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Ingersoll and Journal Register

Overview

This profile considers Ralph Ingersoll, father and son, and the Journal Register Co group


It covers -

  • introduction
  • PM
  • junk bonds and newsprint
  • Journal Register
  • studies

Introduction

Crusading liberal Ralph Ingersoll, perhaps influenced by service as editor of Henry Luce's flagship publications during the 1930s, launched the innovative PM newspaper in New York shortly prior to the 1939-45 War.

AJ Liebling wrote, with perhaps more verve than justice, that

When you read it steadily for a while, you got the impression that you were reading the publication of some such large order as the Lonely Hearts or the American Treehound Association, whose members shared a lot of interests that you didn't. Two articles of PM's faith seemed to be salvation through psychotherapy and damnation through a frivolous approach to amusements.

Roger Starr commented that

Ingersoll , as he would explain to anyone who would listen, wanted to create a newspaper that would be free of all the clichés newspapers had embodied for several centuries. He would show that to be serious, a newspaper did not have to be solemn. Nor did it have to be an ungainly mass of large folded sheets of unbound paper that made reading it impossible while standing in a subway train and that separated family members when read at the breakfast table.

Instead of reporters who were simply trained to cast the main facts of a story in the first paragraph, Ingersoll wanted writers who could tell a story dramatically. And unlike the standard news story that aspired to a neutral tone, PM's stories would make it clear where the writer's sympathies lay. Moreover, Ingersoll would give space to writers with whom he did not agree, as long as they came to their position honorably. Lest a single reader feel that advertisers' money was influencing PM's choice of news coverage and tinting its editorial policies, the newspaper would carry no advertising.

Countless conferences preceded the paper's final format. It was smaller and squarer than the News and Mirror tabloids already on the street, its 32 pages stapled together along the spine to make it easier to handle. PM relied more heavily on photographs than existing papers—its initials stood for "photographic material" as well as for its afternoon appearance on newsstands. And its new format, which separated the news into different departments, made it easy for readers to find the news they cared about.

The front page used color and featured only one story. The PM logo appeared in the top left hand corner; headlines of two or three relatively minor stories might appear beneath it, but the rest of the page—at least three-quarters of it—remained available for the big story. Sometimes the front page was given over to an editorial—though these did not appear in every issue, and no more than one appeared in any issue. Signed by Ralph Ingersoll and addressed to the reader, PM's editorials made no attempt at achieving a judicious tone: "The Fascists Are Winning," declared one of PM's front pages. "What Are You Going to Do About It?"

PM was defiantly to the Left in an otherwise largely conservative publishing milieu and, more remarkably, aimed to operate as a mass-circulation daily based on sales rather than advertising. That model seems to have been flawed and the paper expired in 1948 despite substantial support from retail heir Marshall Field III (1893-1956), who had launched the liberal daily Chicago Sun in 1941 and went on to found the Chicago Sun-Times in 1948.

Ingersoll was subsequently active as a journalist and late in life built a minor newspaper chain while simultaneously providing management services for Goodson Newspaper Group.

His son Ralph Ingersoll II, with a little help from friends such as Michael Milken, used junk bonds to build a newspaper group that embraced major US states, Eire and the UK. It included 38 dailies and 159 weeklies, with critics dubbing him the "Colonel Sanders of tabloids". The group collapsed in the early 1990s, with Warburg Pincus taking over the US operations, Ingersoll's UK papers going in a management buyout and the Eire partnership dissolving in expensive litigation.

Ingersoll's US backers proceeded to buy additional papers and slash costs before a successful IPO of the Journal Register Company in 1997. In 1998 Journal Register acquired 25 titles from Goodson Newspapers.

The group now includes 23 daily and 236 non-daily newspapers in the US, with substantial sharing of content and rigorous attention to costs on the model of the 'McPaper' chains such as Gannett, CNHI, MediaGeneral, Metro or MediaNews.

In November 2004 Journal Register announced that it was paying US$415 million for 21st Century Newspapers Inc, owner of four daily newspapers in Michigan (Daily Oakland Press, Macomb Daily, Royal Oak Daily Tribune and Mount Pleasant Morning Sun) and 87 non-daily publications. The dailies had a combined daily circulation of about 137,500, with a Sunday circulation of 176,000. The 87 non-daily publications have combined distribution of about 1.5 million.

Studies

There has been no major general study of Journal Register.

For Ingersoll Sr see Roy Hoopes' Ralph Ingersoll: A Biography (New York: Atheneum 1985) and works on the early history of Time, Life and the New Yorker.

PM is examined in detail in Paul Milkman's PM: A New Deal in Journalism, 1940-1948 (New Brunswick: Rutgers Uni Press 1997). Marshall Field III is considered in Stephen Becker's Marshall Field III (New York: Simon & Schuster 1964) and Axel Madsen's The Marshall Fields: The Evolution of an American Business Dynasty (New York: Wiley 2002).

For the Irish Press debacle see De Valera, Fianna Fáil, and the Irish Press: the Truth in the News? (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2002) by Mark O'Brien, Irish Media: A Critical History since 1922 (London: Routledge 2001) by John Horgan and the court decision in Irish Press Public Limited Company v Ingersoll Irish Publications.

Ingersoll Jr is profiled in Paper Tigers (London: Heinemann 1993) by Nicholas Coleridge and features in works on junk bond giddiness such as Connie Bruck's The Predators' Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham & the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders (New York: Penguin 1989) and Den of Thieves (New York: Touchstone 1991) by James Stewart.