Field gave Ingersoll and the editors all the leeway they wanted; he sometimes disagreed with things he read in “his” newspaper, but never interfered. From time to time, though, the publisher had to remind Ingersoll and the rest of the editorial team that there were limits to his generosity. As he once put it, “You know, Ralph, PM is not the New York Philharmonic. It is not an eleemosynary institution. I am not an eleemosynary institution.” Eventually, after losing at least $4 million on PM, Field insisted on a new approach.

On Election Day in 1946, PM announced that it would begin accepting ads. Ingersoll resigned the same day. But even with the new revenue, the paper still could not attract enough readers to break even, and in the spring of 1948, Field sold it. The new owners renamed the paper The New York Star, ran it for a while, and folded it for good in January 1949.

It remains an open question whether PM’s collapse was inevitable. Many saw its demise as proof that a newspaper could not depend solely on circulation revenue, when all the competition had money coming in from circulation plus ads. Ingersoll also refused to recognize a basic fact: readers like ads—or, at least, some readers like some ads some of the time. In all probability, PM could have survived without major changes if Ingersoll had raised more money to begin with, and if the people in charge had figured out a way to peel more readers away from the Daily News—perhaps with more sports, scandal, or sex.

In the end, the collapse of PM dumped a lot of talent on the market. Marshall Field turned his full attention to his hometown and bought the Chicago Times in 1947 to provide a liberal alternative to the arch-conservative Tribune. (Field later merged it with the Sun and lost $25 million until the Sun-Times began paying off in the 1950s.) Ingersoll decamped for the wilds of northwestern Connecticut and reinvented himself as the publisher of a group of medium-size monopoly newspapers. I. F. Stone went on to found his famous Weekly, and the rest of the PM gang dispersed, but most did not go far, working for newspapers or magazines in New York City. As they told anyone who would listen, when PM died, American journalism became less progressive, less attractive, and less interesting.

 

Christopher B. Daly teaches journalism and history at Boston University. His history of journalism, Covering America, will be published in March.