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.
Why did PM fail? The main reasons offered by the writers who have attempted to analyze the newspaper in the years since its demise are listed below.
1. PM was not a complete newspaper on which the reader could rely for a full supply of news and entertainment.
2. It came into a highly competitive newspaper situation, at a relatively high price (five cents).
3. PM reached the newsstands later than its competitors, and with older news.
4. There were too many amateurs on the paper.
5. The Communists on the staff seriously disrupted the paper’s efforts. The accusations made against PM on this issue were also seriously damaging.
6. PM did not deliver the kind of newspaper it had promised. It started out with a backlog of good ideas, but its performance was erratic.
Although it is likely that most of the reasons listed above contributed to PM’s passing, probably the main reason for its failure is contained in the first—that it was not a complete newspaper. It was thought of more as a specialty product, which added something others did not have, but which lacked many of the elements the readers had become accustomed to seeing in a newspaper. To get these features, it was necessary to buy another newspaper.
The criticism that PM was not complete strikes at the heart of what the paper tried to do. If this is the reason it did not succeed, one must go farther than the writers who have said PM failed because it didn’t deliver on its promises. The editors of PM probably felt that they were delivering. They intended to eliminate much of what is called “news” in other papers. They tried to cut away what they considered excess and to leave the reader with what was important, with an explanation of why and how it was important. From the editors’ point of view, PM was a complete newspaper.