Jenny Pugh, business manager at the Western Wayne News, talks about her history with the newspaper, how she adapts to changes in the world of news publishing, how her column “Just a Milton Minute” has evolved over time, and her other creative endeavors.
Kate Jetmore: My guest today is Jenny Pugh, who’s been with Western Wayne News for 30 years. Jenny is married and has one son and writes a weekly column, Just a Milton Minute, about life in a small town. She’s a member of the Red Hat Society, but is often seen wearing her trademark black hat. Welcome, Jenny. I’m so glad you could join us today.
Jenny Pugh: Thank you.
Kate Jetmore: So 30 years at the Western Wayne News. That is quite a history. I’d love to know what it was about the paper that led you to work there initially, and what was it that made you stay?
Jenny Pugh: I’ve always had an interest in English and reading and writing. And at the time I was working back drive through in fast food and looking for something else. I was just out of high school, I think, into my first year at IU East. And my then boyfriend, my now husband, knew Janis’s our founder, knew her husband. My husband was a mechanic, her husband drove a truck, and so they crossed paths at the same shop. And those two got to talking to each other and ultimately they sent me to the newspaper office to talk to Janis.
And she knew who I was because I and her early years, she was just getting the paper started. Her first couple of years were my last couple of years in high school. And so I had done some art projects and so she was familiar with me on a role, that sort of thing, so she knew who I was. And so we hit it off and I started out proofreading in the office on Saturday evenings. I had the place to myself and would come in and they would leave a stack for me to proofread or to type or that sort of thing. So that’s how I got started.
Kate Jetmore: So it sounds like you’ve really witnessed a lot of changes over the years, not only in how the paper is run, but your role in the paper. So let’s start with your role. You started as a proofreader and how has your role evolved over these 30 years?
Jenny Pugh: Yes. I started proofreading and I started typing. Of course, we didn’t have access to the internet. There wasn’t copy and paste, so people would bring their notes and their stories and their articles and you would need to retype them. And from there, from proofreading on the weekends, I was coming in on Mondays and helping with production, just being a general gopher. At the time we were using the hot wax and the roller and cutting and pasting the articles onto a larger format guide sheet of the newspaper before all the digital changes.
And as my son got older and in school and I wanted more hours, there was some retirements here at the office, and so I was able to pick up more hours and would wait on people at the front counter. I’ve covered events, wrote articles, printed the labels, managed the label system, sorted those out into the postage. Wow, that word escapes me. We don’t actually do that anymore, it’s done at the printer. Postage routes, we would have these books, these guidelines from the post office and this address would fall into this route. And so you would actually go through these thousands of labels and separate them. This is this poster route and this is this poster route, and now that’s all done at the printer, it’s all done digitally.
Kate Jetmore: And currently, Jenny, you’re the business manager, is that right?
Jenny Pugh: That’s correct. I handle the billing, the legal billing, track ads and legals as they come in, make sure we have their run date, we have everything we need to get them in the paper. Make sure they are in the paper before we go to press on Monday, make sure they’re billed appropriately, make sure I have all the information I need to track them if they’re one time only or ongoing.
Kate Jetmore: And what about the changes that you’ve witnessed in the newspaper over the years? I’d love to know which changes you were happy to see and which changes you sort of wish hadn’t taken place.
Jenny Pugh: I really can’t think of anything that, oh my gosh, I wish we hadn’t done that. Most of the changes is technology-wise. Like I said, paper, cut and paste with a hot wax roller to all the digital changes. And with our new owner here, back in October, we’ve even stepped up our game digitally. We’ve got new programs and learning new things, and it’s an ongoing joke here with our last owner that Jenny hates change.
Kate Jetmore: So how do you handle that, Jenny? I’m sure that is funny, but there’s also like most comedy, a kernel of truth in there. But with so much technological advancement and evolution in the newspaper business, how do you handle so much change?
Jenny Pugh: Gradually, thank goodness, it hasn’t been overnight. And so just practicing and Googling how do you do this and tutorials and of course, with the new owner, with each change, of course there’s some training naturally, thank goodness. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s usually always been very beneficial. I know when Brenda, during her five years as owner of the paper, one of her first changes was in installing two monitors. And I just couldn’t fathom what you would do with a second monitor because I’m just so set. You have a computer, you have a computer screen. And so after a few weeks she was like, “How’s that working out for you?” It’s like, “I don’t know how I ever managed with only one monitor.”
Kate Jetmore: Right. Well, that was going to be my next question, if you sort of tentatively fearfully take that step into the future and then what’s that when you get there? But you’ve just answered my question, which is that a lot of times there’s no looking back.
Jenny Pugh: Right, right. You need to grow with what’s around you, what’s happening and the technology or you get left behind.
Kate Jetmore: Exactly. Now, Jenny, Just a Milton Minute is the name of the column you write for the paper. What kind of things do you write about in your column?
Jenny Pugh: I’m all over the map, actually. I started out, the column is maybe in the neighborhood of 15 years old. I can’t recall the start date, so it hasn’t always been. But I remember thinking we had this little space in the classifieds, and once upon a time I really helped out a lot with layout and design. And so instead of going and searching for some filler or some random fact or something to take up space, there were a few things happening in Milton, which I live in Milton, that weren’t really being mentioned and I thought should have a little space.
So I started out taking up a little bit of available space, anonymously. Just called it Just a Milton Minute because it was just a little snippet and did not sign my name to it. And it sort of kept going after a few weeks. And there was always something to write about, something to mention. And one of my coworkers at the time, she’s like, “Oh no, you got to keep doing this. We are giving you a designated space. You need to continue this.” So I write about what’s happening if there’s club meetings, if there’s an upcoming council meeting, important changes, updates, if the fire department is having a breakfast or if Santa’s coming to town, or if the date of the trash pickup changes. And then people have shared their memories of living in Milton, what used to be there, what they remember growing up as a kid. And that’s always very popular.
Kate Jetmore: What’s one of the columns that has stuck with you over the years that when you think about your column, you think, oh, that was a really special one?
Jenny Pugh: I don’t know if I could pick just a favorite because in addition to what’s going on, I’ve also written about what’s happening in my own life, which I think is representative of life in a small town, things that everybody goes through their child finishing high school and going off to college, or even when he got his first car, documenting that sort of process when he and his father were working on it. And that got a lot of positive response. I would have people tell me, “Oh gosh, I remember the empty nest when my children were all gone, left home and went to school.” Or, “I remember my first car, it was such and such and that brought back so many memories.” And then from time to time, I squeeze in a poem about something or another. I have no formal poetry training, but I like to rhyme, and so there we are.
Kate Jetmore: It’s lovely. It sounds like it really builds community. It really brings people together and gives people a place where they can share their own memories or their own reactions to what you’ve written. What kind of feedback have you received over the years, Jenny?
Jenny Pugh: I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. People recognize me and it’s like, “You write the Milton Minute.” And I know the hat because after a couple of years, Janis decided that people should know who I was. My column was popular enough. People wanted to know who wrote it. And so she had gotten a new camera and she’s like, “Oh, I need to practice with my new camera. Let me take your picture.” And I’m just sitting at my desk working away. It’s like, “Okay, sure, whatever.” I hate having my picture taken, but for the sake of learning how to use this new camera. Well, the next week it shows up. That picture shows up in the paper and it’s my little heading. It’s like, oh my goodness, you didn’t tell me you were doing that. So yeah, so then everybody knew who I was.
Kate Jetmore: And were you wearing your hat in that picture?
Jenny Pugh: I was not. I was not.
Kate Jetmore: Okay.
Jenny Pugh: After a few weeks, I came home from somewhere, gave my son my camera, and I said, “Come outside, we’re taking a picture.” He’s like, “Mom, why am I taking your picture?” I said, “Because if I have to have my picture in the paper, it’s going to be a picture I like and I’m going to be wearing a hat.”
Kate Jetmore: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. And so that’s how the hat came into it, is that right?
Jenny Pugh: Yeah. I’ve been wearing hats since I was a teenager. My grandfather bought me my first hat, and I’ve got quite an extensive collection, probably 30 to 40, some of them in the-
Kate Jetmore: Oh my goodness.
Jenny Pugh: … Kentucky Derby style, big, bold, gaudy.
Kate Jetmore: Do you wear a hat every day?
Jenny Pugh: Most every day, yes. Most every day. We had a spell this year where we were doing this digital phone system and you had to wear headphones, so I couldn’t wear a hat. I was like, “My hat. My hat.” We’ve exchanged headphones so I get my hat back.
Kate Jetmore: Good. Good, good. Well, listen, Jenny, before we get off Just a Milton minute, can you tell us how many people live in Milton?
Jenny Pugh: 200 some households, approximately 500 ish people. So it’s a small town. We have a stoplight, a post office, and a mini mart and a car lot.
Kate Jetmore: Okay. Okay. Yeah. Having grown up in Richmond, Milton is definitely a name that rings a bell, but I couldn’t have told you how many people live there. So thank you for that. Now we have to get back to hats. In your bio, we mentioned that you are a member of the Red Hat Society, another name that rings a bell that I’m not able to give any details about. So what is the Red Hat Society?
Jenny Pugh: Basically a group of ladies who get together and go out to eat. Sometimes they have programs. Mostly we’re not quite that organized. We just hang out. We meet, go somewhere and eat, and somebody will bring a poem or a saying or something they’ve found meaningful and read to the group. They’ve gone to Abbott’s Candies or local businesses for tours and things. And how I got involved was I had bought a book from a local author from the Newcastle area, had seen her somewhere, followed her on Facebook, and when she released her second book, I was looking for a place to be able to buy the next book and found on Facebook she was going to be here in Cambridge at Lakeview. She was going to present a program to the Red Hat ladies were going to be meeting there because they bounce around every month somewhere different.
So I reached out to her online and invited myself to her meeting, and I could just pop in long enough to buy a book. If the Red Hat ladies don’t care, I’d like to stay and see the program. If they’re interested, I work for a newspaper, I write. At the time I was covering local small town events and I could do a story on them, whatever you guys want, whatever works for you. So they let me come. I had supper with them. I covered the program, I bought a book. I made new friends and they invited me to join them. And so I’ve been hanging out with them now for about five years.
Kate Jetmore: Okay. And this may sound like a dumb question, but do you all wear red hats?
Jenny Pugh: We do, except two different months. The year of our birth month, that month when we get together, we wear purple hat and red clothing as opposed to purple clothing and a red hat. And then in every April we celebrate the Red Hat, overall, their anniversary or their birthday for the society. And so then we all wear the purple hats for the birthday, except if you’re over 50. If you’re under 50 instead of red and purple, you wear pink and lavender. So I have one year left of pink and lavender and then I switch to an actual red hat.
Kate Jetmore: Okay. Okay. So that’s sort of a momentous occasion to switch into that official Red Hat Society uniform.
Jenny Pugh: Yes.
Kate Jetmore: And a good way to mark your 50th birthday for sure. So from what I understand, you have some other colorful hobbies including creating greeting cards, is that right?
Jenny Pugh: Yes, and I do make my own greeting cards. I used to make them for family, but I also do carry them here in the office as well.
Kate Jetmore: How many years would you say you’ve been at it?
Jenny Pugh: Probably longer than I’ve been writing my column, maybe 20 years. I think I started scrapbooking first and I just sort of had all the supplies and started making cards to suit individuals, and then I would take pictures and somehow I ended up putting local pictures on a card. It’s like, oh, that works.
Kate Jetmore: Okay. It’s funny you should say the word scrapbooking, because having never seen your cards, I was going to ask you for some more details, and I was going to say, well, what’s the style? Is it sort of like scrapbooking or do you paint? So very interesting that it all sort of came out of scrapbooking.
Jenny Pugh: Yes.
Kate Jetmore: Do you sell your cards, Jenny, or do you just gift them to people?
Jenny Pugh: I gift them. I create them for my own use, but I also sell them. They’re available here at the office as well as Building 125. I’ve had various stores carry them, even the Richmond Art Museum for a time. But yeah, I use scrapbooking materials because I’m just not quite talented enough to draw or paint my own. So I’ve got rubber stamps, I’ve got stickers, and I’ve got photographs, and it doesn’t matter that I can’t really paint or draw.
Kate Jetmore: Well, scrapbooking is very closely related to collage, which is definitely considered an art form. So I would say that you definitely have some strong artistic muscles.
Jenny Pugh: It’s very enjoyable. The creative side, I really enjoy it.
Kate Jetmore: Good. And just to bring things back full circle to the paper, Jenny, before we sign off, this is a new chapter for the Western Wayne News, new owner, kind of looking to the future. You mentioned a little bit about some technological advancements since October. Is there anything you’d care to share about what you see coming for the paper?
Jenny Pugh: I think we’re continuing to grow, and I find that exciting where we’re branching out a little bit further. We’re growing new readers, so it’s an exciting time.
Kate Jetmore: Good, good. Well, I’m glad that I could be on board at least to do this very small part with these interviews. Well, Jenny, I’d like to thank you so much for joining me today, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with your colleagues.
Jenny Pugh: Thank you.