice is the tone of the publication. It’s definitely more conversational.

I think it’s important that every time the reader opens Ebony they walk away with something that they can talk about that they haven’t heard before, or if they’ve heard it before, it’s being presented in a different way.

I would love to get the Ebony reader averaging around [age] 36, 37 because the majority would … have children, so you start to pass along the habit of reading Ebony. I know that we have a very large older demographic so I’m mindful of that.

Part of my job is to make sure the legacy continues in the way it was taught to me, to my friends. The reason that we understand the value of having Ebony and making sure it continues is through it being in our households, growing up, seeing our parents with it, sitting down with our parents, having them read the articles or discuss them with us.

The magazine industry is going through a tumultuous time of change. Everybody is trying to figure out its footing in light of how important digital has become and this expectation of immediate information.

Print can’t provide you what digital can provide, but there’s still value in what you can get from the magazine. … Online is quick hits and snatches. The magazine is the deep dive. When you want and need more, that’s where Ebony and print publications step up. That’s the space we own.

My responsibility is to make sure Ebony stays at the forefront of our cultural conversations. … We’re working 2 months ahead [as a monthly magazine], which means we’re best guessing, but I don’t know exactly what people will be talking about or what their exact needs will be. … I try to be flexible.

The December issue, normally we feature the celebrity or a person on the cover that has had an amazing, outstanding year. But this year in light of all the racially charged incidents of police brutality and race being at the forefront of everyone’s conversations, we’re dedicating our December issue to the topic of race in America — where are we, where are we going and how do we get there.

After the incident in Ferguson [Missouri], it was important for Ebony to make a statement. Race has truly been on the forefront of every news cycle all year. You think you’ll catch a break, and then you’ll hear something else unbelievable has happened to the point people are saying they’ve become numb and they don’t want to know. They don’t want to hear, and that’s concerning to me.

I [want] to present race to our readers in a very factual way because I think a lot of times what we deal with on the individual level is this internal questioning of, “Am I crazy, is it just me?” No it’s not just you.

This is happening constantly, and you’re not alone. That’s what I hope to present with this snapshot of where we are as a community, the fact that race does still matter. We are not post-racial.

The reasons that Mr. Johnson founded Ebony remain the same, that we have a publication solely dedicated to celebrating African-Americans and presenting progressive ideas and different lifestyles. So that it can be aspirational.

We’re much more open about how diverse we are [today], so there’s so much more to cover. We respect the fact that there are black Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals. There are people that aspire to do many different things. We are more open and accepting of gender preferences.

It’s really about the diversity of thought. Saying all black people are the same does not work. … We don’t need everyone to be cookie cutter.

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