The New York PM Daily only lasted from 1940 to 1948, but in its short run it served as a vital progressive voice in New York City and promoted groundbreaking photography to accompany its stories. Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea is currently hosting the first exhibition on the defunct newspaper, PM New York Daily: 1940–48.
Over 75 photographs are in the show, many vintage prints accompanied by newspaper clippings showing their original context, along with wall text adapted from Paul Milkman’s 1997 bookPM: A New Deal in Journalism, 1940–1948. Founded by Ralph Ingersoll, the newspaper focused from its first issue on overlooked social issues, starting with health oversights in its readers’ food under headlines like “EXCLUSIVE: Chicken Ghouls Unload Rotten Poultry in City.” The publication also hired the first two women to be staff photographers at a US newspaper — Mary Morris and Margaret Bourke-White, although the latter soon left due to the relentless pace of the daily paper.
“PM is against people who push other people around,” went the publication’s mission statement. “PM accepts no advertising. PM belongs to no political party. PM is absolutely free and uncensored. PM‘s sole source of income is its readers — to whom it alone is responsible. PM is one newspaper that can and dares to tell the truth.”
Unfortunately, the tabloid never quite got those readers, averaging below the 225,000 circulation necessary to break even. Housing affordability, strikes, hospital neglect, milk price gouging, racism, and especially the US’s obliviousness to World War II were major coverage focuses while the paper was in operation. A May 3, 1942 issue advocating for US participation in the war read “NAZIS BOMB NEW YORK” on its front page, with the disclaimer “WARNING — This is a preview NOT A REAL NEWS STORY,” accompanied by an ominous edited photo of sunken ships by the Brooklyn Bridge and a burning Manhattan.
PM also regularly covered everyday life in New York City, from its strange seediness as documented by famed crime photographer Weegee — who was equally adept documenting a late-night murder or the scantily-clad ladies of the Coney Island beaches — to candid street portraits by Morris Engel. And while social issues were the focus, sensationalism was never excluded, such as a 1942 photo by Alan Fisher of a man eagerly guzzling booze from a hose at a 1942 beer bust, a chaotic 1941 shoot-out captured by Max Peter Haas, or a 1948 image of a car that crashed into a Bronx home by Sheldon Gottesman. PM offered a cross-section of the ups and downs of 1940s New York, with its brazen eye always turned to where others weren’t looking.