But content wasn’t all hard news and big ideas. While foregoing spreads on the latest fashions, PM told its readers how to look good in clothes they already owned. Editors also summarized the contents of ads that department stores ran in other newspapers, so readers would not miss out on sales. And PM’s use of photos, graphics, color, and maps would not be equaled until the launch of USA Today in 1982.
The paper was unabashed about what it did and did not support. “PM’s own staff… embraced many shades of political opinion, all vehement,” wrote The New Yorker’s Wolcott Gibbs, but some articles of faith were absolute: the paper was consistently pro-FDR, pro-labor, pro-democracy. And from its earliest days, PM had one paramount enemy: Adolf Hitler. Ingersoll and most of his writers shared the view that Hitler was an unprecedented evil. From that premise, they reached two tragic conclusions. One was that any ally in the fight against Hitler was welcome. Carried to an extreme, this caused most PMers, and many others on the left, to minimize or even deny the brutality and mass killings carried out by America’s ally in Moscow, Joseph Stalin. (This pro-Soviet bent would come back to haunt many PM contributors during the 1950s.)
The other conclusion was that because Hitler was so dangerous, any tactic in opposing him was acceptable. Indeed, years before Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, PM’s writers led a disturbingly similar witchhunt for supporters of Hitler, using many of the same deplorable tactics: the big accusation based on little evidence; guilt by association; the equation of dissent with treason; disregard for civil liberties; demands that suspects rat out friends and acquaintences. They were running a school for scoundrels.
Over the years, the financial losses at PM mounted, reaching $25,000 a day. For all Ingersoll’s planning, PM was never really on solid ground. It was undercapitalized (“Between the high resolve to create a new kind of newspaper and reality, there was a gap ten million dollars wide,” Ingersoll wrote later), and never managed to hire as many reporters, editors, and photographers as Ingersoll would have liked. It was also overpriced, so it never really caught on among the city’s blue-collar readers whose issues it trumpeted. Though PM could be for the working class, it would never really be of the working class.
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.
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