This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.

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.

Among the things PM lacked that audiences have come to expect in a newspaper were advertising—not simply a digest—and many of the elements classified by Wilbur Schramm as “immediate reward” items, such as entertainment features, comics, and certain kinds of news, among them human interest items. PM, however, tried to offer a heavy fare of “delayed reward” items; public affairs news and other items generally appealing to a well-educated—and therefore limited—audience. Conventional mass circulation papers contain both, but have a greater proportion of immediate reward items. By the time PM changed its formula to the extent of taking advertising and adding comics and other features it was too late.

The story of PM indicates that there was not a mass public—however much we may regret it—for the kind of newspaper envisioned by its founders.

 

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Lewis Donohew was a professor of communications and journalism at the University of Kentucky for nearly 35 years.