The fact that Maariv could be found at newsstands on Monday morning, like it has every morning for the past 60 years or so, is not as trivial at it might sound. After about 100 of the newspaper's workers demonstrated on Thursday, the IDB-Discount directorate which controls the paper decided on Friday to channel some NIS 15 million to Maariv as part of a plan which will see severe cost-cutting, including the eventual scrapping of the printed issue in favor of a digital edition.

Apart from plans to sell the Bat Yam lands where the printing house is located, Maariv management has already set aside some NIS 31 million for journalists and workers who will be laid off. It is as yet unclear when exactly the printed daily issue will stop appearing, although it is understood that the paper will continue to print its weekend edition, for the time being.

At first the workers were pleased with the decision to channel aid to the newspaper, so it could continue to function, but the panic has now given way to a feeling of uncertainty. Senior journalists believe several hundred of Maariv's 2,000 workers will be fired.

"It's a terrible feeling. There are so many question marks about the future," one journalist said. "We don't know who will stay, under which conditions and when the change will happen. There were so many changes, cuts and conflicting declarations for some time now, but this time it seems real, and it's frightening."

Another journalist said that "apart from the uncertainty, there is also the certainty that workers will get hurt. In general, journalists are going through stressful times; no one knows how the Israeli press will function a year from today."

Other journalists questioned the economical feasibility of the Internet model: "They say the changes are done in order to cut expenses," said one. "We understand that cutting print expenses and manpower can save money, but what exactly will produce the income?"

Dalia Dorner, president of the Israeli Press Council, said: "I hope they find a way to keep the printed issue. An Internet site is something else altogether and the closing of a daily paper harms freedom of the press."

A former senior journalist in Maariv concurred: "Not to see Maariv at the stands is a terrible thing. Internet sites cannot take the place of a free press, and a free press is essential to democracy."

One of the leaders of the Maariv workers union told Haaretz: "The management has already called on us to hold a series of meetings to discuss the future of the paper, and we intend to show up and do our utmost to decrease the damage to the workers ... our demonstration on Thursday proved to both management and the workers that we are a force to be reckoned with."

"One can't stop the times," said Shay Golden, Maariv's deputy editor. "As a result of the economic situation and the situation of the media market, Maariv was forced to reach the decision [to stop printing the paper on weekdays] earlier than planed, but there's no doubt that the move is necessary. This is a transition period that will affect all the press, and everyone fears this change, but there's no reason to panic.

"The press will either adapt or die," Golden added, "and since it won't die, it must adapt. There's something symbolic about the fact that the printing machines will stop work; it's the end of an era. But it's not such a great drama. Journalists will continue to do their work." (See more coverage in TheMarker, page 8. )