Q&A: Jennifer Mills, from broadcast journalism to painting
Published 3:25 pm Monday, May 1, 2017
For 30 years, Greenville, S.C. native and Wake Forest graduate Jennifer Mills has been seen on several TV networks – from the Golf Channel, where she was one of the founding members with legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, to hosting Explore America on the Travel Channel, WLOS Channel 13 in Asheville and WYFF News 4 in Greenville.
She has interviewed five presidents including Donald Trump, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, in addition to multiple celebrities such as Matt Damon, Will Smith and Michael Jordan.
Mills now works as an artist with her paintbrush in hand, and was recently commissioned to design the poster and shirts for Tryon’s upcoming Rhythm & Wine Festival on May 6, sponsored by the Tryon Downtown Development Association, and including Blair Crimmins & The Hookers and the Snopes Family Band. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Tryon Bottle in downtown Tryon at 10 N. Trade St., online at tryonrhythmwine.com, or at the gate.
Question: What sparked your interest in wanting to work in broadcasting?
I was in high school in Greenville and Channel 13, way back when, did a story about me as I was a student athlete. It was a player of the month kind of deal. WLOS came to my high school, J.L. Mann High School, they now call it J.L. Mann Academy, and WLOS did a profile story about me during my junior year. They sent a crew to my high school with a camera and a reporter who spent the day with me and I played basketball, was homecoming queen and was an officer in the NHS (National Honor Society). They followed me around the campus that day for a news story that weekend. I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, people do this and get paid?’ They find people who are interesting, do interviews, write a crafty story and get paid every two weeks.
Question: What happened after your story aired?
I called the station and asked if I could be an intern for the summer. I got a non-paid summer internship at Channel 13 after high school. That pretty much solidified my interest. I loved it, just loved it. I worked for them one summer, again the next summer, and, after I was at Wake Forest in college, Channel 4 hired me so I ended up working for Channel 13 and Channel 4 during my career. That was exciting. I love writing and the click for me is writing. I love interviewing people and writing stories, sharing the stories and meeting someone I think is interesting.
Question: How did you get involved with WYFF News 4?
I had a professor who held up a newspaper that had the help wanted ad circled for a weather and sports photographer on the weekends and he said, “If you have experience doing this, they could use you.” I didn’t have a car, got on my bike and rode six miles to the station and asked for a job. I pretty much worked full time as a sports and news photographer on the weekends. Whenever I talk to people who ask me how I got into television, or if I could talk with someone about a job with the Golf Channel, I always tell them get an internship and if you don’t get paid, so what? It’s good to go in to take it all in. If you’re a person who gets things done, the company will like you. You need to know how to do everything and not just be a pretty face on TV.
Question: You’ve interviewed four presidents and a number of celebrities. That must have been exciting, right?
I’ve actually interviewed five since Donald Trump became president. I’ve interviewed Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., actually both Bushes, and I interviewed Trump when I was with the Golf Channel, and he is such a competitive golfer. Matt Damon is such a nice person and he sat down with me and it was like having a conversation with him. Will Smith was the same way too. Arnold Palmer and I go way back with the Golf Channel. The most exciting interview I had was with Michael Jordan. My neck was so red! You can go back and watch that interview. I think I’m more nervous when it comes to interviewing athletes than presidents or celebrities. I don’t know why.
Question: After 30 years on television, how did you transition from broadcasting to painting?
When my mother-in-law passed away, she gave me all of her art supplies. About three or four years ago, I decided I needed to scale back. I dabbled with it, played around with it, and ended up really enjoying it. You never “get there” as an artist, just like you never have a perfect swing in golf. In art, you never become a perfect painter. You keep going to see how good you can get. There’s an artist in Saluda named Jim Carson who calls it the “brush mileage.” The more you paint, the better you get. I’m an immediate person, having been in live TV. With art, for me, I have a subject matter, I need to be factual and do my research. I have to have good composition and use strong brush strokes, the fundamental things, before I can have something that can splash. It’s very similar to live TV. I could not see myself spending a month on a painting. I think that goes back to live TV.
Everything is so immediate
in live TV.
Interview by Michael O’Hearn