This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
The charges of Communist leanings made against PM perhaps would have been made by right-wing elements against any liberal newspaper. But they were particularly damaging to PM because, the analysts agree, there were a number of Communists on the staff.
PM set out to be the champion of the little man. Whether or not it expected its circulation to be among little men is not clear. Shortly before PM began, Richard Rovere wrote that it was assumed that readers would be drawn from the most intelligent of the three million tabloid readers. Whoever it was aiming at, PM didn’t reach enough of them. PM needed to sell 225,000 copies daily but much of the time it had only a little better than half that many. In the beginning, some of its competitors tried to keep PM off the newsstands, but this stopped when it became apparent that PM was not a formidable competitor.
The $1,500,000 that Ingersoll had figured would carry PM until it was on a paying basis was soon used up. About half a million of it went for promotion and for special equipment. There was a question of whether PM would be able to continue until in October, 1940, Marshall Field bought out the other owners.
PM continued to operate at a deficit. In 1941, its circulation dropped to 89,500, but climbed back to 150,000 in 1942. For the next three years, PM listed its circulation as 143,000. In the meantime, Ingersoll had gone into military service after an editorial fight against his draft board, whose members he thought were prejudiced against PM. The size of PM’s page was reduced, the number of pages cut from thirty-two to twenty-four, and some of the more expensive processes, such as color printing, dropped. The paper also changed its slogan from “PM Carries No Advertising” to “PM Tells You More News in Less Time.”
In 1945, PM finished with a profit for the first and only time. It was attained with the help of a seventeen-day strike of deliverers for the other newspapers. PM, which had already signed with the union, sold almost 300,000 additional copies a day during the period. At the end of the year it had made $40,000, which was split with the employees. Ingersoll came back from the war and resumed editorship of the paper. On PM’s sixth birthday, with circulation just under 165,000, it was losing about $5,000 a week.
PM started taking ads and Ingersoll resigned. He stated that although he was not against advertising, “there should be at least one mass newspaper in this country supported solely by its readers.”
PM was sold in April 1948, to Bartley C. Crum, a California lawyer, and Joseph Barnes, foreign editor of the New York Herald Tribune. The price was not disclosed, but Field had been reported willing to get out for $300,000. It was estimated that he had spent more than $3,000,000 on the paper in the nearly eight years of its existence. The name of the paper was changed to the New York Star, but its troubles remained the same as those of the old PM. The paper suspended publication early in 1949.
Robert Lasch wrote that although many newspapermen had become disillusioned with PMPM its death left them with a feeling of loss because:
this was a newspaperman’s newspaper, in the sense that though it was necessarily owned by big money it was wholly controlled by the editors. Seldom had American journalism come so close to the idea of an endowed newspaper. Seldom had anybody had such a chance to publish a newspaper without interference from an ownership primarily interested in profits.