The unexpected homecoming to Howard County in late 1992 marked the beginning of an eventful decade for Carole Pickett-Ross. That’s when she and her ex-husband, the late Ed Pickett, returned to found The Business Monthly after spending 25 years establishing numerous media outlets in New England.
The grads of Ellicott City’s Howard High were high school sweethearts ― with schoolmates who included two-term Howard County Executive Jim Robey, ex-Howard planning and zoning czar Joe Rutter and Kay Hill, formerly of the National Security Agency ― and returned to present a publication that, as of this month, has kept the area’s business market informed for three decades.
Upon TBM’s 30th anniversary, the former Carole Ashbaugh reflected on her career, the history, the sale of the paper and her past 30 years, the last 20 of which were spent with the love of her life, Hugh Ross, who passed away last November from dementia and COVID-19.”
How did your publishing career start?
After graduating from high school Ed was Class of 1958 and I was Class of 1960 he became a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, where he wrote about politics and business. But he eventually fell in love with skiing, so in 1968 our family of five moved to Mount Snow, in Vermont, and he bought the Mount Snow Valley News.
I eventually started selling ads, which led to paste-up duties, accounting, hiring writers, taking photos and even delivery. So I learned how to do everything.
What came next?
Ed started a second paper called the Mountain Times, in Killington, Vermont, which I took over when he followed by starting skiing-themed newspapers at various locales in New England. At one point, Ski Racing International and ESPN asked him to produce a TV show; next, he bought several radio stations, mostly in that region.
It’s easy to see that while Ed had an incredible mind, he was also very restless. That restlessness resulted, when I was 50, in our moving back to Howard County because we thought the area needed a business publication.
What kind of investment did you have to make to publish the first issue of what was then called The Columbia Business Journal?
We started with very little money, yet the first issue was profitable. The staff was Ed, who wrote it; yours truly, in ad sales; and Jesse Newburn, who did the typesetting and the layout. For the next issue, we added an editor, Judy Tripp, and a proofreader, Joan Waclawski.
What was the initial response to this new news source?
People loved the content because we kept it local and the ads facilitated interactions between local businesses.
How did the papers fit in to the local print media scene with the Sun, the Columbia Flier, etc?
We served a different clientele, so there was little crossover between the publications. It’s not a good idea to start a business in a market where another company is already experiencing success, so we didn’t; however Ed grew bored, again, with TBM in six months.
When did the Columbia Daily Tribune begin publication and how long did it last?
Our separation occurred when the daily was founded. It only lasted about three months during the end of 1994, at which time he left town and we lost touch. After that bump in the road, our staff proceeded with TBM and did a phenomenal job. By that point, we’d opened an office in Town Center in the MDG Building and the landlord, Patrick McCuan, was very good to us.
Were there any key moments during your 10-year run that stand out to you?
Not really, because every day was different and exciting. I was going to meetings and holding our monthly TBM breakfasts, which were followed by our editorial meetings. That was a very proud time for me.
When was The Annapolis Business Monthly first published?
It also started in 1992 and was short-lived.
Why did you decide to sell the paper?
Because I was 60 and working 24/7, which people didn’t often do 20 years ago. It’s a different story today; being 60 now is like more like being 40 was then. In addition, I’d founded a publication for seniors, Generations, and told the new publisher, Mary McGraw, to proceed. But that endeavor, too, was short-lived.
Also, I’d met Hugh and we were planning the next chapter of our lives.
How did the sale of TBM come to pass?
During the transition, I told two of our staff members, Becky Mangus and Cathy Yost, that they were in charge and that I was working for them. So they made changes, did a great job and had a heckuva good time and decided to buy the paper, which I wasn’t expecting. Know that I couldn’t have found anyone else anywhere that fit their roles better than they did.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge during your tenure?
Knowing everyone in town and not wanting to let anyone down. I had big expectations of myself and crossed every “t” and dotted every “i.” Running a clean operation was important to me.
What are your fondest memories of The Business Monthly?
Seeing first-hand what wonderful business community had grown up in Howard County, the BWI Business District and Anne Arundel County. Also, receiving one item I still have: it’s a plaque of appreciation that’s on display in my home from Walt Townshend, former CEO of the Baltimore Washington Chamber of Commerce.
What have you been doing since you sold the paper?
I married Hugh in 2002 and we enjoyed 20 wonderful years together. We spent great times in the warmer months camping, hiking, running, swimming, etc.; in the winter, we followed the arts in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor and increasingly here in Columbia, too. Of late, I’ve taken up tap dancing at Vantage House, were Hugh and I lived in recent years, and at the Bain Center.
What do you think when you read the paper today?
It’s rewarding to know how much information we’ve shared that was read by thousands upon thousands of people over the decades. I also feel proud that so many people have worked there for so long. They’ve done a very good job and the paper gets better every year.