The origin of the name is unknown, although Ingersoll recalled that it probably referred to the fact that the paper appeared in the afternoon; The New Yorker reported that the name had been suggested by Lillian Hellman. (There is no historical evidence for the suggestion that the name was an abbreviation of Picture Magazine.) The paper borrowed many elements from weekly news magazines, such as many large photos and at first was bound with staples. In an attempt to be free of pressure from business interests, it did not accept advertising. These departures from the norms of newspaper publishing created excitement in the industry. Some 11,000 people applied for the 150 jobs available when the publication first hired staff.
There were accusations that the paper was Communist-dominated, but a thesis by Anya Schiffrin concluded that the paper frequently opposed the policies of the Communist Party and got into editorial fights with the CP's paper, the Daily Worker.
Circulation averaged 165,000, but the paper never managed to sell the 225,000 copies a day it needed to break even. According to a June 21, 1966 memo from Ingersoll:
Before the end of the War it was actually operating in the black... In my opinion at the time and these 20 years later−PM's death is most soundly attributable to a sustained and well-organized plot originating amongst Field's friends and associates in the business world who were alienated by Field's loyalty to PM and to me. The hostility was there from the beginning; the plot came together under the auspices of a man named Harry Cushing who was a retainer of Field's. The principal and successful offensive of this group was that it had as its objective Field's distraction from PM by persuading him to start the Sun in Chicago. Once they committed Field to the Sun venture, the end was inevitable. I can diagram it for you but merely put it on record here.
The first year of the paper was a general success, though the paper was already in some financial trouble: its circulation of 100,000–200,000 was insufficient. Marshall Field III had become the paper's funder; quite unusually, he was a "silent partner" in this continually money-losing undertaking.
PM was sold in 1948 and published its final issue on June 22. The next day it was replaced by the New York Star, which folded on January 28, 1949.
There were accusations that the paper was Communist-dominated, but others have concluded that the paper frequently opposed the policies of the Communist Party (CP) and engaged into editorial battles with the CP's paper, the Daily Worker.
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, published more than 400 cartoons on PM's editorial page. Crockett Johnson's comic strip Barnaby debuted in the paper in 1942. Other artists who worked at PM included Ad Reinhardt, one of the founders of Abstract Expressionism, and Joseph LeBoit, who both contributed margin cartoons and drawings.
Coulton Waugh created his short-lived strip, Hank, which began April 30, 1945 in PM. The story of a disabled GI returning to civilian life, Hank had a unique look due to Waugh's decorative art style, combined with dialogue lettered in upper and lower case rather than the accepted convention of all uppercase lettering in balloons and captions. Some dialogue was displayed with white lettering reversed into black balloons. Hank sought to raise questions about the reasons for war, and how it might be prevented by the next generation. Waugh discontinued it at the very end of 1945 because of eyestrain. Cartoonist Jack Sparling created the short-lived comic strip Claire Voyant, which ran from 1943 to 1948 in PM, and which was subsequently syndicated by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Journalist I. F. Stone was the paper's Washington correspondent. He published an award-winning series on European Jewish refugees attempting to run the British blockade to reach Palestine, later collected and published as Underground to Palestine. Staffers included theater critic Louis Kronenberger and film critic Cecelia Ager. Weegee, Margaret Bourke-White and Arthur Leipzig were the photographers. The sports writers were Tom Meany, Tom O’Reilly and George F. T. Ryall, who covered horse racing. Sophie Smoliar was the New York City reporter working frequently with photographer Arthur Felig (Weegie) (submitted by her son and a collection of her original articles). Elizabeth Hawes wrote about fashion, and her sister Charlotte Adams covered food.
Other writers who contributed articles included Erskine Caldwell, Myril Axlerod, McGeorge Bundy, Saul K. Padover, James Wechsler, eventually the paper's editorial writer, Penn Kimball, later a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Heywood Hale Broun, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene Lyons, Earl Conrad; Ben Stolberg, Malcolm Cowley, Tip O'Neill (later Speaker of the House; and Ben Hecht.
- Waugh, Coulton. The Comics. New York: Luna Press, 1974 (original copyright 1947).
- Hoopes, Ralph (1984). Ralph Ingersoll: A Biography. New York: Athenaeum. p. 216.
- "Notes & Comment: Newspaper". The New Yorker: 13–14. 18 May 1940.
- Ingersoll to Mrs. Leighner, Boston University Gottlieb Archives
- Roger Starr, PM: New York's Highbrow Tabloid, City Journal, Summer 1993. Accessed online March 5, 2007.
- A thesis by Anya Schiffrin.
- Nel, Philip. "About the Newspaper PM". The Crockett Johnson Homepage. Retrieved June 21, 2005.
- CNN.com (October 17, 1999). "Serious Seuss: Children's author as political cartoonist".